Protecting Elders from Identity Theft

This September we learned of the Equifax security breach that exposed the sensitive personal information of 143 million Americans. Identifying information such as names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers were accessed. You can visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to find out if your information or that of a loved one was exposed.

While anyone can be a target of fraud and identity theft, older adults are particularly vulnerable. There are several factors that make older Americans more likely to become targets or victims of fraud and identity theft. Many of today’s elderly were raised in a time when people were more honest and trusting of each other, so they may not exercise caution when they receive suspicious calls or e-mails. Changes in the brain as they age may also make them less aware of risky situations. Older adults also tend to be staunchly independent and may be reluctant to bother their family or caregivers, even when something like a strange call weighs on their mind. In addition, elders who have accrued their life savings in their accounts make appealing targets, and they can ill afford to lose those savings in their retirement years when their care costs are steadily increasing. Therefore, seniors and their caregivers should take extra precautions to protect those life savings.  It’s important for the people in their lives to understand the risks and what they can do to protect the seniors they care about.

The NextAdvisor article “4 Tips to Protect Seniors Against Fraud and Identity Theft” offers four recommendations for protecting elder loved ones:

  • Ensure caregivers are trustworthy. Identity theft is not limited to faceless hacking; it may also be committed by someone known to the elder. Be aware of any suspicious behavior, and conduct a background check if necessary. Make sure to keep documents and other items containing personal and financial information locked up in a home safe or a safe deposit box so that they cannot be easily accessed.
  • Discuss common scam strategies.Every year the IRS publishes a Dirty Dozen list of the most common scams that have been reported. Telephone scams took the second-highest spot in 2017 (second only to phishing scams). More senior citizens have landline phones in their homes than people of other generations, and they may not have caller ID services to help them identify suspicious numbers. Scammers are likely to pose as IRS agents or other government entities, taking advantage of elders’ tendency to respect authority figures. It’s very important that older adults know to be aware of potential scams and how to tell if someone is trying to trick them. They may need to be reminded of strategies for verifying the identity of a caller.
  • Track their financial activity. More seniors are getting online now, making them potential targets for e-mail scams, which may request that they transfer money or provide credit card information. A common scam that targets older adults involves an offer of free medical tests or equipment – but only after the elder provides credit card or bank information to secure the product. Remind the elder that if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. Keep an eye on the older adult’s banking and other accounts to help spot any signs of fraud. Check your credit reportsfor free, once a year, by visiting com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. If you spot something suspicious, visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
  • Sign up the elder for identity theft protection. You may be reluctant to sign up for credit monitoring in light of the recent breach. Even the AARP Identity Theft Protection program is offered by TrustedID, a branch of Equifax. But if an elder in your life has already been affected by the recent data breach, you may want to take advantage of the free credit monitoring service, TrustedID Premier, Equifax is now offering to help “clean up” the mess. If you prefer to avoid Equifax, many other companies offer identity theft protection services. NextAdvisor provides a list of such services and their ratings. In the event your loved one does fall victim to identity theft, these services can help make the process of repair less of a hassle.