On the way home from work one evening, you stop by to visit your mother as you do almost every week. As you enter her home, she excitedly tells you she received a call that morning telling her she won $100,000 in a lottery. You’re immediately suspicious, but you know that even at 75 your mother is still as healthy physically and mentally as most at 45.
To be on the safe side, you caution your mother that there are many scams where identity thieves and criminals who commit financial crimes call and falsely tell unsuspecting individuals that they’ve won the lottery. You warn your mother that often the identity thieves and fraudsters will tell “winners” they must send money to pay taxes on the lottery winnings before the winnings will be sent to the “winner.” Your mother laughs and tells you she knows better than to send anyone she doesn’t know money by mail.
Just as you begin to let out a sigh of relief your mother continues. She tells you she doesn’t have to send any money to cover taxes as she provided the caller with her Social Security number because they said they would complete a “tax form” for her. As your heart sinks, she also informs you the caller was kind enough to let her know the “lottery officials” would provide her “winnings” by direct deposit into her checking account. She tells you it was all quite simple – all she had to do was read all the numbers off the bottom of one of her checks to the caller. And, just in case there was any difficulty transferring the “winnings”, she was asked to read the caller all the numbers on her checking account debit card along with her PIN.
You explain to your mother that she may have been tricked by the caller into revealing enough information for the caller to steal her identity and steal funds from her checking account. Your mother calls her bank’s 24-hour information line to check her balance by phone and quickly learns her checking account has been wiped out.
Unfortunately, as long as there have been identity thieves, they have always targeted senior citizens. In fact, many identity crimes, crimes of deception and financial crimes are traditionally aimed at our senior population as criminals believe seniors may be more susceptible to crimes of deception and the amount of money that can be stolen from a senior may exceed that of other segments of the population.
Additionally, many seniors do not check their credit reports on a regular basis, if at all, as they are at a point in life where they are more stable in their financial transactions and less likely to be opening new lines of credit. Identity thieves know that the Social Security number of a senior may afford the thief an opportunity to steal the senior’s identity with a lower probability of detection.
The first time a senior or a care-provider for a senior may become aware that the senior is a victim of identity theft is upon the receipt of phone calls from collection agencies seeking to collect on debts the identity thief has created in the name of the senior. Also, the first warning sign of identity theft may be when the senior initiates new insurance coverage or a change of residence to an assisted living or nursing facility requiring a credit check.
It is an unfortunate reality that seniors, children of seniors and other care providers of seniors must take steps to protect the senior from identity theft. The two best ways to protect seniors are to monitor credit reports by obtaining a free credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com at least once a year and to place a credit freeze on credit files if you reside in a state where that is permissible.
For information on initiating a credit freeze on your or your family’s credit files please visit our credit freeze page.
For more information on how to combat all forms of identity theft – including senior identity theft – please visit our ID Theft Prevention, Protection and Recovery categories.