Inflation affects all consumers, but older Americans are facing an especially dramatic loss of buying power.
Identity theft occurs every 22 seconds. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 5.7 million complaints regarding fraud and identity theft in 2021. According to The National Council of Identity Theft Protection, cases of fraud are up 70% from 2020. While everyone is at risk for identity theft, senior adults fall victim at a higher rate than any other age group.
Why Senior Adults?
This demographic is targeted for a handful of reasons.
- Unfamiliar with technology: Senior adults are less familiar with technology than younger generations. However, in today’s world, it’s almost a requirement to use it, so they do so to the best of their ability. Being unfamiliar leaves them susceptible to online or phishing scams.
- Retirement funds: Most senior adults are retired and have funds to live on for an extended period of time. This essentially guarantees a scammer that there is money to be siphoned. There is also a belief that this demographic has higher financial reserves, making them a more lucrative target.
- Caregivers: Senior adults who can’t live independently are especially vulnerable to identity theft. Whether living in a facility or under the care of a family member, caregivers typically have access to personal information and sometimes financial accounts. It’s important to note that according to the National Council on Aging, nearly 6 out of 10 cases of elder abuse are committed by family members. Identify theft and financial abuse can be done by anyone.
- Unlikely to check reporting: Compared to younger adults, older adults do not check their credit reports or bank statements as frequently. Because of this, financial crimes and identity theft are easier to commit.
- Fear: Many senior adults heavily rely on benefits and government assistance programs. Scammers may call and claim that a benefit is at risk. They offer to help resolve the (false) issue and request personal information throughout the process. If a retiree fears that an essential benefit is at risk, it’s easy to react and fall victim to these calls quickly.
- Less likely to report a crime: Criminals will be more likely to commit a crime if the chance of being caught is minimized. It is believed that senior citizens are less likely to report a crime due to incapacities, fear, or inadequate resources.
What to Look Out For
Identity theft can lead to a major financial and psychological crisis, especially during retirement. Therefore, it is important to be informed and recognize red flags to avoid becoming a victim.
- Impersonators: Identity theft scammers use various tactics to gain personal information. Common impersonations include that of Medicare/NHS representatives, bank officials, tax agents, and technical support. Watch out for any phone calls or emails that request personal information such as social security numbers, bank account information, tax documents, etc. If there is any doubt, do not give any information. Follow up with the agency directly.
If identity theft does occur, it is imperative that you recognize the signs right away to minimize damage and losses.
- Credit is denied: If a new line of credit or something like new insurance coverage were to get declined due to a negative history, this is a red flag. It is vital to check your credit report immediately.
- Unfamiliar charges: It is good practice to review your bank statement monthly. If unauthorized charges are made to the account, it’s possible that an unauthorized user has access.
- Unusual notices or bills: If you receive medical bills that you are unaware existed or notifications that a new account of any sort has been opened, it is likely that someone else is using your identity. Additionally, if you were to stop receiving regular notices or bank statements, you should be equally alarmed.
- Collections: If collection agencies are contacting you for debts you are unaware of, it’s likely to be fraudulent activity.
How to Reduce the Risk of Identity Theft
Identity theft and fraud are on the rise, and taking proactive measures will protect seniors and their loved ones.
- Learn safe online practices. Those at the highest risk for online fraud are those who are not familiar with typical processes with modern technology. Being aware is key. Additionally, trusted sources such as the FTC or Identity Theft Resource Center are excellent places to start learning. An elder law attorney can also be a helpful resource.
- Remove yourself from people-search sites. Identity theft begins with being able to locate a person. Many criminals use people-search or people-finder sites to access sensitive information. This process can be tedious and time-consuming, as many different people-search platforms are available, and opt-out processes vary. It is helpful to speak with a professional or use a company or service specializing in identity protection. A small fee to remove your information may save you from falling victim to identity theft down the road.
- Secure your accounts. It may seem like a hassle, but use unique and different passwords and turn on two-factor authentication. It can lower your risk substantially. The more difficult it is to access an account, the less likely it is to fall victim to identity fraud.
What To Do If Identity Theft Occurs
Time is the most crucial factor when minimizing the damages caused by identity theft. If you or a loved one falls victim, act right away. First, contact your bank and credit card companies to inform them. They will secure your account to prevent any more fraudulent activity and possibly help recover losses. Next, cancel all compromised credit and debit cards. To be extra safe, you may want to freeze your credit. Then contact a credit bureau to place a fraud alert. You only need to reach one of the three main bureaus, and they will speak to the other two. By placing a fraud alert, companies are notified that your identity must be verified before a new line of credit is opened. Finally, report to the Federal Trade Commission, your local law enforcement, and the National Adult Protective Services Association.