The crime of identity theft can happen to anyone, but scammers seem to victimize the senior population the most; as they may be more trusting and have greater income/assets. Senior identity theft is on the rise, with 39 percent of all identity-theft victims being 50 years of age or older, according to the 2015 FTC Consumer Sentinel Network Report.
There are steps that seniors, as well as those caring for them, can take to protect themselves and increase the likelihood that they won’t become victims of identity theft.
1) Know How Scammers are Able to Steal Your Identity
Identity thieves will stop at nothing to gain your personal information and there is a wide variety of ways that they can go about doing so. It is important to be aware of some of the most common methods thieves use to steal your personal information so you can avoid becoming a victim.
- Dumpster diving/going through your garbage - thieves will sift through trash cans in search of personal information from credit card and bank statements, medical forms, etc. Therefore, it is VITAL that you shred any documents containing personal and sensitive information before throwing in the trash.
- Targeting your mail - Scammers will often zero in on a victim and steal mail right from the mailbox. Whenever possible go paperless and be aware of missing bank statements or credit card bills.
- Steal your purse/wallet - As these crooks are already attempting to steal your identity; it is no stretch for them to try to steal your belongings as well. Try to keep important documents separate. Carry a purse that’s difficult to steal; carry your wallet in your front pocket.
2) Warning Signs That Someone Has Stolen Your Identity
While continuing to safeguard against personal information it is still important to be aware of some of the warning signs that someone is using your identity. These can include:
- Seeing unexplained withdrawals from your bank account
- Debt collection calls from accounts that aren’t yours
- Bouncing checks
- Being denied a medical plan because your medical history shows ailments you don’t have
- Seeing unfamiliar credit cards on a credit report
- You receive a notification from the IRS that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or you have income from an employer you don’t work for
3) Use Identity Theft Protection Services
With older adults being financially stable; they may be less inclined to closely monitor their credit report and bank accounts on a regular basis. Because of this, it is a good idea to look into identity theft protection services. They carefully monitor your personal information that is most targeted by thieves, including your credit reports, social security number, name, public records, etc. Because they monitor your information 24/7, they are able to alert you as soon as a problem arises, so you are able to deal with it before it gets out of hand.
Many identity theft protection services also offer recovery assistance to help you figure out the next steps. They can put a freeze on your credit score, help you with letters and even deal with creditors. This is extremely helpful to seniors, as well as anyone who is a victim of identity theft as you may feel overwhelmed and unsure of what steps to take after becoming a victim.
4) Know and Trust your Caregivers
With upwards of 40% of identity thieves being known to the victim, it is vital to trust your or your loved one’s caregivers. Before hiring one, make sure to do your own background check, or find a company that can run one for you. Be mindful to keep important personal documents; such as bank statements or medical information, locked up in a personal safe or bank security box.
5) Be Aware of How to Operate Safely Online
Phishing attacks (the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers) can target seniors, coming in the form of deceptive e-mails. They may trick victims into supplying their personal information or clicking on a link by saying things like, “Your account is about to be canceled!” or “You have won a large cash prize.” Seniors should remember that legitimate businesses will not ask for personal information through an unsecured source, like an email.
With seniors having an increased social media presence, it is important to not share personal information on your accounts.
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft; report it right away to the Federal Trade Commission. Here you are able to tell them what happened, get a recovery plan, and assistance to put that plan into action.
For more information on Elder Fraud and Financial Exploitation, visit stopfraud.gov.