In today’s post, Intersections’ Consumer Security Adviser, Neal O’Farrell shares some very important advice on how to help the elderly, the baby boomer population, protect themselves from consumer fraud and identity theft. This is a very helpful article if you have aging parents, or if you yourself of of that AARP age! Read on!
Just last week I spoke at an identity theft seminar in the affluent Silicon Valley town of Palo Alto, CA. The event was organized by local County Supervisor Liz Kniss and the District Attorney’s office.
While anyone was welcome to join the free two-hour event, most of those who attended were seniors. And a couple of things jumped out at me that reminded me why we need to keep addressing the issue of identity theft among seniors.
The first thing I noticed was the size of the audience. The crowd looked like it topped 100, and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. That at least suggested that there is still great concern over identity theft and a need for answers.
The second thing that jumped out at me was the very visual answer to a very simple question. When asked how many in the audience had fallen victim to identity theft or fraud, more than half of the audience raised their hands.
While there are lots of statistics about the number of victims of identity theft every year, I was still surprised to find that about one-half of the people in that audience believed they had been victimized by this crime.
This got me thinking. Were they victimized because they live in a very affluent community, surrounded by other affluent communities? After all, we know that identity thieves are increasingly targeting what they refer to as “whales” – higher net worth individuals who have more access to wealth, better credit, and less time to think about protecting themselves.
Or could the answer be even simpler, that these individuals experienced a higher rate of identity theft simply because they are older. I have a feeling I may be on to something there. Financial abuse and identity theft among the elderly are on the rise, and in many cases the thieves are those the victims trust most – caregivers, relatives, and even their own children or family members.
As a result of my presentation, I thought this might be a good time to revisit some sound advice we’ve given in the past, advice you should take to heart if you have elderly relatives, friends, or neighbors:
• The best thing you can do is to be around and in touch. Scammers are less likely to focus on an elderly victim if they know a family member is close by and vigilant.
• If you know and trust their neighbors, ask them to get more involved and keep an eye open.
• If the individual is in a nursing home or retirement community, do your homework on the community, talk to the operators or managers about security, and encourage the individual to keep as little personal or financial information with them as possible.
• If the individual is in a nursing home, suggest that all mail be forwarded to you.
• Talk to them about the risks, give them a simple checklist of warning signs to watch out for, and encourage them to always call you before they buy something new, sign any legal or loan documents, or are pressured or harassed by any stranger. They should be especially careful about telephone solicitations, which often target the elderly.
• Conduct a regular home audit, making sure that all financial documentation is safely locked away, and that any computers have adequate security in place and working.
• If home help or caregivers are involved, let them know that you’re watching out for that individual and will encourage the prosecution of any crime. If you can, do a criminal background check on any caregivers, home help, or anyone else that might have regular access to the home. If you hire a home-care professional, seek out licensed employmen agencies who will perform such background checks.
• If appropriate, offer to handle all financial transactions and account management for the individual, and have them refer any financial enquiries, proposals, or problems directly to you.
• Work with their bank and credit card providers so that they are also alert to any unusual activities or transactions on their accounts.
• Offer to check their incoming mail for suspicious offers, and to check their monthly bank and credit card statements to ensure there are no fraudulent charges or suspicious payments.
• Regularly check that the individual is receiving any Social Security benefits, pension payments, and health care they’re entitled to, and that these entitlements or payments are not being diverted or misused.
• Offer to remove them from direct mailing lists to reduce the amount of junk mail they receive. Also offer to place them on national “do not call lists” to reduce the risk of unwanted telephone solicitations
• Help them make regular payments for things like utility bills so that checks are not stolen in the mail.
• Consider placing a credit freeze on their credit reports to prevent any unauthorized credit. This freeze can easily be lifted if the individual wants to take out new credit.
• Check for any financial or utility accounts that are no longer used or needed and close them if possible.
• Help them to regularly check their credit reports and if possible set them up with a credit monitoring service with alerts sent directly to you
Learn more about identity theft protection.
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