Shot of a senior couple looking unhappy while going through paperwork at home stock photo

Digital adoption has made it easier for advisors and clients to communicate, but it’s also created security risks — particularly with older investors.

As clients receive more emails from advisors requesting certain documents or marketing products and services, scammers have started sending similar emails pretending to be from financial institutions. For older investors, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

“There’s these conflicting messages where you have your bank saying we’ll never email you, then you have your advisor emailing you, and in many cases it may have what looks like a bank logo,” said Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge, Canada’s national senior advocacy organization.

She recommended that financial advisors use colour-coded headers as a way of authenticating the message. For example, a marketing email could have a blue header, an investment-related email could have a green header and a tax email could have a red header.

Email marketing software, like Mailchimp or Constant Contact, allows you to create colour-coded templates for various message types. For mail services like Outlook or Gmail, design templates are available but can be tricky to use. Instead, changing the font colour at the beginning of the email can easily indicate the subject matter and verify that you sent it.

Tamblyn Watts suggested advisors educate clients on the colour codes during check-in meetings. She also emphasized the importance of providing a document or video about the colour codes for clients to reference after the meeting.

Similarly, some seniors may not know that a text message or email can contain unsafe links, even if the message looks like it’s from a trusted source.

Bona Savone, a financial advisor with Key Wealth Partners, Investment Planning Counsel in Ottawa, advises her older clients to find a trusted friend or family member who can be their “gut check” for these communications. Seniors can run an email or text message by this person to see if something seems off.

Most advisors speak to their clients regularly via telephone or in-person meetings, and Savone recommended advisors put that same effort into their relationship with older clients’ trusted family member. Savone will call both the client and the designated relative if she receives an email from her older clients asking her to make a transaction.

“I know my clients, I know their voices,” said Savone, who has the elder planning counsel designation. “For right now, I’d just rather be safe than sorry.”

Staci Werbin-Tanner recently experienced a fraud attempt when she received a message from a scammer impersonating her father. Werbin-Tanner is the director of national accounts with SEI Canada, a technology and investment firm, and often conducts workshops for financial advisors about how they can protect seniors from digital fraud.

She put her lessons into practice when the scammer messaged her on Facebook, pretending to be her father.

The scammer used a photo of Werbin-Tanner’s father to make the account look real and tried to get her to click a link for a fake government medical grant for retirees.

Werbin-Tanner didn’t click and asked verifying questions about where he was born and for his mother’s name. The scammer stopped replying.

As per SEI’s protocols, she also reported the scammer to Facebook.

“[Fraud] is a problem that is going to get worse as the population ages,” Werbin-Tanner said. “Financial advisors and advisory firms, they’re the ones who are taking care of the money … It’s important to continue to elevate this.”