Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the U.S. More than 15 million residents have their identities stolen each year. The total of the losses exceeds a staggering $50 billion annually. While it’s true that no one is safe from identity theft, seniors are particularly at risk.
Senior identity theft is growing rapidly and people ages 50 and older are commonly targeted with scams and fraudulent activity. Primary factors that make seniors more vulnerable include having a deceased spouse, dementia, failing to check their credit reports, and having more substantial savings or checking account balances.
Seniors, even those who aren’t affected by dementia or cognitive decline, are easily targeted. As unfortunate as it is that identity theft is rampant, there are many ways to help protect yourself or senior loved one from having their identity stolen.
Find trustworthy in-home caregivers. As shocking as it sounds, some of the main culprits in senior identity theft are caregivers. They may have access to personal documents, credit cards, and checking account numbers. This makes it easy to create false accounts in the senior’s name, or withdraw from their checking or savings accounts. Consider hiring a caregiver who has been reference and background checked. Assisting Hands® caregivers are the foundation of their in-home service, and every caregiver is bonded, insured and background checked. It’s one of the first steps you should take to feel confident and safe while receiving in-home care.
Be aware of common scams. It’s reasonable to get excited about a phone call or email stating you’ve won a million dollars, and it may not occur to you or your loved one that these types of interactions aren’t legitimate. The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force operates a website called StopFraud.gov, which offers a wealth of information on common scams.
Monitor financial activity. One of the best ways to safeguard against identity theft is to monitor financial activity carefully. Monitoring credit card and bank statements can catch fraudulent activity before it potentially blows up. If you’re a senior, don’t hesitate to ask for help if you’ve received any suspicious phone calls or emails of which you are unsure.
Check your credit report. Since most seniors are at a stage in their life where they’re not applying for large loans such as mortgages, credit reports are not checked often. This is how fraudulent activity can go on for a long time without being noticed. To be safe, check your credit report at least one time each year.
Enroll in identity protection. There are various credit monitoring services designed to monitor personal and financial information for any red flags. Plans are affordable and can be a crucial tool in the ongoing battle for keeping seniors out of the clutches of identity theft.
Shred old personal documents. Any documents containing information such as birthdates, social security numbers or banking information that are no longer needed should be shredded or burned. Destroying them prevents identity thieves from combing through trash bins searching for just such information.
Verify the validity of “FREE” services. Seniors are often targeted by scammers offering free and/or highly discounted medical services in return for personal information. While these proposals may seem legitimate, they’re often fraudulent. If the senior in your life receives any such offer, check the company with the Better Business Bureau before proceeding.
Be aware of link scammers. It’s easy for scammers to hide online under the guise of a reputable company and use fraudulent links there and directly to email to gain personal information that they then use. Instead of supplying any personal information via questionable links, go directly to the company’s website and complete an application there if you are interested in their services.
Get a secure mailbox. With a traditional, street-side mailbox, it’s easy for anyone to steal your sensitive mail. To protect yourself or a loved one, opt for a secure mailbox option like a post office box or locking mailbox.
Unfortunately seniors are extremely vulnerable when it comes to identity theft. Luckily, you can help yourself or your loved ones stay secure and not fall victim. These quick and easy to follow tips will go a long way in protecting a senior’s personal and financial information.