Major data breaches in recent months have illustrated that all of us, regardless of age, are susceptible to identity theft. But older adults can be even more vulnerable to identity theft than others. Identity theft involves a criminal stealing personal identifying information to create a new identity or to steal money from the victim. Older adults are targeted for a few reasons. One reason is that they often have more money saved after a lifetime of working than younger people. Another factor is that personal information for elderly adults often passes through more hands, especially those in hospitals and nursing homes. Senior adults can be more trusting of people and often do not pick up on warning signs. Finally, aging adults are far less likely to report identity theft crimes. They fear that their independence might be taken away by their loved ones. Because of all of these factors, it is important for older adults and their caregivers to know how to protect themselves against identity theft.
Many thieves use email to present themselves as a reputable group or company. In the emails, they request personal information or include a link to a legitimate-looking login page for an online service the person uses. An older adult may trust the email and follow a link to provide their information, giving the thief what they need to log in to their accounts and steal from them. This article from Tech Republic outlines several warning signs to check for before responding to emails requesting information or clicking on links. Less tech-savvy elders may not be familiar with some of the email terminology, so it may be wise to discourage them from ever clicking any links they receive by e-mail unless they check with a more tech-savvy friend or family member.
Identity thieves also use phone calls to gain personal information from elderly adults. They may pose as representatives from legitimate-sounding companies or, even worse, government agencies like the IRS or the local police department. Older adults are more likely than the younger generation to trust and respond positively to authority figures, so they may provide the personal or financial information the scammer requests. Help older adults avoid falling victim to these scams by reminding them that the IRS and other government agencies will not initiate calls requesting personal information; they will always communicate by mail. Elders should be encouraged to cultivate healthy suspicion of all phone calls and reminded that any time they feel remotely suspicious they can politely hang up, find the phone number of the agency that called them in the phone book or official website, and call back. By initiating the call, the elder can be reasonably assured that the person they reach will be an official representative of that agency rather than a scammer.
Social Media Scams
Social media is another source for identity thieves to comb for information. As recent news about Facebook has illustrated, everyone who participates in social media willingly gives up some of their privacy, often in unclear or unpredictable ways. To protect their identity, older adults should never give any personal information through social media. Even information like their exact date of birth can allow identity thieves to obtain information to steal from an unsuspecting elder.
Personal papers, including those sent by mail, are an excellent way for thieves to gain access to personal information. Keep tabs on all important documents and store them safely in a file cabinet that locks or a safe. If an older adult is in the hospital or travelling, it is important to stop mail delivery or arrange for daily pick up. Monitoring credit and bank accounts on a regular basis also helps to protect the identity of older adults. Shred old paperwork, mail, and receipts instead of just throwing them away, and be careful when throwing away receipts in public places like hotels.
The starting point for older adults to be protected from identity theft is to be informed. Elders and their loved ones should educate themselves on common scams that identity thieves use. Another way to protect identity is through a monitoring service. For a small fee, companies can monitor online accounts and a person’s social security number to help prevent identity theft.
There are also a variety of legal planning tools to help protect seniors and their loved ones from identity theft. The way assets are titled can play a large part in whether those assets can be stolen. Planning with trusts can also provide a layer of protection against identity theft and fraud. A thorough legal plan combined with knowledge and awareness is the best defense against scams and identity theft.