When it comes to identity theft, senior citizens are particularly at risk, for several reasons. For one, identity thieves believe that senior citizens will prove easier targets in scams. For another, thieves expect seniors to have more money in their bank accounts than their younger counterparts might. Finally, senior citizens are at risk because many live in large communities like senior living, nursing care or retirement community centers.Financial experts report that senior citizens are also less likely to closely monitor their credit reports and bank statements, possibly because their spending becomes more habitual and regular in the years following retirement and they are less likely to be seeking a loan.
In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission announced that 28 percent of identity theft attacks were targeted at victims who were over 50 years old, and researchers at the University of Iowa published a paper in 2012 reporting that the area of the brain controlling belief and doubt actually deteriorates as individuals age. This means that elderly people could physiologically be less suspicious and more vulnerable to scams.
Senior citizens are also frequently enrolled in government programs that require personal information and are complicated by nature. Many scam artists use Medicare and Social Security scams to lure in unsuspecting individuals.
If you or a loved one is a senior concerned with identity protection, follow these tips to remain secure:
- Contact family before you offer help: Scam artists will sometimes call or email elderly individuals, claiming that their grandchild is in trouble and needs money immediately. Grandparents are naturally eager to offer help, but it’s best to call your children or other family members to verify the situation so you don’t end up sending money to a con artist.
- Don’t carry your Medicare card: Make a copy of your Medicare card and black out the last four letters of your Social Security number. This way, if your wallet gets stolen the thief doesn’t have access to your information.
- Don’t leave information out: Many seniors live in retirement or assisted living communities where their caregivers could easily pick up credit cards, bank statements, or even simply lift a Social Security number from the patient’s file. For this reason, it’s important to check your bank statements regularly, even if you’re not spending much. This way you’ll know if you fall victim.
- Don’t respond to emails: Everyone should be aware of the dangers of phishing schemes. Tell your elderly relatives not to open emails that come from unverified sources, and that misspelled words, generic greetings and demands for personal information are hallmarks of fraudulent messages. Legitimate institutions won’t ask for sensitive identifying information out of the blue, so delete the email and contact your institution to notify them of the situation.
- Don’t talk to telemarketers: Criminals sometimes pose as telemarketers, calling to offer healthcare-related products and benefits and asking for personal information. Don’t give your name, birthday, Social Security number or Medicare ID number to anyone over the phone, even if you think they might be with a legitimate institution. It’s always safer to contact an institution yourself on a separate occasion.
- Guard your medical information: Seniors typically receive more medical care as they get older, so it’s important to keep your medical records to yourself. Thieves will sometimes use another person’s insurance to get treatment, tampering with the victim’s medical record in the process.
- Lock up your information: Especially if you’re living in an assisted care facility, or if you have a private caregiver come to your home, you should be sure to put your passport, birth certificate, Social Security card, Medicare card, checks and financial statements in a locked safe.
- Watch out for tax scams: Sometimes thieves will file a tax return using the Social Security number of an individual’s deceased spouse, which can then cause problems when the victim attempts to file legitimately.
Finally, you may want to register for credit monitoring services, which can alert you to certain activities that may indicate fraud.