Here’s how to protect yourself from online banking scams


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Online banking in the age of COVID-19 can be a double-edged sword for seniors.

On the plus side, managing financial transactions online can be a boon: it means seniors don’t have to tediously travel to their local physical branch, interact in close proximity with others, and potentially expose themselves to a higher risk of coronavirus. . Since the start of the pandemic, 82% of seniors are using online banking more frequently, and 55% are using mobile banking more often, according to a recent study by digital payment platform Zelle.

But alongside convenience comes the risk of phishing scams, identity theft, data breaches, and other perils. After all, think of the ideal target for an online scammer: someone with significant assets, who is not very familiar with the latest technologies and who may even be starting to experience some cognitive decline.

The average loss for seniors who experience financial abuse is about $34,200, according to a study by the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of tech tools and other resources to help you protect your financial life and that of your loved ones online – which, combined with a healthy dose of skepticism and some common sense defenses, can protect older Americans in rapid change. online world. For example, Zelle partners with Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) to offer free online courses at SeniorPlanet.org. These e-learning forums cover basic topics such as digital banking, online bill payment, and transferring money between accounts.

“The best way to guard against the bad things that happen online is to fight fire with fire and use technology to protect yourself,” says Liz Loewy, former prosecutor for the Child Abuse Unit senior Manhattan District Attorney and co-founder of fraud detection company EverSafe. .

“It may seem daunting for older people, but the benefits outweigh the pitfalls, as long as you’re careful,” says Loewy.

Here are some expert tips:

Monitor, monitor, monitor

Fraudsters thrive when people aren’t aware of what’s going on in their accounts. If scammers gain access to a credit card, for example, they’ll start with a small charge to test the waters, and if that’s successful, keep charging more and more.

So check your statements frequently, keep an eye out for unknown providers, and dig deeper if the monthly total seems higher than it should be. Every financial institution these days has some level of security, enhanced by artificial intelligence, to assess transaction history and flag improbable events.

But you can do even more. Check your credit report from time to time, to see if anyone is using your social security number to open accounts in your name or rack up debt without your knowledge (visit AnnualCreditReport.com to do this for free). A service like EverSafe can monitor your financial life across multiple platforms — banks, credit cards, investment accounts, credit data — and send personalized alerts to your inbox.

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Gather a team

One way to protect yourself is to have multiple pairs of eyes watching over your financial life. That way, if anything strange is flagged – like large unlikely purchases or foreign transactions – immediate action can be taken to shut it down.

Consider allowing multiple people to access this data. Unfortunately, much of the financial abuse of older adults is done by caregivers and loved ones. But combine a family member with a professional like a CPA or financial planner, and you’ll feel more comfortable having your interests taken care of.

There might be some stigma for seniors opening up their financial lives to others. But don’t think of it as an indication of decline; just think of it as an extra layer of security, which can be useful for people of all ages.

Only deal with trusted partners

If you’re on your own bank’s website or dealing with a well-known platform like Zelle or Venmo, that’s one thing. But if you’re ever caught ‘out of channel’ online – say, if a pop-up ad for charity donations takes you to an unfamiliar place, or if a random email asks you about your stimulus check, be really very careful.

“Only pay people you know and trust,” says Donna Turner, COO of Zelle. “Banks will never come to you and ask for your personal information. If you get an email, text or phone call like this, it’s a huge red flag and you need to end the transaction. ‘interaction.

Familiarize yourself with common scams

Scammers can try to obtain personal financial information in different ways. This could be an email claiming there’s been a problem with your account and asking you to provide your username and password. Or it could be a fake advertisement for personal protective equipment, a new scam that’s proving popular in the age of COVID-19. Another is the popular “grandparents” scam, where scammers pretend to be a grandchild who is in trouble and needs some quick cash.

The more seniors know about classic scams, the more they can have their radar on at all times. A good overview can be found in these consumer resources, which are part of the American Bankers Association’s “Safe Banking For Seniors” program.

“There’s a lot of denial out there,” says EverSafe’s Loewy, who observed during his time at the Manhattan district attorney’s office that the typical scam lasts about 14 months. “People never think they’re going to be financially abused in life, until it happens to them.”

“Taking action to protect yourself is not a sign of weakness,” adds Loewy. “It will keep you financially healthy.”

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