With each passing minute a growing number of our seniors are becoming victims of identity theft. Identity thieves love to prey on older people because they are “sitting ducks”. They are often socially isolated, lonely, tend to be trusting and unprotected. Add early dementia or memory loss to the list and our seniors are the perfect victim profile for an identity thief to prey upon.
The sly tricks a thief uses to attain an elderly person’s social security number, bank account numbers and other financial or personal documents are quite simple. Most of our older population have been living in their homes for years and many have unsecured mailboxes. Stealing mail containing bank and credit card statements, tax information or even rummaging through garbage can lead to an easy creation of a new identity.
Thieves will even go to such lengths as to send mail, some with “official letterhead”, appearing to come from trusted sources such as the victim’s bank, charitable organizations or well-known companies. Almost daily we hear of thieves calling elderly people, pretending to represent charities, associations or their bank or financial institution. Unfortunately, many senior citizens believe that these phone calls are coming from a trusted source.
Knowing that identity theft can happen at any time and in various ways there are a few ways we can all initiate our own crime prevention tactics.
- Never give out personal information over the phone, through mail, or over the internet unless you initiated the contact.
- Shred all financial documents, bank statements, sensitive mail, credit card solicitations, and documents that contain any type of personal information.
- Guard credit cards. Watch sales people, wait staff in restaurants, and anyone who asks for your credit card. Destroy credit cards that are rarely used or unused.
- Don’t allow anyone to copy your driver’s license or similar information. Address and date of birth can be used to get other personal information.
- Get a locked mailbox or post office box.
- Be suspicious of emails asking you to click on link to confirm account or respond to an urgent need. It is safer to ignore the email and contact the company directly if you are unsure.
tor online correspondence for “phishing” e-mails from people asking for help with the promise of financial rewards.
According to the FTC, nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year. It’s impossible to say how many seniors are scammed, or even what percentage of known fraud targets seniors, because they are often too embarrassed or ashamed to let anyone know. There are resources you can use to further protect yourself and your aging loved ones as well as resources to help you know where to get help if identity theft has occurred.
© Catherine Camp – Autumn of Life Senior Housing and Advisory Services