For some, the older adults in their lives are still active, healthy, and able to independently manage their lives. But for many, their parents and other family members need assistance.
As adults age, they become vulnerable to sickness, social isolation, general memory loss, and confusion. These weaknesses, combined with their lifelong savings, medical insurance, and a willingness to trust, make them prime targets for identity theft and fraud.
In 2011, the Internet Crime Complaint Center reported nearly 315,000 fraud complaints, with criminals scamming as much as $485 million from unsuspecting victims, many of whom were older than 60.
Some of the most common scams targeted at older adults include telephone and mail scams, often with promises of glamorous vacations or financial prizes. Criminals also aggressively pose as creditors or family members in order to extract money from confused victims.
Approaching the subject of identity theft and fraud can be difficult. Your parents may not live nearby, making it challenging to monitor malicious calls, emails and letters. Concerned children may demand to control their loved ones' finances, but this can lead to emotional rifts and hurt feelings on both sides.
The best way to protect your parents or loved ones from these malicious crimes is to take proactive measures.
Create a conversation
According to the AARP, it is important to not shame or blame the older adults in your life. Older adults are often unwilling to admit mistakes that threaten their independent lifestyle.
Talk to your parents gently, and often, about identity theft and the warning signs involved. Stress the importance of safeguarding personal information and being wary of strangers.
Show, don't tell
It's also important not to tell older adults to "just hang up the phone" if they think a caller is scamming them—discuss why certain actions are necessary to avoid identity theft. Explain why government agencies don't place unsolicited phone calls and what phishing scams are.
Educating your loved ones is more effective than sternly ordering them to adopt new habits.
Cut it out
Older adults are often not particularly tech savvy, relying on checks and paper documents. Since they are at increased risk of identity theft if these documents are not disposed of properly, you might consider purchasing a cross-cut shredder. With this, you or your parents can shred sensitive mail and outdated personal documents.
Explain that identity thieves are perfectly willing to dive into the trash for useful, sensitive information.
Look for warning signs
Be mindful of the mail arriving at your parents' home, or if there are a pattern of fraudulent phone calls. If you don't live nearby, ask a trusted neighbor to help check in on your loved one. Keep an open conversation with this neighbor and be sure to thank them for their help.
If you suspect your parents are being targeted, seek assistance from law enforcement.
Do Not Call
Unlist your parents' phone number by using the National Do Not Call Registry. This can help keep criminals from victimizing older adults with phone scams.
You may also consider replacing their landline with a cell phone—it is more difficult for phone scammers to target cell phone users.
Add your loved ones' address to an opt-out list. This prevents legitimate vendors from sending junk mail, so your parents will know to be suspicious of any mail from someone they don't recognize.
Any fraudulent mail should be reported to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Check online accounts
Consider setting up online accounts for your parents' bank, credit, and utility accounts so that you may help monitor their finances. Be vigilant for unusual, recurring charges.
If your parents do not need to request credit, encourage them to place a freeze on their account.
Check their credit report
Check your parents' credit reports to ensure no one is abusing their accounts. Report any errors or unexplained charges.
See a doctor
Encourage your loved one to request a copy of their medical history. Look over their medical files with them, keeping an eye out for any inaccuracies. Report any errors you might find.
Even if your loved one cannot understand the risks, it is important for you, as the caregiver, to remain aware of the latest scams. Older adults are often targeted by false lottery, cheap Medicare, and sweepstakes scams. Criminals can pose as aggressive creditors and government agencies, demanding money and threatening legal consequences; they have even been known to pretend to be a victim's family member, placing a "panicked" phone call and claiming to be in desperate need of money.
Discuss these habits and risks with your loved ones in a calm manner. Do your best to support, educate, and empower them, instead of making rash decisions or frustrated comments.
Funded by a partnership with the Texas Legislature, and powered by the Center for Identity, IDWise is a resource center for the public on identity theft, fraud, and privacy.