One out of every five senior citizens has been the victim of a financial scam, according to a recent survey by Infogroup/ORC, and the Illinois CPA Society has published a set of tips to help them avoid scams and protect their money:

1. Take all the time you need it to make a good decision. You don't need to give anyone an answer right now whether it's a repairman who's just given you an estimate or a salesperson in a store. Don't let anyone pressure you to get a new store credit card or make a donation to their charity. If you are interested, particularly when someone's trying to sell you something over the phone, tell them to send you more information so you can look it over and decide at your convenience.

2. Remember your own advice — if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for special or "free" offers that promise you a vacation, car or money if you attend a luncheon or dinner. Don’t buy anything or sign anything just to get a free gift or win a contest, and don't send checks or money orders for “limited time offers” on vacations or merchandise like prescription drugs.

3. Don’t share personal information. Never tell anyone you don't know important financial details like your Social Security Number or account numbers. Be cautious about giving out your home address or phone number to casual acquaintances; try to pause and think about what you're saying in public that people might overhear.

4. Ask questions. You shouldn’t be embarrassed about asking questions. If you’re purchasing a piece of furniture, how much will you be charged for delivery? Buying a ticket? Check if there are any additional handling fees. Ask about anything you question on a bill or a statement. If there’s a fee you don't recognize, or fine print you can’t read or understand, call and ask for an explanation.

5. Try not to take too many chances. It's fun to buy a lottery ticket once in awhile or take an occasional trip to a gambling boat; just make sure you budget a certain amount to spend and don't spend more than you planned. And never believe any messages via phone, mail or email that say you need to send money to claim a prize or get lottery winnings.

6. Get help if you need it. You don't want it to seem like you can’t handle things yourself, but getting help could keep you from making a big money mistake. Medicare forms, doctor bills, credit card information, bank statements and insurance material can be confusing.

If you feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable asking family members for help, check with somebody you trust at your church or your senior center. There are also social service organizations in your community which may offer some assistance; you could also work with a CPA on your financial issues. To locate one in your area, see the Find a CPA Directory on the Illinois CPA Society site at www.icpas.org.

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