How You Can Prevent Senior Identity Theft
So, imagine you receive a phone call informing you that there's a way to take advantage of extra social security cash - all that's needed is to verify your information and answer a few questions. Money has been tight lately, so anything to ease the bills is high demand. The caller already has your name, address, and your phone number so he obviously does this for a living… just not a very honorable one.
After giving over your information, you wait for the extra cash to start rolling in. Later that night during a visit with your son, you happily announce that things will be a little easier now that social security will be picking up more of the tab - just then his face loses all enthusiasm and he lurches for his laptop. Together you check your online account to find that nearly everything has been wiped out in a matter of hours. Your identity has just been stolen and with it the remainder of your retirement savings.
Sadly, this scenario plays itself out hundreds of thousands of times each year affecting seniors and their families across the nation. In 2014, nearly 2.6 million seniors were affected by identity theft according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Although this number is alarming, it was found that half of these seniors were able to resolve these crimes in a day or less, recovering what was taken from them in the process. Yet, preventing senior identity theft is still important to consider, especially in the age of digital commerce and new electronic payment methods.
How You Can Prevent Senior Identity Theft
Here we'll break down ways that will help you and your family prevent senior identity theft. Although criminals will always seek ways around common efforts to thwart them, covering the basics will allow senior loved ones to be that much better equipped to fight identity theft.
1. Hire Caregivers Cautiously
Shockingly, a lot of identity theft is perpetrated by people directly connected to seniors. Sometimes a person working directly with elderly individuals such as caregivers or in-home nurses find themselves at the center of committing senior identity theft. Essentially, anyone with access to a senior's home and belongings is capable of stealing critical information if they know where to look. Running extensive background checks on caregivers and in-home nurses is critical to preventing those with criminal intentions from exploiting seniors.
As a best practice, don't leave mail or documents with other sensitive information out in the open. Securing bill payments, Social Security papers, and anything else that might give someone a potential opportunity to access your finances is very important.
2. Review Common Scams Targeting Seniors
Every year, the IRS publishes it's "dirty dozen" scams that people have reported during that period. This includes the current methods that criminals and other scam artists are using to steal from the public. Additionally, there are a variety of scams specifically targeting seniors - things like Medicare fraud, telemarketing scams, and several others. Keep in mind that anyone asking for your full Social Security number over the phone is unlikely to be a legitimate salesperson or representative. Most will only ask for the last for digits, and even then it's good to remain cautious.
3. Ask for Help Monitoring Your Financial Activity
If you are open to the idea (and assuming your loved oned’s intentions are just), you may want to ask them to help monitor your financial activity personally to catch anything you might be missing. Not all identity theft and fraud comes in the form of emptying bank accounts or masquerading as someone else - it can be as simple as small transactions every so often, which add up over time.
To be safe, be sure to ask for your loved one’s help when validating any offers or sales pitches you receive before turning over any valuable information. A little bit of teamwork can prevent a devastating case of senior identity theft!
4. Invest in Identity Theft Protection
Today there are myriad identity theft protection companies serving to monitor a person's financial and personal information against thieves in the business of senior identity theft. These services can include real-time credit monitoring and access to one's credit reports and scores. In the event identity theft does take place, restoring your funds or stopping criminals in their tracks entirely will be much less of a headache.
Seniors can take advantage of AARP's Credit and Theft Protection from Trusted ID, which offers reasonably priced rates for members ages 50 and older. There are individual and family plans available, helping you to find an option that works within your budget. However, shop around to find which service can work the best for your needs as a senior.
Here are some more quick take away points on preventing senior identity theft:
• Secure your social security number (SSN)
• Don’t respond to requests for personal information by phone, mail, or online
• Always shield your ATM pin on computers and keypads
• Don’t let letters sit in your mail box
• Pay attention to billing cycles
• Review your receipts
• Shred receipts, account statements, expired cards once expired or no longer needed
• Install firewalls or virus-detection software on home computers
By staying aware of the ways scammers and other criminals commit identity theft, you can stay confident about your finances and personal information. Although it may seem like it's a crime that strikes when you least expect it, having the right protection services set in place and taking the right precautions can go a long way.