In the midst of tax season, identity theft is a growing concern. In 2014, identity thieves stole $16 billion from 12.7 million people in the U.S., according to the 2015 Identity Fraud Study released by Javelin Strategy & Research. Among the staggering number of victims, senior citizens are one of the most frequently targeted. They lose an estimated $2.9 billion every year from fraud, according to a MetLife Mature Market Institute review of research and news reports.
To help seniors navigate the steps of identity protection, the Federal Trade Commission has recently announced updates to its website “IdentityTheft.Gov.” The amended site now features step-by-step instructions tailored to guide seniors through reporting and recovering from identity theft.
The FTC hopes to clearly communicate with a generation of consumers who aren’t always technologically savvy, aiding them in processes like obtaining a free credit report and filling out an online form to report the crime to the FTC, which then creates an affidavit for users.
With these upgrades, the site provides an invaluable service. According to the FTC, seniors can be especially vulnerable to identity theft because they are less likely to monitor their credit, have more savings and are typically trusting, a trait of the generation that fraudsters know to exploit. For these reasons, seniors are slower to notice the crime and are often the victims of crimes like medical identity theft, tax fraud and phone scams.
In a column for Forbes magazine, contributor Carolyn Rosenblatt notes the significance of having a service like IdentityTheft.gov.
“The issue of identity theft is particularly traumatic for our elders, as they can be easily overwhelmed by the impact of theft, the fraudulent charges they see on their bills and the long process of trying to correct the fraud,” she explained.
It isn’t the first effort to protect seniors from identity theft, though. The “Seniors Fraud Protection Act” bill has been introduced to Congress twice, in 2013 and 2015, and aims to establish an office within the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to work against fraud that specifically targets seniors. While the bill itself hasn’t gained a lot of traction, it did facilitate the creation of the new FTC website.
As Rosenblatt noted, though, it’s not just on the government to provide protection to seniors. Education is also important so consumers can be vigilant. The Huffington Post recommends talking to your elders about common scams, emphasizing to never give personal information over the phone regardless of who they’re talking to. Other steps include frequently checking on credit and financial activity, ensuring the trustworthiness of their caregivers and signing them up for services that can bolster their protection.
If you're thinking of ways you might help the seniors in your life take control of their identity protection, consider investing in an identity theft protection service. A good ID theft protection service should monitor your Social Security Number and public record, include credit monitoring , and alert you to certain activity in your credit file that could indicate fraud. You also want to look for a service that provides software tools like keystroke encryption or anti-virus, and education on digital privacy and how you can lower your risk. Looking for features like this can better equip elders to deal with threats to their identity.