In this day and age, no one, regardless of their age or life situation, can afford to be careless about the security of their personal information. Sadly, however, just as aging brings increased physical and mental challenges, it likewise makes seniors more vulnerable to predation. Conditions such as impaired hearing and vision, and even mild memory loss and anxiety, can render seniors unable to discern a stranger’s true intentions in the moment.
Given the speed of electronic records and processing, a moment is all it takes to unravel a lifetime of good judgment and proper identity safeguards. One brief, anxiety-inducing phone call can have a senior handing over critical personal information such as credit card, bank account and social security numbers.
But it’s not limited to phone calls. Identity thieves can steal a senior’s mail and even rummage through their trash in search of sensitive data. Desktop publishing makes it easy to mimic the look and logos of legitimate organizations. Seniors may think they’re making a charitable contribution to a long-trusted organization or as emergency relief in the wake of a disaster, but instead they are being scammed. The same is true for email if the senior is active online.
What happens next? A thief can go shopping with the credit card, withdraw funds from bank and retirement accounts, and essentially operate as the targeted individual until caught. Thankfully, many credit card companies will catch a sudden change in spending patterns or location. However, not all financial organizations may have these safeguards.
There are steps you can take to prevent senior identity theft. Each person’s finances are structured differently. Taking stock of how you manage important data and documents is a good place to start. Keeping things streamlined and organized makes it easier to notice when something isn’t right. It’s much simpler, for instance, to track one credit card than to track five.
Other recommended changes include sending mail from the post office and shredding and/or securing personal documents at the bank or in a locked box at home. In some situations, a trusted personal organizer or financial assistant can help oversee things and may be worth the added cost. (These professionals are best found through personal referral or respected professional certifying organizations.)
You can stop telemarketing calls at 1-888-382-1222, and stop credit card and insurance offers at 1-888-567-8688. The IRS publishes annual guides to phone scams, online scams, and identity theft. AARP offers a Credit and Identity Theft Protection service from TrustedID for $12.99 monthly or $109.99 annually. The service monitors credit reports, bank accounts, credit cards, social security numbers, public records and even social media.