Your Mom lives alone. She has friends, but gets lonely sometimes. She likes to talk on the phone. Dad is a widower, and seems lost since your mother passed away. He is a little confused, but can take care of himself with a little help at home from a health care agency. What do they have in common? Both are exactly the kind of victim identity thieves prey upon.
Identity thieves love aging parents because they think they are so vulnerable. Social isolation, loss of a spouse, early dementia, general memory loss or confusion make our elders and aging parents an easy mark. Add to that that seniors tend to be friendly and trusting, and you have a combination that can make your aging parent a sitting duck.
How can we help them protect themselves? About 19 people become victims of identity theft every minute, according to a 2014 report by the Federal Trade Commission.
We need to educate our aging parents that trusting strangers on the phone is very dangerous. We need to warn our aging parents that even their own children can rip them off if they are desperate. Drug and alcohol abuse, serious financial trouble and mental illness can lead an adult child to steal account numbers when visiting and later raid his own parents' bank account and steal from the ones most likely to trust him or her. Our elders must be educated to be alert to dangers in their own families. If you have a "black sheep" in the family who has serious money or substance abuse problems, consider it a risk to your parents.
Can we thwart the attempts at stealing our aging parents' identities? We can at least take protective measures. Some of the simplest protections are the best.
- First, buy a cross-cut shredder.
Shred or have your aging parents shred sensitive mail, credit card solicitations, and outdated personal documents such as bank statements, rather than throwing them in the trash. Thieves go through the trash looking for anything they can use to steal.
- Guard credit cards.
Watch sales people, wait staff in restaurants, and anyone who asks for your credit card. Thieves use tiny scanning devices called skimmers to steal the numbers and then use the cards. Get rid of any rarely used or unused cards. The fewer your parent has, the better. Don't give out the numbers unless you absolutely must.
- Mail letters at a mail box or the post office.
Avoid leaving outgoing mail in the mail box in front of the home. Thieves steal checks and payments slips, taking the information and using it to attempt to steal the entire identity. They take out new credit cards in the victim's name and rob them of everything they can.
- Never give out personal information over the phone.
Telephone solicitors offer prizes and rewards to trick the person into telling the solicitor his bank account number, social security number, and mother's maiden name. With that, the thief can wipe out a bank account in minutes.
- Don't let anyone copy your parents' driver's license.
Anyone doing this can get access to bank accounts, personal data, and anything else you would want to protect. Getting the license number to verify a check is one thing. Letting someone take the entire license and have the other information on it is never necessary.