Identity theft, also known as identity fraud, against the elderly occurs when an identity thief fraudulently obtains the private information of an elderly or senior person. Various financial crimes are then committed using the elderly person’s social security number or credit information.
Such crimes can include making illegal purchases, obtaining unauthorized loans, or stealing the person’s assets and property. Often times the thief can be a relative or a company that the elderly person has placed their trust and confidence in.
The elderly are common targets for identity theft for several reasons. First, many of them have built up considerable amounts of funds and assets over the span of their lives. Also, many elderly persons have conditions such as dementia which render them unable to make sound financial decisions. Finally, many elderly citizens are unfamiliar with the intricacies of modern credit arrangements. Many of them grew up in a different cultural environment that honored word-of-mouth transactions.
Identity theft is only one example of fraud against the elderly. Other related financial crimes against the elderly include predatory lending and phishing scams.
There are two main avenues by which identity thieves can obtain an elderly person’s information. The first is indirectly, by hacking into personal accounts such as credit lines, bank accounts, medical records, or care home records. Often times the thief will obtain a password or other information that will grant them access to such records. Physical mail is often used as well, since many retired people do not use internet technologies.
The second avenue is through a direct meeting with the elderly person, generally via theft by deception. The thief may visit the person at their retirement home and have them sign some sort of loan document such as a mortgage statement. They can then use the information provided for various other illegal purposes. This is common in situations where the elderly person’s mental judgment is no longer sound.
Therefore, you can help protect your loved ones by being involved if they are approached and asked for their personal information or bank account statements.
Perhaps the best way to prevent elderly identity theft is to hire an accountant to oversee your loved one’s assets. Or, you can have a younger relative volunteer their services to help with finances and management. In any case, be sure that the financial advisor is someone you can trust.
Other steps you can take to prevent elderly identity theft include:
- Do not give out ID numbers or financial information over the phone or mail
- Shred or destroy all mail and records that contain information that could lead to identity theft
- Be aware of the due dates for bills and statements. If a bill is late in the mail, or never arrives, it could be a sign that the mail has been stolen
- Opt out of unnecessary lists and subscriptions, including:
- Credit card offers
- Direct mail solicitation
- Government publications- even seemingly innocent mailings like DMV listings can be obtained by solicitors or other agencies
- Periodically request and review credit reports for any major signs of tampering
- Do not place your Social Security Number or SSN card in your wallet
- Store unused checks in a safe place, and cancel/report any lost or void banking checks
You should report your case immediately to the police and to the related credit agencies. Be sure to keep any important documents that might be used in an upcoming investigation.
You may wish to write a report of the events leading to identity theft. For example, if you recently received a visit from a suspicious person, be sure to write down a report of the incident including dates, times, and a description of the suspicious visitor. Also include a statement of your losses.
Identity theft is a serious crime that is punishable by steep fines and possible jail or prison time. If you suspect that you or a loved one have had your identity stolen, you should contact the police immediately. Also, you should contact a criminal lawyer for advice and representation. An attorney can help you sort out your claim so that you can receive the proper relief according to the laws of your state.