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Identity Theft

Identity theft and identity fraud are two growing types of financial abuse. Join our team to learn more and combat this threat before those you love are subjected to it. We'll work hard to ensure that neither you or your family have to deal with the problems associated with ID theft.
According to the Federal Trade Commission in 2012, 19 percent of those who complained about identity theft and provided their age to the FTC reported being over the age of 60. The information below focuses exclusively on identity theft which is only one form of elder financial abuse, but on a dramatic rise!

Protecting the Elderly from Identity Theft

If you have elderly parents or care for the elderly, especially if they live alone, you need to pay close attention to their vulnerability to identity theft. The elderly have always been a target for scams, but the growth of identity theft has only made the elderly even more vulnerable to all kinds of criminals with endless ideas for conning the people most likely to trust them. While the elderly may be vulnerable to all types of identity theft and fraud, there are some scams more commonly targeted at this group, including:

  • Loan frauds, where the thief takes out new loans in the victim's name. Many victims have found their homes have been re-mortgaged, or new home equity loans taken out, often by family members.
  • Utility fraud, where the thief uses the victim's personal details to pay for utilities like phone service. For whatever reason, one of the first things identity thieves do with stolen information is to take out new cell phone service in the victim's name.
  • Account dripping, where the thief takes just a little money from bank accounts and credit cards over an extended period—thefts that usually go undetected.
  • Account hijacking, when a thief, family member, or caregiver takes control of the victim's bank and credit card accounts, pensions, and Social Security payments.
  • Theft of services, where the victim's information is used to steal medical services, Social Security services, and even food stamps.

Elderly Couple

Take the Time to Protect Your Family

If you're taking care of an elderly family member or friend there are many easy ways you can help reduce their vulnerability to identity theft:
The best thing you can do is to be around and in touch. Scammers are less likely to focus on an elderly victim if they know a family member is close by and vigilant.

If you know and trust their neighbors, ask them to get more involved and keep an eye open.

If the individual is in a nursing home or retirement community, do your homework on the community, talk to the operators or managers about security, and encourage the individual to keep as little personal or financial information with them as possible.

If the individual is in a nursing home, suggest that all mail be forwarded to you.

Talk to them about the risks, give them a simple checklist of warning signs to watch out for, and encourage them to always call you before they buy something new, sign any legal or loan documents, or are pressured or harassed by any stranger.

Conduct a regular home audit, making sure that all financial documentation is safely locked away, and that any computers have adequate security in place and working.

If home help or caregivers are involved, let them know that you're watching out for that individual and will encourage the prosecution of any crime. If you can, do a criminal background check on any caregivers, home help, or anyone else that might have regular access to the home. Do not allow hired care providers, chore workers etc. to open mail or handle any financial transactions.

If appropriate, offer to handle all financial transactions and account management for the individual, and have them refer any financial enquiries, proposals, or problems directly to you.

Work with their financial institution and credit card providers so that they are also alert to any unusual activities or transactions on their accounts.

Offer to check their incoming mail for suspicious offers, and to check their monthly bank and credit card statements to ensure there are no fraudulent charges or suspicious payments.

Regularly check that the individual is receiving any Social Security benefits, pension payments, and health care they're entitled to, and that these entitlements or payments are not being diverted or misused.

Offer to remove them from direct mailing lists to reduce the amount of junk mail they receive.

Help them make regular payments for things like utility bills so that checks are not stolen in the mail.

Consider placing a credit freeze on their credit reports to prevent any unauthorized credit. This freeze can easily be lifted if the individual wants to take out new credit.

Check for any financial or utility accounts that are no longer used or needed and close them if possible.

Help them to regularly check their credit reports and if possible set them up with a credit monitoring service with alerts sent directly to you.

— Courtesy of Neal O'Farrell, Executive Director, Identity Theft Council