Senior identity theft is on the rise, as 39 percent of all identity-theft victims were 50 years of age or older, according to the 2015 FTC Consumer Sentinel Network Report.
And while physical abuse and neglect of seniors have been and continue to be problems in the United States, senior identity theft and fraud leading to financial exploitation is another and emerging form of abuse.
The Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit San Diego based organization whose mission is to educate consumers, corporations, government agencies, and other organizations on best practices for fraud and identity theft detection,talks about the financial exploitation of the elderly.
“Both criminals and the ‘insider threat’ including relatives, friends and caretakers are examples of unscrupulous individuals targeting seniors,” according to Eva Casey-Velasquez, the President/CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Criminals target older adults for identity theft and fraud because they believe seniors are less educated on the crime of identity theft and the current fraud scams, said Casey-Velasquez.
“But it’s not just criminals as relatives, friends and caretakers have exploited the trust of seniors when stealing savings and assets while damaging good credit that have taken years to accumulate and establish,” she said.
Older adults living in residential facilities, or under the care of someone, are at greater risk because the caretakers have access to the senior’s personal records. This creates a situation which allows unscrupulous individuals to exploit those in their care.
I have listed below five Identity Theft Resource Center examples of financial exploitation:
- establishing credit using the victims personal information
- cashing an elderly person’s check without permission
- forging the victim’s signature
- misusing or stealing a person’s money or possessions
- deceiving a victim into signing a contract, will, Power of Attorney, or other document
“In the end, identity-theft criminals can drain bank accounts, open new accounts, rack up huge credit card bills, obtain loans, apply for jobs, refinance the victim’s home, obtain medical care and even commit crimes with the victim’s identity,” said Casey-Velasquez.
So what can seniors do to protect themselves?
- Caregiver backgrounds: Know your caregiver and look for suspicious activity and behavior. Conduct a background check even on a friend or family member, as greed and poor financials have motivated many good people to do bad things.
- Secure sensitive documents: Secure any document containing personal and financial information including your Social Security number, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, driver’s license number and birth certificate.
- Phone and email scams: Never provide personal and financial information to incoming phone calls or in response to an email. Your bank and any other legitimate business including the IRS, will never call or email you asking for personal and financial information.
- Do not carry your Medicare or Social Security card in your wallet or purse: Make copies of your Social Security and Medicare cards and block out the last four digits of your Social Security number. This will prevent someone from knowing your full Social Security number if your wallet is lost or stolen.
- Shred it: Shred anything you don't need to keep, such as documents that contain account information, Social Security numbers, PINs, or sensitive information — including credit card statements, bills, credit card receipts, unused checks, canceled checks and credit reports.
- Check your credit and consider a credit freeze: Request a free credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com and check your credit three times annually. Consider freezing access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.
- Mark’s most important: Seniors and those proven trustworthy who care for seniors must pay attention to the risk of senior identity theft and look for suspicious activity from both criminals and insiders.
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6 tips for seniors to protect themselves from ID theft