Consumer Reports offers these tips for seniors and the people who care about them:
• Sign up for Nomorobo. The free robocall interception service is available to customers with Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service from providers including Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Consumer Reports testers recently found it to be very effective. Check at nomorobo.com to find out whether your phone service supports it. If you happen to answer a call from an unknown number, don't press to connect to a representative, even just to tell him to buzz off; you'll only show that you're a live person and generate more calls. Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry (donotcall.gov or 888-382-1222); it won't prevent crooks from calling, but it will limit legitimate telemarketing calls.
• Opt out of commercial mail solicitations. You can arrange for a ban of five years at a time with the Direct Marketing Association's mail preference service (dmachoice.org). To eliminate unsolicited offers for credit, go to optoutprescreen.com.
• Have someone help you pay bills. Create a shared bank account with someone you trust. Then arrange to transfer only enough money each month to pay the bills. Get to know officers and tellers at your local bank or credit union.
• Vet all contractors. Never hire one without first checking with your state's contractor licensing board and the local Better Business Bureau. Ask for proof of insurance and bonding. Don't pay in full up front.
• Check a financial adviser's credentials. Find regulatory actions, violations or complaints at brokercheck.finra.org.
• Arrange for limited account oversight. See whether your financial institutions will send statements and alerts to a trusted person who has no access to your accounts, just to check for fraud. Or try EverSafe (eversafe.com), a paid Web-based service that consolidates all of your accounts in one place and checks for suspicious activity daily. It lets you arrange for someone else to receive the online statements without having access to your accounts. Consumer Reports tried the Essentials version, $8, which generally worked as promised.
• Set up an emergency plan. There may be a time when you aren't able to control your own finances because of temporary hospitalization or permanent incapacity. Consider carefully to whom you give power of attorney. Don't assume the person closest to you will do the best job; you might be better off giving it to someone more detached and financially secure. The power-of-attorney document can be drawn up with limits, such as assigning a relative or friend to monitor the person with power of attorney, mandating a periodic written report of financial transactions or assigning joint powers of attorney, which requires two signatures on every check.
• Visit an elder-law attorney. He or she can help set up a trust for one or all of your accounts. The arrangement can allow for you to control your money until the point at which you're deemed to need help.
Protect a loved one
• Visit often, sometimes without advance notice. Check for changes in behavior and for signs that the elderly person isn't taking care of herself, including changes in hygiene and a fridge with little food.
• Set up a limited account. If you're concerned about your relative's financial decision-making, set up a small account at a local bank for her. The account could, for instance, include a debit card and checking with a spending limit of, say, $300.
• In an extreme case, file for guardianship or conservatorship. That could require two exams: one, performed by a psychiatrist or neuropsychologist, to judge the elderly person's cognitive abilities; and another, by a specially trained psychiatrist or psychologist, to determine whether the elderly person is being unduly influenced.
For more information, visit ConsumerReports.org.