Especially for those over 60 years old, identity theft is a very real menace. More than $36 billion is taken from older Americans every year via financial abuse and fraud. Financial fraud perpetrated against the elderly is a growing threat. According to the Department of Justice, the number of elderly identity theft victims rose by 1/2 million in just two years (2012-14).
But why specifically the elderly?
It is possibly because they are more trusting. In an MIT study, people were asked, “Do you feel that most people can be trusted?” Baby boomers, those born 1946 to 1964, answered, “Yes,” in a higher proportion than any other group. On their webpage in a section about “Frauds Against Seniors,” the FBI points out that individuals born in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s were most often raised to be polite and trusting. According to the FBI, identify thieves (and other con men) exploit these characteristics. Older baby boomers are also statistically wealthier than the following generations, which make them more likely targets.
Possible identity theft scams aimed at senior citizens:
- Via printed material: Identity thieves seek seniors’ personal information and money by stealing mail and going through trash.
- Via telephone: Attempting to gain the person’s trust, a con artist may call seniors and use tactics such as a sense of urgency or authority to obtain personal and financial data, impersonating government officials—from such entities as the IRS and Medicare.
- Via Internet: Working online, identity thieves will “phish” via email using requests or demands that seem legitimate by borrowing graphics from a bank, or credit card or mortgage company, and asking for “verification” of an individual’s financial data, such as account and Social Security numbers.
With that data, thieves are then able to make purchases and other fraudulent transactions.
Steps to help combat senior identity theft and financial fraud:
- End the call – If someone asks for personal or financial information on the phone, you are not obligated to provide it. It’s alright to hang up. You can contact your bank or credit card company yourself using the number you have for them or one found on the Internet.
- Type the web address into your computer’s browser yourself – Don’t click on links found in email messages or attachments, even if the message seems to be from your credit card or bank company. Clicking may put your personal information or your computer at risk. If you need to visit the website, type in the URL that you have for the business (provided with your initial paperwork, for example).
- Have payments directly deposit – When Social Security and other benefit payments are deposited directly into your bank account, there is much less chance of them being stolen.
- Keep an eye on your family – Over 90 percent of reported senior adult abuse is perpetrated by the person’s family, most frequently by their own adult children. Seek to ensure that those whom you trust are indeed trustworthy.
- Review financial statements – It is worth the time to periodically review your bank, credit card and other statements. Check for unfamiliar charges. If something doesn’t look right, call your financial institution.
- Destroy documents – Healthcare records, bank statements, and other papers with personal information should be shredded before discarding. Your goal: make it as difficult as you possibly can for identity thieves to take advantage of you.
The crown jewel for an identity thief is a victim’s Social Security number. That number plus other personal information, which is often more easy to come by, i.e., full name, address, date of birth, gives a thief has what he needs to make use of a person’s identity. Take the above precautions and protect yourself