Don’t Assume All is Well – Check Bills and Statements of Seniors (and Us)

Online payment systems and e-bills are great, aren’t they? Now we can quickly shift money from our own accounts to those who we owe money with just a few clicks — no need to write a check or lick a stamp much any more!

Even when we do get paper bills and pay with a check, it seems like the process of going through our bills and paying them takes less time than before and often a lot less than we remember our parents and grandparents taking.

Is it really a good thing, though, that we can rush through bill payment or pay them without even seeing our detailed charges?

Paying Charges We Don’t Realize

Law enforcement officials are reporting more and more cases of questionable and even fraudulent charges showing up on credit card bills, cellular service statements and other invoices. Even worse, there are too many cases of our own banks allowing or even facilitating withdrawals we don’t intend from our checking and savings accounts.

All too common for a number of years have been charges like these.

  • Monthly charges against our phone bills because someone on our account clicked on the wrong link or entered their cell number in the wrong place and a vendor took advantage by submitting a charge that our cell company seems all too willing to pass along to us.
  • Credit insurance premiums that find their way onto our credit card bills because we didn’t read the fine print when we took advantage of an offer we received or innocently clicked a box online. Sometimes we get those without seemingly doing anything at all.
  • Recurring electronic withdrawals from our bank accounts or charges on our credit cards because we let a newspaper, fitness center or other vendor submit charges directly for our convenience — and those charges conveniently continue after we quit the service, sometimes even after we specifically ask for them to be stopped.

There are more like those and even some new versions as criminals and near-criminal businesses take advantage of our lack of diligence in following through or even checking our account statements each month.

Typically those charges are small enough that they don’t jump out at us when we take a cursory glance at the bill and don’t change our balance enough to catch our attention.

Seniors Often Seen as Easy Targets

Crooks and purportedly legitimate businesses eager to separate us from our money by means that are questionable at best have long targeted seniors. While seniors were once seen as easy marks because they were more trusting, that is probably less true of most of our current older loved ones, who grew up in different times than did their own parents and grandparents.

Our senior loved ones today are still targeted, often in an attempt to find those more likely to unwittingly give up information they shouldn’t and to forget that they did so or that they agreed to buy that [whatever item] they never receive. Those who prey on older adults are also aware that many hesitate to report what happened out of fear they will be seen as incapable of managing their own money or living on their own.

Regardless of why they are targeted or how, the bank and other financial accounts of seniors are seeing far too many unwanted, questionable and even totally bogus charges — and we can’t assume the gatekeepers of those accounts (banks, credit card companies and others) are going to stop the outflow of money. Many even seem to have a financial incentive for helping it continue.

Stopping It is Up to Us

Yes, there are too many unwanted drains on the finances of our senior loved ones and ourselves. That’s even before we talk about the growing problem of identity theft and the tremendous impact that can have on the lives of all those touched by the crime.

What can we do, especially when it comes to senior loved ones living independently and wanting to be seen as able to run their own lives?

Prevention isn’t the whole answer because, as much as we would like, what happens to our sensitive financial information isn’t totally within our control. That doesn’t mean we ignore preventive and protective steps, just that we don’t assume it’s all we need to do.

All account statements — including checking, savings, credit cards, cell phones and more — should be reviewed in detail each month, if not more frequently. All questionable items should be investigated to determine if they are legitimate and acceptable or if actions need to be taken to remove them from the bill and keep them from showing up in the future.

Catching and Stopping Problem Charges

There are several steps we, on our own behalf and for the our senior loved ones if they agree, can take to catch questionable (and worse) items on bills and in accounts, some of which take advantage of the very technologies that have made it easy for us to bypass regular detailed reviews.

  • Ask cell phone providers to block all outside charges to accounts, which most will do upon request. If you are calling because you found something on the bill that shouldn’t be there, they will probably take the item off the current bill as well.
  • Set up automatic text or email notifications for bank and credit card accounts to keep track of charges and withdrawals. Most of us have that capability with our banks.
  • Check transaction details of all accounts carefully, whether on printed statements or online. A little time spent here is an investment that can save us time and money as well as give us peace of mind.
  • Consider freezing credit files at each of the reporting bureaus, especially if there is no charge for doing so in your state. Yes, there may be some inconvenience when you want to take out a new loan or credit card, but the bureaus have made it very easy to get a freeze lifted temporarily.

Electronic billing and payment may have made it easy for us to overlook unwanted items on our bills, but it’s time to turn technology back to help us hold onto what belongs to us and to our senior loved ones.