There’s no question about it – seniors are one of the primary targets of cyberthieves who are out to commit identity theft. And it’s no surprise, because seniors are one of the most vulnerable populations around. As people age, their faculties diminish, and they become more susceptible to scams and frauds. Unfortunately, some seniors have onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which further diminishes their ability to spot a scam.
Americans are losing over $56 billion per year to identity theft, and of that $13 billion per year is attributable to senior identity theft and senior scams. It’s estimated that each victim of the fraud or scam is liable for over $1,300 per event.
Types of Senior Scams
Sadly, the phone is one of the biggest sources of senior scams and frauds. Seniors depend on the phone as a lifeline to family and friends, yet when the phone rings it’s often a cyberthief who is out to defraud the senior out of his or her money. They pretend to be someone in a position of authority, like the FBI, the IRS or the Treasury Department. The caller claims that the person who answers owes money, either back taxes or fines, and adds an immediate sense of urgency similar to “if we can’t resolve this right now, a Treasury Agent will be at your door to arrest you in the next 30 minutes”.
To a 75 or older adult, that is enough to be willing to do whatever is asked of them. And what is most often asked is to have the person immediately wire money to cover their “debt”. The IRS and other agencies have been advertising for years that they would never call a senior to ask for money over the phone. These agencies also never call to ask for any personal information, like a Social Security number to “verify the person’s identity”.
Another fraud played on seniors is email scams. The emails may look official, just like the phone scams sound official, but they’re not. In addition to IRS and other agency emails, the scams include romance scams, credit offers and home mortgage scams. They often contain links that should never be clicked, but because seniors often can’t spot the warning signs of a fraud, they click on the link and malware is downloaded into their computer.
One scam targeting seniors is a familiar fraud, affecting over 2 million seniors according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. This fraud is particularly sad because it often involves the children of the seniors, or their caregivers. They steal the seniors’ information and commit identity theft to steal their money and other financial resources.
Telltale Warning Signs of Senior Identity Theft
Now that you’re aware of some of the types of scams and frauds played on seniors, let’s look at how you can tell if the senior is becoming a victim. If a senior applies for a credit card or store credit offer and is denied, there may be identity theft going on. Another sign is charges that appear on a credit statement that don’t look familiar. Seniors or their trusted family members must be vigilant, and should continuously check bank statements and their credit reports from one of the credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion or Equifax. You can contact them individually, but another option is to check a credit report using the Federal Trade Commission’s free credit report request form.
If you see that charges are appearing that shouldn’t be there, place a credit fraud alert and a credit freeze with the credit bureaus. You only have to contact one – and the credit bureau is required to notify the other two. In addition, you should file a report with the Federal Trade Commission and the police.
Several other signs include mysterious charges on current credit statements, or seniors may start receiving statements from medical providers that they have never visited. Yet another sign is when bank statements suddenly stop coming – it usually means that a cybercrook has taken over the senior’s account and has switched the mailing address to avoid discovery.
Preventing Senior Identity Theft
The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” has never rung more true than in protecting senior identity theft before it happens. There are several ways you can protect yourself or your loved one from targeted senior scams and frauds.
First and foremost, you need to opt out of people search sites, including PeekYou, 123 People and Spokeo, among others. You’ll want to delete all unauthorized personal information that these sites have about you and sell to others. The biggest issue is that cyberthieves scour these sites looking for key pieces of personal and financial information that can lead to social security numbers, tax information and ultimately senior identity theft.
The problem is that there are more than 100 people search sites that store information about seniors, and some are very hard to find. The other problem is that each one of those sites has its own specific rules on how to opt out and delete a senior’s personal information. The effort requires someone to be extremely computer savvy, and it can take a very long time to do this manually.
It also helps to have a trusted relative or friend review basic phone and email safety practices with the seniors, so they’re aware of the many types of scams that are being done and also understand the best safety practices to use when surfing the Internet. Having this information will help the senior from being caught off guard and falling victim to one of the scammers.
Following these steps will help older Americans avoid senior identity theft and avoid the legal and financial pitfalls that come with senior identity theft.