Anyone can become the victim of identity theft, including elderly people. And they don't know their identity has been stolen until unexplained charges start showing up on credit cards or their bank accounts have been emptied.
Identity theft "occurs when a thief steals the elderly person's social security number, bank account numbers and other financial or personal documents. With this information, he can open a new credit card account for his own use, apply for loans in the victim's name, drain the victim's bank accounts, and illegally obtain professional licenses, driver's licenses and birth certificates.
Why Are Seniors Targeted?
Seniors are seen as an easy opportunity. Identity thieves love older people because they are vulnerable. They are often socially isolated, lonely, tend to be trusting and vulnerable, and may have early dementia or memory loss. This is the perfect victim profile for an identity thief to prey upon. Too often, seniors are like sitting ducks.
How Do Criminals Take Their Identity?
Scammers are always coming up with new ways to get information to commit identity theft. There are many ways a criminal can steal an identity.
- Stealing Mail
ID thieves can easily steal a senior's mail, including bank and credit card statements, checks, tax information and more. And it's not only the mail that gets stolen: Thieves will steal a senior's garbage, rummaging through it for personal and financial information carelessly tossed into the trash.
- Sending Mail
Identity thieves not only take the mail, they also send it to seniors. The mail appears to come from trusted sources, such as the victim's bank, charitable organizations or well-known companies. The scam mail usually contains "official" letterhead, authentic looking logos and registered trademarks.
- Calling Victims on the Phone
Thieves will also call elderly people, pretending to represent charities, associations and the elderly person's bank or financial institution. Unfortunately, many senior citizens believe that these phone calls are coming from a trusted source.
- "Phishing" Online
Online, phishing is a common practice. Thieves pretend to be financial institutions or well-known companies (like the eBay scam a few years back) and send spam messages asking seniors to "verify" account information and social security numbers.
- Swiping Credit Cards
Even sales clerks and wait staff in restaurants can get access to financial records when they swipe a senior's credit card for a purchase. Thieves use tiny scanning devices to steal the numbers and then use the cards, running up exorbitant bills before the senior is even aware that their identity has been stolen.
Tips to Prevent Identity Theft
Remember, identity theft can happen anywhere: over the phone, online, in a restaurant or store, or in person. Never give out personal information on the phone, through mail, or over the internet unless you know the receiver and have initiated the contact.
- Shred all financial documents, bank statements, sensitive mail, credit card solicitations, and documents that contain any type of personal information.
- Guard credit cards. Watch sales people, wait staff in restaurants, and anyone who asks for your credit card.
- Cut up rarely used or unused cards.
- Don't let anyone copy your aging parents' driver's license. Anyone doing this has instant access to the senior's address and, from there, can get bank account numbers and personal data.
- Get a locked mail box or post office box.
- Have checks delivered to your bank or post office box, not your home address.
Is Identity Theft Common Among Seniors?
It's impossible to say how often seniors are scammed, or even what percentage of known fraud targets seniors. The Federal Trade Commission regularly compiles identity theft complaints, but these are voluntarily registered by victims over the telephone or by e-mail. According to the FTC, nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year.