Elderly Americans are facing a drastic increase in cybercrime, identity theft and financial abuse. Adults over age 60 last year reported $1.3 billion in cybercrime losses to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) – a 74% increase from the previous year.
The fact is, older Americans are a popular target for criminals who seek to scam their victims out of their identity and money.
Identity theft can affect people of all ages (even children), but seniors are especially vulnerable from many angles. They’re at risk for fraud committed by people close to them, and they’re targeted by professional criminals.
Why Are Seniors Vulnerable to Identity Theft?
Nearly one in ten adults ages 65 or older have experienced identity theft. And, according to the IC3’s Elder Fraud Report, crimes and losses sharply increase with older demographics. There are several reasons that elderly Americans are especially vulnerable to identity theft:
- Seniors often have retirement savings and nest eggs that attract criminals.
- Seniors often interact more with medical providers and government agencies, two sectors that are vulnerable to hacks and data breaches.
- Seniors are more likely to be isolated due to living alone, the loss of family or friends, medical problems and other factors.
- Seniors may be less likely to report a crime or recognize that a crime has occurred.
- Seniors are often surrounded by people who are responsible for their care, including family members, caregivers and other professionals, who can take advantage of them.
- Many seniors are less technologically savvy than younger generations, making them more vulnerable to cybercrime.
Scams that Target Seniors
Criminals have many ways to use a senior’s identity for their own gain. Here are some common examples of identity theft scams that can target the elderly:
Medical Identity Theft
Medical identity theft occurs when someone steals a victim’s PII, including their Social Security number (SSN), and uses it to bill Medicaid or an insurance company for services the victim never received. This can be costly due to the high price of health care and difficult to untangle with medical providers, insurance companies and law enforcement agencies getting involved.
It can also result in unpaid medical bills that damage the victim’s credit score. The victim can even receive improper health care if the perpetrator’s medical records get mixed up with the victim’s records.
Estate Identity Theft
Estate identity theft occurs when a criminal claims tax refunds, Social Security checks or other benefits for an elderly person who recently died. These schemes are frequently committed by family members of the victim. While the perpetrator may view this as a victimless crime, it can take an emotional toll on relatives struggling with grief and can even cause financial problems for the victim’s estate.
Criminals may try to file a falsified tax return in the senior’s name to claim a fraudulent tax refund, which can complicate the senior’s taxes and delay any refund they might be owed. While any taxpayer can become a victim of tax fraud, seniors may be slower to prevent the crime or discover a crime occurred if they don’t file their tax returns as soon as the IRS allows.
There are many types of impersonation scams in which scammers contact seniors pretending to be someone else:
- Government impersonators may pretend to be from the IRS, Social Security Administration or Medicare and claim that the victim owes money to the government agency or needs to provide personally identifiable information (PII).
- Tech support impersonators may contact the senior over the phone or online and tell them their computer or phone is damaged and needs to be fixed. They may demand a tech support fee or request remote access to the senior’s computer to steal data or install malware. This scam costs victims hundreds of millions of dollars in losses every year.
- Grandchildren scams occur when the victim receives a call, email or message from someone posing as their grandchild and claiming there’s an emergency and they need help – often in the form of payment.
With familiar fraud, someone close to the senior uses their PII to open credit cards, take out loans or make purchases in the senior’s name. This crime is often committed by the children of the victim, but it can also be perpetrated by other relatives, friends, caregivers or someone else entrusted to handle the senior’s affairs.
How to Protect Yourself or Your Older Loved Ones from Identity Theft
There are some steps you can take to protect your identity or help a senior protect themselves. While nobody is 100% safe from identity theft, there are ways to help reduce the risk of becoming a victim.
- Monitor financial accounts. These include bank accounts, credit cards, retirement accounts, Social Security and more. Read monthly statements, check balances and review transactions.
- Use strong, unique passwords for every account. To keep track of passwords, sign up for a password manager app.
- Watch out for impersonator scams. Don’t automatically assume the email, letter, phone call or text message is actually coming from the government, medical provider or a family member. Verify that requests are legitimate, and only communicate with government agencies and businesses through official channels listed on their website.
- File tax returns early. The longer taxpayers wait to file their returns, the more time criminals have to file fraudulent tax returns.
- Watch out for strange communications. Invoices for unfamiliar accounts, strange medical bills and other unexpected correspondence can be a sign of fraud.
- Protect documents. Important documentation like Social Security cards, birth certificates, statements from the SSA and more should be secured in the home or a second location like a safe deposit box. Old documents should be shredded before they are disposed of.
- Monitor credit reports. Signs of identity theft can show up on credit reports in the form of new accounts, hard inquiries and even accounts in collection.
How IdentityIQ Helps Seniors Fight Identity Theft
IdentityIQ services deliver credit reports directly to members to help them ensure their information is accurate. Real-time credit alerts can also notify seniors of major changes on their credit report and other possible suspicious activity, flagging signs of identity theft as soon as they pop up.
These services can also alert you when your SSN is used or an application for credit is submitted in your name. And they monitor the dark web, an unsearchable part of the internet, to see if your personal information is listed for sale on the black market.
Seniors who do experience identity theft are covered for up to $1 million in out-of-pocket expenses and losses, underwritten by AIG. And they’ll be assigned a dedicated identity theft restoration specialists to help restore their identity, putting a stop to further identity theft and helping untangle the damage that has already been done.