sad senior woman sitting on couch

“I need your help, grandma!” said the young male voice on the phone.

Margie automatically thought it was her grandson who was serving in the Coast Guard thousands of miles from home. He said he was in trouble and needed her to wire him a thousand dollars fast. She was frantic with worry and quickly wrote down his instructions on how to send the money. She didn’t stop to think that this was all the money she had left to pay her bills that month. All she could think about was the fact that her grandson needed her help.

As she drove to the bank, her panic began to subside, and she started thinking about the phone call. It was strange. The young man on the phone hadn’t even given his name. Was he really her grandson? Why would her grandson call her and not his wife or his mother? Why was he in such a hurry to get the money? It just didn’t make sense.

When she stopped at the bank parking lot, she called her grandson to double-check his story. She discovered that he was safe and sound at home–no emergency was occurring. Margie hung up and called her daughter, who advised her that it was just someone trying to scam her. Thankfully, Margie had realized it before she sent all of her money.

Margie is my mother-in-law and this happened to her just a few months ago. It is horrible to think that someone would do this to an elderly woman–but this happens more often than it should. There are scam artists who specifically target senior citizens. Margie was lucky not to lose all of her money, but many seniors lose precious finances to scams like this.

MetLife, in a 2011 study titled “Elder Financial Abuse: Crimes of Occasion, Desperation, and Predation Against America’s Elders,” found that of all the reported financial crimes against the elderly, 51% were perpetrated by strangers and 34% were perpetrated by family or friends. MetLife warns that elderly women are at the highest risk for these crimes–especially during the holiday seasons.

The best way to prevent these crimes from occurring is through awareness. According to the Elder Financial Protection Network, here are some ways to protect yourself and your loved ones:

1. Plan ahead to protect your assets and to ensure your wishes are followed. Talk to a lawyer, a financial advisor and/or your bank to make sure you are protected for now and for the future.

2. Never give personal information to anyone who phones you. Anyone who is authorized to handle your money already has your personal information—you wouldn’t have to give them private, personal information over the phone. Don’t trust strangers on the phone, period.

3. Never pay a fee or taxes to collect sweepstakes or lottery “winnings.” If someone tries to convince you to do this, it is most likely that you didn’t win anything. You shouldn’t have to pay to collect a legitimate prize.

4.  Never rush into a financial decision and always consult a lawyer or financial advisor before signing anything. If someone is making you rush or hurry to make a decision, be cautious. Get a second opinion or consult a professional.

5. Check for references and credentials before hiring anyone. Do your research before hiring a handyman, plumber, electrician, etc. Ask neighbors and friends for recommendations. And never give a worker access to any of your financial information.

6. Pay with checks and credit cards instead of cash to keep a paper trail. Checks and credit cards can be tracked, and banks and credit card companies have theft and fraud policies that offer you additional protection.

7. Last but not least, don’t be afraid to say “no” if you ever feel forced or uncomfortable about a financial decision. And if you feel threatened or intimidated, call a family member, friend, lawyer or financial advisor for assistance.

This is wise financial advice for anyone—young or old. Anyone of us could fall victim to a financial scam, but it is especially sad to see senior citizens robbed of their income or savings. Seniors need to know who to trust and who NOT to trust. Be wise and aware of current financial scams. Protect yourself and your finances, so like Margie, you won’t fall for the scam if it happens to you.