Today, we live in an uber-connected world, where nearly every type of financial transaction—shopping, banking, investment management—can be made online using a computer or mobile device.
In light of this, it’s critically important to have the appropriate safeguards in place to reduce the risk of fraud and identity theft, especially for your senior parents. Because your parents are probably not as savvy about digital technology and may be losing some of their powers of discernment as they age, it’s quite likely up to you to help them protect themselves—and ultimately your inheritance.
Along with traditional estate planning strategies to ensure you’re parents’ planning is handled in the event of their incapacity or death, you should take the following four precautions to ensure the safety of their identity and finances while they’re still alive and well.
1) Secure their computer: Your first step should be to make sure all computers they use are protected by robust security software bundled with anti-virus, anti-spam, and spyware detection features. Always go with the latest version of software, and make sure it’s configured to provide automatic updates, including security patches.
2) Use strong passwords and PINs: Create strong passwords and PINs that contain numbers, letters, and symbols, and change them regularly (once every six months). Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts—each account should have its own unique password. Never share passwords, don’t store them on a computer, and keep them in a secure location.
Since diligently keeping up with passwords can be a hassle, invest in a password manager, such as LastPass, which generates and stores strong, complicated passwords and can be used to share passwords with you and other family members.
Consider activating 2 Factor Authorization (2FA) on your parents’ accounts by using your cell phone number as the authenticating phone number or even Google Authenticator, and then teach your parents how to use it.
3) Regularly monitor their credit score and reports: Because thieves can use your loved ones’ personal information to set up new credit cards and other accounts, with bills that won’t get mailed to their home, be sure to regularly check their credit score and report for any suspicious activity. We like to use CreditKarma.com or TotalCreditCheck.com.
4) Use their own computer and avoid public wireless: Because public computers can be rigged to capture passwords and other personal data, seniors should always use their own computer or device to make financial transactions.
Even using one’s own computer can be risky if it’s done on a public wi-fi network, as found in airports, hotels, and restaurants. Many public wireless hotspots reduce their security settings, so people can more easily access and use these networks, which makes it easier to intercept personal information.
While taking these precautions is vital, it’s only the first step to ensure your elderly parents’ financial resources are protected. Consult with a Personal Family Lawyer® to develop comprehensive estate planning strategies to safeguard not only their finances, but all of their tangible and intangible assets—as well as your own.