Safe Banking

One of the most opportune days for con artists to strike has traditionally been the first of the month, when Social Security checks arrive. This, however, is becoming less so, as developments in banking enable savvy seniors to manage their funds from the safety of their homes.

One big improvement occurred when the Federal government created its Direct Deposit program, which enabled seniors to have their checks put directly into their checking or savings accounts on the day they are issued. This not only allows faster access to the funds, but eliminates the need for traveling to the bank and becoming a possible target.

To set up Direct Deposit, contact the Social Security office.

Banks have made it increasingly easy for seniors to avoid being exposed to crime by offering a variety of services via the telephone. Account holders, with the proper security information, can transfer funds, pay lines of credit and even set up new accounts, using their bank’s 800 numbers.

Paying bills has also become automated. Bills can be paid with credit cards, debit cards or even with a check-by-phone. With a check-by-phone, the customer calls and authorizes his or her bill to be paid for a specified amount on the next check in his or her checkbook.

It’s impossible, however, to expect that one will never have to visit his or her bank or make a withdrawal. Seniors, in particular, still use cash more than any other demographic (with the exception of those under 18 who do not have their own checking accounts or credit cards). Cash is, after all, convenient. A cashier doesn’t have to take down extra information with a cash transaction, and some places still don’t accept checks or credit cards.

There are three main ways to get cash. First, people can write checks for an amount over their purchases at some stores. This amount, however, rarely exceeds $20. The second way is to go to the bank during business hours and make a withdrawal. If your bank is in a bad part of town, there’s nothing wrong with asking a member of the staff to accompany you to your vehicle, a smart strategy since crooks will pass over people in groups, and concentrate on those who are alone.

Banks have tried to help this situation by placing branches in grocery stores. This is helpful in that there are many people around, which makes them unattractive to thieves.

The third way is through the Automatic Teller Machine or ATM. Much has been said about the safety of using these outlets. Though there are cameras in each ATM to record the activity in front of the machine, sometimes this doesn’t dissuade criminals. Obviously, using an ATM at night presents additional risks as well.

There are two types of ATM setups. First, is the walk-up ATM, where customers must exit their vehicles and walk to the machine to complete transactions. There are also drive-up ATMs. Criminals have found ways to victimize people at both. In the walk-up scenario, criminals may wait until customers step away from the machine (after witnessing that customers have taken out cash) and assault them. In the drive-up machines, criminals may approach from the back of the car and rob customers. Incidentally, the amount withdrawn is rarely a consideration, but many people have been injured, and some killed, in ATM robberies.

Once again, to prevent this crime do not use the machines after dark. Also, the location of the machine is key to how safe it is. Machines are increasingly available in very public places, such as shopping malls. These are harder for criminals to target because of the large amount of foot traffic, and thus possible captors. In grocery stores, ATM machines at registers will also allow customers to take cash in amounts that are higher than writing checks over the amount of purchases.

Whichever method you choose, certain rules always apply. First, never flash the money. If in a branch, your teller will count the money for you. Put it directly into your wallet without turning around and giving others a clear view. In the case of an ATM, get your money immediately, return to your vehicle and lock it. Then, you may count it. If the amount is wrong, you’ll have to wait until your branch opens to try and reconcile the problem, anyhow.

When using an ATM, make sure you shield the front of the machine from prying eyes so that your PIN number (the code that allows only you to use your ATM card) is protected. Never give your PIN number to anyone. Nobody should ever need it.

If your card or checks become lost, don’t hesitate to call your bank and have the card invalidated or the checks stopped. Your bank can issue a replacement ATM card, complete with a new PIN number.

When going to or from a bank or ATM, walk with a purpose, securely gripping your purse, or with your wallet in a secure location. Attitude may not prevent all crimes, but given the choice between someone who looks unsure, or one who moves briskly and with a purpose, the former will be picked for victimization.

If you are frail, walk slowly, or if you need the assistance of a walker or cane, run your errands with a buddy. If this is not possible, ask staff to escort you to your vehicle. If you are waiting for public transportation, stay inside until just before the scheduled arrival time.

Seniors, as much as any other segment of the population, should be aware of their surroundings. If you have an instinct that someone in the parking lot is up to no good, listen to those instincts and have someone walk you out. If you don’t feel right about the area an ATM is located, don’t use it. Instead, go to a well-lit grocery store to get your cash, and have someone walk you out if it is after dark.

The ever-increasing rate of technology can be confusing and downright frustrating at times, but, used to your advantage, it can make you and your money safer than ever.

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