Progress in technology brings many benefits, but it also brings new dangers. In particular, online and offline identity theft is a serious concern and a dangerous risk—especially for seniors. One advantage is that if you know what to look out for and the common tricks that identity thieves use you can stay protected.
The Danger Of Identity Theft
There are various tactics that can be used to steal your identity. The danger of having your identity stolen is that thieves can then pretend to be you and make purchases, sign contracts, take out loans and all sorts of other dishonest actions that will negatively impact your situation. Even once you report and stop the fraud, the actions that were taken by the thief can lead to credit score problems, difficulty qualifying for loans and mortgages and all sorts of additional headaches.¹
Why Seniors Are Prime Targets For Scammers
Seniors are often a prime target of identity thieves for several reasons. Firstly, as part of an older generation that is often not as familiar with technology, scammers believe it is easier to trick and mislead seniors. Secondly, seniors often have more home equity built up, savings, pensions and other benefits such as Medicare. Thirdly, seniors often do not make as many large purchases as younger people because they are already settled, so identity scammers believe they will not be as meticulous about checking their credit score and keeping a watch on their accounts.² Your job is to prove the scammers wrong.
Common Identity Theft Scams
There are a number of common scams that identity thieves use to get your information and abuse it. Here are five of the most common—and damaging—identity theft cons.
1. Fake Phone Calls
One of the most common and frustrating identity theft tactics is to call people—especially seniors—and lie about who you are and why you’re calling. Scammers will often pretend to be from a charity, healthcare foundation, special contest giveaway or bank and ask for information from the individual they are calling. In some cases they may sound professional and trustworthy and will often present the situation as urgent or requiring a quick or immediate response. Do not give them what they want. Say you will contact them later and hang up, then look into what they claim to represent. Consider contacting their organization directly to find out if the phone call was legitimate. Never give out personal or financial information to a stranger on the phone.³
2. Fake Letters
Similar to fraudulent phone calls, identity thieves will often send out mail that makes fake claims to represent a charity, foundation, giveaway or similar thing. This mail can often look real and legitimate and may include signatures, brand names and professional design. It will ask you to send in your personal information including sometimes financial information. Do not do it.
A more advanced version of mail identity theft is where scammers will take a piece of your mail from the mailbox, file a change of address notice at the local post office and begin receiving your checks, benefits and personal mail, pretending to be you and using your address and their ability to receive your mail as proof that they are you.⁴
3. Stealing Mail
As in the above situation, identity thieves will sometimes steal mail—and trash and personal items—in order to start to pretend to be you and get access to your personal financial information, checks and other benefits. This can be hard to notice at first for several months and it is possible to think that mail has just been delayed or a mistake has been made, so this type of identity theft scam can be quite devastating and effective.⁵
4. Phishing Online
Phishing is basically the online version of fake phone calls. Identity thieves will disguise themselves as banks, brand names or contests and charities to try to get you to reveal and provide your personal financial information. Although it might seem obvious, phishing can trick even very tech-savvy and smart people. One advanced version claims that you have already had your identity stolen or computer hacked and will ask you to verify your identity to protect yourself often with urgent flickering lights and beeping sounds. Avoid falling for it.⁶
5. Fake Medical And Estate Claims
Another bad identity theft tactic is when identity thieves take your social security and personal medical information and file untrue medical claims to get money from Medicare or Medicaid. In a related con, scammers will take the identity of someone who has passed away and use it to apply for credit cards, sign up for cell phone contracts, get loans and even open bank accounts.
Best Ways To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
There are a number of ways to protect yourself from identity theft. The first one is simple: be cautious, especially of phone calls from strangers, offers that seem too good to be true and confusing offers or demands made by the phone, mail or online. In addition, shred documents that expose your personal and financial information, always keep a close watch on your credit card, and have checks and benefits sent to a locked P.O. box or your bank, not your home.
Also consider getting an online security program that will protect you such as LifeLock, PrivacyGuard or Identity Guard. Searching online is a great way to get started in finding these professional identity theft protection services. These services help to take the hassle out of staying safe – and can be worth the expense for the protection and peace of mind they bring.