Protecting Your Assets

Criminals often view seniors as targets of opportunity not only for street robberies and purse snatches but for various frauds and confidence schemes. The following tips will help you protect your assets. Additional tips on preventing telemarketing and e-mail fraud, identity theft, and other scams and problems are provided on this website's page entitled Preventing Fraud and Identity Theft.

  • Make sure that any private professional fiduciary who handles your assets or arranges for your daily care, housing, and medical needs has a valid license from the California Department of Consumer Affairs Professional Fiduciaries Bureau. You can check on licenses and disciplinary actions at their website or by calling (800) 952-5210. You can also check to see if a licensed fiduciary is a member of the Professional Fiduciary Association of California at www.pfac-pro.org. This organization provides continuing education and promotes minimum standards in the administration of conservatorships, guardianships, trusts, estates and durable powers of attorney.
  • Request that the fiduciary post a bond to protect the assets.
  • Report any suspicious activity to the California Department of Consumer Affairs Professional Fiduciaries Bureau at (916) 574-7340, or file a complaint online.
  • Don't discuss your assets or finances with strangers.
  • Execute a springing power of attorney (POA) in which you designate an agent to manage your assets if you lose the mental capacity to do so. The springing POA is preferred over an immediate POA in that it ensures that you remain in control of your assets until two doctors declare that you lack the mental capacity to manage them. Things get very complicated if you become incapacitated without either type of POA because a conservatorship may then be required. Any San Diego resident over the age of 60 can obtain a springing POA and an Advanced Health Care Directive by calling Elder Law & Advocacy at (858) 565-1392. This state- and county-funded nonprofit corporation provides no-cost routine legal services of seniors and caregivers of seniors. This state- and county-funded nonprofit corporation provides no-cost routine legal services to seniors and caregivers of seniors.
  • In executing a trust the successor trustee should be a person you know well and trust totally to act in your best interests. The trustee should be financially independent and able to pay his or her own bills. Think very carefully about naming a trustee. If a problem arises you can remove the trustee as long as you have mental capacity. But there is not much that can be done if you lose mental capacity. Then the power of the trustee is irrevocable. This caution also applies to a POA agent.
  • Elder Law & Advocacy can also provide legal advice regarding domestic violence, elder abuse, suspected fraud, and various scams. For the latest information on scams and how to protect yourself go to its Senior Shield website or call its hotline at (858) 715-1648 to talk to a paralegal or an attorney if you think you may have been defrauded. Remember, when an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. And keep personal information private, avoid high pressure sales, and never pay for a prize.
  • The following tips will help you spot and avoid investment scams. Don't believe claims that there is no risk. Be wary of promises that you will make a good return fast. Do not be fooled by testimonials offered by strangers. Understand what you are investing in and how your investment will be held or managed. Be sure to get everything in writing. Be wary of any salesperson who promises to “take care of everything” for you. Don't get taken in by offers that are available right now. If you are not interested, just say so; it is not impolite to simply say “no.” Never meet with a salesperson alone in your home. Do not disclose your financial situation or provide any personal information such as your SSN until you are confident that you are dealing with a legitimate salesperson and company.
  • Check the credentials and licensing of any salesperson, broker, or other person before investing.
  • If the investment involves securities, you can go to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's website at www.finra.org and look up the status of brokers or brokerage firms on its BrokerCheck on its Investors page. You can also get a detailed report that includes the firm's profile, history, operations, and disclosure events. The latter include arbitration awards, disciplinary actions, bankruptcies, etc. Also check with the California Department of Corporations at www.corp.ca.gov or (866) 275-2677 to verify that the company offering stock or other securities is registered, and that the investment opportunity is legitimate and legal. And you can see company's quarterly and annual reports on the Securities Exchange Commission's website at www.sec.gov under Filings & Forms.
  • Ask for the name of the firm your investments clear with.
  • If the investment involves commodity futures, you can go to the National Futures Association's website at www.nfa.futures.org and look up the status of individuals or firms on its Broker/Firm Information (BASIC) page. You can also go to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's website at www.cftc.gov and look up the disciplinary history of individuals or firms under Consumer Protection. Be wary of any individual or firm who offers to sell you commodity futures or options on commodities, particularly precious metals, foreign currency, and those with seasonal demands. These investments are very risky and anyone who claims otherwise may be breaking the law.
  • Don't keep large sums of money at home. Keep stocks, bonds, expensive jewelry, coin collections, etc. in a bank safe deposit box. Jewelry kept at home should be in a locked drawer. And take pictures of rare, valuable, or sentimental items and keep them in a separate location. They will be useful in tracking down missing jewelry at pawn shops.
  • Read contracts carefully and understand the terms before signing. Get help from someone you trust if you are not comfortable with the terms.
  • Call the Better Business Bureau of San Diego County at (858) 496-2131 if you have any doubts about the reliability of a person or company you are going to hire.
  • Hire only licensed contractors. Anyone performing home improvement work valued at $500 or more must be licensed by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). Get the contractor's license number and verify it online or by calling (800) 321-2752. Ask to see a second piece of identification with a photo. And never make a down payment more than the lesser of 10 percent of the contract price or $1,000.
  • Be careful in writing checks. Print out the full name of the payee. Never use abbreviations like SDGE. Print the amount of the check. Longhand writing is easier to alter. Fill in any remaining space on the amount line with double lines. Sign with a clear, readable signature. An illegible one is easy to forge. Use a pen with ink that cannot be washed. And never sign a blank check.
  • Have your Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and VA Compensation and Pension checks deposited directly into your bank account. You can do this online at www.GoDirect.org or by phone at (800) 333-1795. Go Direct is a campaign sponsored by the U.S. Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Banks.
  • If you don't have a bank account you should get a free prepaid MasterCard debit card instead of federal benefit checks. With it you can get cash from ATMs, pay bills, and make purchases anywhere these cards are used. There are no sign-up fees and bank accounts or credit checks are not required. With the card you will not have to use expensive check-cashing facilities, carry around large amounts of cash, or risk lost or stolen checks.
  • Protect your incoming and outgoing mail. Never leave mail in an unsecured box with public access. Consider having new checks mailed directly to your bank for collection to avoid possible theft from your mailbox.
  • Never get involved with and provide or show money to strangers. Some common confidence schemes involve phony bank examiners who ask you to help trap a crooked teller, strangers who want to share found money, strangers who want to donate money to a charity of your choice, and strangers who want you to help prove that banks can be trusted. Note that all these schemes involve strangers and stories that sound too good to be true.
  • Never give out credit card, bank account, or other personal information unless you have initiated the contact or know and trust the person you are dealing with. Beware of mail, telephone, and e-mail promotions designed to obtain personal information. Hang up on anyone who calls asking for money or personal information. Such calls are scams.
  • List your home and mobile phone numbers free on the National Do Not Call Registry to reduce pre-approved credit offers and telemarketing calls. Call (888) 382-1222 or register online.
  • Install caller ID and an answering machine. Don't pick up a call from a number you don't recognize. Use the answering machine to screen calls. Pick calls up if they are from people you want to talk to.
  • In an e-mail scam know as “phishing” identity thieves fish for personal information by sending realistic-looking e-mail that asks recipients to go to a bogus website and provide personal information such as credit card and Personal Identification Numbers (PINs). Don't click on website addresses in e-mails you get even if they look real. Legitimate banks and financial institutions don't send e-mails asking you to verify your account information. They already have it. Also, the IRS never sends out unsolicited e-mails or asks for detailed personal and financial information. Any such e-mail is a fraud.
  • Never send money by wire transfer to complete a deal, receive a prize, or help a person who claims to be in trouble or have a problem.
  • Remember, you will never win a foreign lottery. Hang up on any caller, shred any mail, and delete any e-mail that says you are a winner.
  • Obtain free copies of your credit reports annually from the three nationwide consumer reporting bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion -- by visiting www.AnnualCreditReport.com or calling (877) 322-8228.
  • Sign up for opt-out to stop receiving mail offers or credit or insurance that are not initiated by you. You can do this by going to OptOutPrescreen.com or calling consumer credit reporting industry opt-in and opt-out number at (888) 567-8688. You will have to provide you SSN, but this is safe because the credit reporting bureaus already have it. They will then stop providing your credit score to credit card and insurance companies looking to solicit you.
  • Surround yourself with family, friends, and professionals. Don't isolate yourself. Don't be afraid to ask for advice from trusted attorneys, accountants, bankers, doctors, et al if you help.
  • Consider having your bank, credit card companies, and investment brokerage send a duplicate of your monthly statements to a trusted family member or professional fiduciary to check for possible suspicious activity.