An older adult man wearing a suit and reading glasses types on a laptop computer while seated at a desk.

In 2021, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received over 5.88 million fraud reports, representing a 19% increase year-over-year. So it’s safe to say that financial fraud is rising and affects many people each year. Unfortunately, older adults are vulnerable to financial fraud, so keeping your older loved ones updated with useful preventative measures is important. Here are six easy ways you can help protect your parent from financial fraud.

Secure your devices connected to the internet

Phones, laptops, and tablets are easy for fraudsters to steal, especially in public. One of the best ways to prevent financial fraud is to secure any devices your parent has connected to the internet. This means ensuring that their phones, computers, tablets, and other electronics with sensitive information have some form of password protection. You often have multiple options, such as creating a PIN, password, pattern, or biometric (fingerprint/face) recognition. You may be able to use multiple fingerprints if your parent doesn’t always remember to use the same finger, which can be helpful. Any one of these password types can help secure your loved one’s data and protect your parent from financial fraud.

Turn on two-factor authentication for sites with sensitive information

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is when you try to log into an online account, and receive a code via text, email, or phone call, which you enter to get access to your account. While using two-factor authentication may take longer to log in, it’s an effective way to secure your personal information. If a thief wants to access websites with their financial data, they’ll need your login credentials and their phone or email access. It’s usually more difficult to get access to both at the same time, increasing your chances of keeping their information safe.

If your parent pushes back against using 2FA, it may be because they feel it takes too long to use, or they are less tech-savvy and find multiple pieces of technology confusing. You can try to make a compromise by reserving 2FA for sites containing only the most sensitive data, like email, bank or brokerage accounts, and credit card accounts.

Add your parent’s phone number to the do not call list

Spam calls are not just annoying, they also have the chance to be financially ruinous if you give the caller any personal information. To help combat the plague of spam calls, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has created the Do Not Call List. Using the Do Not Call List, you can add your phone number to a list of numbers that legitimate companies are not allowed to call. 

The key word here is, “legitimate.”  The Do Not Call List should keep your parent from being called by fraudulent extended car warranty salespeople and other telemarketers. However, it won’t protect them from common scams directed at older adults. You’ll want to take steps with your parent to avoid falling prey to a scam.

When in doubt, call the institution directly

Most people have received a call from someone who sounds like they may be a customer service representative from a bank or government office. Sometimes they are who they say they are; however, it’s important to be sure. That’s why you should talk with your parent about hanging up these calls, then directly calling the official customer service line of the institution whenever they receive a seemingly legitimate call. Real customer service representatives will almost always understand your concern and encourage you to do so, whereas fraudsters likely won’t be as enthusiastic about it and will try to keep you on the phone to get the information they’re looking for.  

Whenever your parent receives one of these calls, they should call the phone number on the back of their card (if it’s a bank) or search for the customer service phone number online. It could be helpful for you to search for these numbers beforehand and write them in an easy-to-find location, so you know that they will call the right number. These steps can help ensure that your parent’s data won’t be compromised over the phone.

Create strong, unique passwords

Many people, regardless of age, have formed the habit of using variations of the same password for many websites and online accounts. This compromises the safety of all accounts’ information and can result in you or someone you know falling prey to financial fraud. While using different variations of the same password for every login (or worse, the same password for every login) may seem fine, it’s quite dangerous. Here’s why:

Businesses can fall victim to data breaches when hackers steal the usernames and passwords of a business’s sensitive client information. If you have the same username and password for your account at your favorite grocery store and your bank, and your favorite grocery store is hacked, the hackers now also have your username and password for your bank account!  This is why having different passwords for each website is key.  

When you have unique passwords for every website, remembering them can be tough, so finding a way to store them safely is usually a good idea. Some people keep a pen and pad with all their passwords at their desks. Others prefer to store them electronically using their browser.  Both options are safer than using the same password (or slightly different variations of one), so it all comes down to your parent’s preference.

Avoid using public wifi

Public WiFi may seem great, but it’s unsafe for personal information. Using public wifi to access apps or websites with sensitive data makes it easy for hackers to steal your data.  This means it’s important to discourage your parents or older loved ones from using public wifi, especially when accessing their bank’s online portal. Using the internet without having to chew through data is a small convenience compared to the burden of being a victim of financial fraud. 

If they need to access sites with sensitive information, show them how to turn off their wifi and access it using mobile data instead. You can type the steps into a notes application on their phone or jot them down on a notepad. While they may find it undesirable to use some mobile data, they’ll be much less susceptible to fraud.