Several colleagues at work have had older parents fall victim to different types of fraud. And with tax season approaching, I’ve noticed more news stories warning that identity theft increases this time of year.
My father always handled financial matters for my parents. Now that he is gone, my mother looks to me for help. I’d like to learn more about what seems to be putting seniors at higher risk for identity theft and fraud. And I would also appreciate any advice you can share for preventing my mom from becoming a victim.
What to Know about Identify Theft and Fraud Targeting Seniors
Good observation! Older adults are often the target of scams. Summer always used to be considered peak season for crimes against seniors, but experts now say tax season has become equally risky. While IRS identity theft programs have prevented almost $4.3 billion in fraudulent return claims, experts say losses are still in the millions each year.
But there are ways you can help your mother stay safe and avoid becoming a victim. Here’s what you should know.
What Puts Older Adults at Risk for Fraud
Many of us live with the idea that identity thieves access our personal information by stealing our wallet or taking financial documents out of our mailbox. And both definitely make the list.
But there are other issues that contribute to an older adult becoming a victim of fraud including:
- memory loss caused by a health condition
- limited technology skills and lack of awareness about online scams
- increased interactions with health care institutions
A few of the more common scams that target seniors are:
- IRS Agent Scam: This scam, which has been around for a while, continues to impact older adults. It happens when a scammer calls a senior’s home pretending to be an IRS agent. The caller will threaten the senior with jail time unless they give the con artist a checking account or credit card number immediately to pay what they claim is an unpaid balance. While it is more common for this scam to be conducted by phone, it can also be perpetuated by email.
- Phishing Scams: For a senior who uses email, phishing scams can be another avenue for criminals to access personal information. They send out emails that look to be from a legitimate financial company the senior has a relationship with. The senior will unwittingly follow a link in the email to a bogus site designed to capture their login information. Once they have it, they use it to access the senior’s personal accounts.
- Medical Information Theft: Con artists also steal Social Security information from medical centers and use them to file bogus tax returns or open credit card accounts. They gain access by hacking in to the hospital’s computers or by bribing an employee for a list of social security numbers. The information is then used to open credit card accounts or to deplete checking and savings accounts.
So what can you do to keep your mother safe?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Use Telephone Technology: Encourage your mother to add Caller ID service to her telephone and not to answer when it isn’t a number she recognizes. She might not want to be rude and hang up on someone, and scammers prey on that politeness. Caller ID can prevent her from ending up in that situation. Also make certain your mother is signed up for the Do Not Call Registry.
- Store Insurance Cards Safely: Another way you can protect your mother’s identity is by helping her find a secure place in her home to store her Social Security and Medicare cards. Remind her not carry these cards with her every day as many seniors routinely do.
- Monitor Credit Report & Financial Accounts: Make sure you check your mother’s credit report at least once a year. Each of the three major credit reporting companies is required to provide you with a free annual credit report. Also encourage your mother to set you up with a login for her online financial accounts. This will allow you to monitor them for suspicious activity.
- Be Vigilant: New scams targeting seniors pop up every week. And many are covered on the evening news and in local papers. Keep an eye out for those occurring in your area and alert your mother to them. Another easy way to stay on top of new scams is to follow your local law television stations, law enforcement agencies and the FBI on Facebook. Each of them share updates on a routine basis.
A good place to learn more is the ID Theft Tool Kit created by the IRS. It has helpful resources and phone numbers you can use to keep your mother safe.
Until next time,