According to the Federal Trade Commission, nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Elderly Americans fall victim to some type of financial fraud or confidence scheme, including romance, lottery, and sweepstakes scams, to name a few. 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. 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.

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, even their grandchildren in distress. Unfortunately, many senior citizens believe that these phone calls are coming from a trusted source.

These simple tips may save you heartache and money no matter what your age.
Be wary of family – Over 90 percent of all reported elder abuse is committed by the older person’s own family, most often by their adult children. Make sure those you trust are truly trustworthy.
Hang up the phone – If someone calls asking for personal or financial information, do not feel obligated to provide it. It’s OK to hang up. If the person claims to be with your bank or credit card company, you can always call the number you have for them.
Type in the URL yourself ¬– Don’t click on email links or open email attachments, even if the message appears to be from your bank or credit card company. Doing so may put your personal information or your computer at risk. If you’re inclined to visit the website, type in the URL that you have for the business.
Unless you initiated the contact – Never give out personal information over the phone, through mail, or over the internet.
Shred documents – Financial and bank statements, healthcare records, sensitive mail, credit card solicitations, and documents that contain any type of personal information.
Credit Cards – 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.
Use direct deposit – Have Social Security and other benefit checks deposited directly into your bank account. This helps protect them from being stolen.
Identification – Don’t allow anyone to copy your driver’s license or similar documents that may also include your address or date of birth.
Lock it up – Use a lockbox in your home to keep important documents secured.
Family Members – Over 90 percent of all reported elder abuse is committed by the older person’s own family, most often by their adult children. Confirm those you trust are trustworthy.
Don’t Click That Link – Be suspicious of emails asking you to click on a link to confirm an account or asks “Is this a picture of you?” By opening the link you could be opening the door to putting malware on your computer and accessing your information. It is safer to ignore the email or contact the sender directly if you are unsure.

Knowing that identity theft can happen at any time and in various ways there are a few crime prevention tips we can all initiate.

The Oregon Attorney General has a website page and other 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 & Advisory Services