According to the Federal Trade Commission’s “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book,” the most common categories for fraud complaints in 2019 were identify theft and imposter scams. While these crimes impact consumers of all ages, elderly identity theft is quite common. The FBI warns that adults who are near or past retirement age usually have financial savings, own a home, and have good credit – plus, they tend to be more trusting and polite – all of which make them more appealing to scammers.
Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft
To protect yourself from becoming a victim of elderly identity theft, it is important to be informed about the most common scams targeting older adults. Here are the Top 10, according to the National Council on Aging:
- Medicare/health insurance scams
- Counterfeit prescription drugs
- Funeral & cemetery scams
- Fraudulent anti-aging products
- Telemarketing/phone scams
- Internet fraud
- Investment schemes
- Homeowner/reverse mortgage scams
- Sweepstakes & lottery scams
- The grandparent scam
Adhering to these general best practices can help ensure scammers never gain access to your personal financial or identifying information:
- Use Caller ID to screen phone calls. Make sure the numbers of close family members and friends are programmed into your phone so you can recognize when they call. Let calls from numbers you do not recognize go to voicemail. If you do answer the phone, don’t be afraid to hang up if a stranger asks for any personal or financial information. Never give your credit card, banking, Social Security, Medicare numbers or other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call. Remember that government agencies will always send letters about important information and will never call or email.
- Be skeptical of all unsolicited offers and do your research. Whether an offer is made over the phone, in an email, by mail or at your front door, if it sounds too good to be true, it is probably a scam. Never buy from an unfamiliar company and ask for a salesperson’s name, business identify, telephone number, address, and business license number so that you can research them online before agreeing to any transaction. Do not feel pressured to make a decision quickly, and don’t be afraid to ask someone you trust for help if you are ever unsure about a decision.
- Keep an eye on your mail. Do not let incoming mail sit in your inbox for a long time and consider using direct deposit for benefit or other reoccurring payments. When mailing checks or other sensitive information, drop them at the post office or in a secure collection box. Shred all receipts and documents that have your credit card account numbers or other personal information printed on them.
- Protect your computer. Use reputable anti-virus software and firewalls, and make sure they are kept up to date on your personal computer. Never open email attachments from anyone you don’t know, and never click on suspicious links or pop-up ads. If a pop-up ad or locked screen appears on your device, disconnect it from the internet and shut it down.
- Monitor your finances carefully. Check your credit card statements, credit score, and bank accounts on a regular basis and report any suspicious activity immediately.
Get Educated, Stay Protected
If you ever suspect that you have been a victim of a scam or identity theft, it is important to act as soon as possible. Call your bank or credit card company immediately to cancel any debit or credit cards linked to the stolen account and reset your PIN number(s). You may report identify theft to your local police and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-438-4338 or identitytheft.gov. Elderly identity theft should also be reported to Adult Protective Services within your county or state department of social services.
As scammers and identify thieves continue to become savvier, it is always important to be aware and able to identify their possible attempts to obtain your personal information. To stay protected, educate yourself about the latest scams and maintain a healthy dose of skepticism anytime a stranger asks you for money or personal information.
If you are in need of elder law resources, we can help to connect you with an expert in your community to handle your needs. Please visit our DwellAssured-Certified Service Provider Network for more information.
- National Council on Aging