We have all seen the Christmas classic, Home Alone. We sit on our couch every holiday season cheering on Kevin McAllister as he wards off the intruders through a series of pranks. While we grin over this 1990 classic, we don't realize that intruders truly do prey on snowbirds as the "Wet Bandits" did in the movie. Despite popular belief, retirees aren’t the only ones seeking warmer weather when temperatures drop. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), scammers and con artists flock to areas including Florida and Arizona in droves to prey upon unsuspecting “snowbirds” from November through April each year.1 Despite the passing of the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act , which was designed to help protect seniors, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that one in 10 older adults lose an estimated $2.9 billion a year to elder financial abuse. And reports from the FBI show that almost 50,000 people over age 60 lost $342.5 million in 2017 to internet fraud and scams.2 So before you migrate south, we ask that you take proper precaution to avoid being a victim of "Snowbird Scam".
- Secure your house. First things first, secure your home before you migrate down south! A great way to do so is through a home monitoring system. Some systems even allow you to monitor your home from a click of a button on your mobile phone. Doing so will allow you to see what is going on at your home in real-time. These systems will also alert you when someone is on, or enters, your property. Accordingly, advertising your security while you are away will lessen the chance of an intruder. Amazon sells this signage to help you announce your security in order to keep those "Wet Bandits" away.
- Phone a friend. If you're not home to monitor your home, who else will? Designating a trusted friend, relative, or neighbor to check on your home a few times a week is a sure-fire way to give you piece of mind that everything is still in sorts at home. Make sure to give them a key and set up a schedule for them to check out your home, pick up any deliveries/mail, and carry out normal routines (watering plants, feed your fish, you name it)!
- Lock-up Valuables. Every time you go on a vacation, how likely are you to bring your diploma or even that bracelet your parents gifted you when you were a baby? Truth be told, you're not likely at all! Most people keep their valuables, which they don't want to lug around, in the most predictable place - their bedroom. Intruders are well aware of this. Investing in a code protected safe to stow away your valuables will help secure your most prized-possessions.
- PRO TIP: DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HIDE-AWAY KEY UNDER THE MAT, OR ANYWHERE ACCESSIBLE FOR THAT MATTER!
AARP lists the following among the top snowbird scams:
- The malevolent mechanic. Waiting outside shopping malls or supermarkets, they watch for snowbirds (often recognized by out-of-state license plates) to park and go inside. If the car's older or left unlocked, they can pop the hood and disable the vehicle by pulling wires. When the owner returns, they offer help getting their car started, which usually includes driving them to the bank to get money to pay for the repair. Their main target: women in their 70s or 80s.
- The condo caper. These crooks frequently work in pairs. They arrive unannounced as self-described utility workers, contractors or exterminators, requesting to enter your home and claiming that the condo association sent them. Typically, one creates a distraction to divert your attention while the other stealthily steals valuables.
- The lottery winner who can't collect. In a parking lot, someone approaches you claiming to hold a winning lottery ticket, but he or she “is in the country illegally and can't collect.” They offer to give you the winning ticket if you pay a portion of the jackpot in cash. Its number may be "verified" by a passerby — "I saw it announced on TV last night." In reality, this person is an accomplice and the ticket is worthless.
How can you avoid becoming a victim of snowbird financial abuse within these top scams?
- Remain vigilant and aware of your surroundings, especially in parking lots or in large crowds where distracted individuals are seen as easy targets for would-be pick-pockets, purse snatchers and car thieves.
- Never let anyone claiming to be a worker inside your dwelling unless you initiated contact, or the homeowners’ or condo association gives prior notice.
- Never agree to provide cash in person or over the phone (via credit card or gift cards) for a transaction you did not initiate yourself or to claim a lottery or sweepstakes prize.
Remember, while good faith is an admirable quality, there’s no replacement for good judgment when it comes to protecting your safety, your property and your assets. Contact the office today if you have questions about protecting your income in retirement.