What is elderly identity theft?
Elderly identity theft is a crime that occurs when an individual uses the identifying information of an elderly person for personal gain or in order to commit fraud.
Identity thieves often target older adults because they believe the elderly have money saved and are less likely to check their credit reports or account statements. Older adults living in residential facilities or under the care of someone may be especially vulnerable, because often caretakers have access to the senior person’s personal records.
Common ways that criminals target the elderly include:
- Wallet or purse theft: Seniors are more likely to carry their Social Security or Medicare cards with them.
- Dumpster diving: Thieves often dig in the trash of homes and businesses to obtain victims’ personal information.
- Mail theft: Thieves may intercept incoming and outgoing mail to steal personal information.
- Phone scams: Thieves will often pose as insurance companies, charities, banks, government agencies or other businesses to obtain personal information over the phone.
- Personal theft: The victim’s personal information is stolen by a caretaker, employee, nurse, relative or friend.
- Records theft: Medical records, social security records, and military records may be stolen.
- Online fraud: Thieves often set up fake emails and websites to trick unsuspecting consumers to provide personal information.
This type of identity theft often goes unreported, because older adults may be reluctant or unable to report the fraud due to:
- Physical or mental illness or incapacity
- The stigma they may feel at being identified as a victim
- Fear that if they report the crime they may lose their independence and ability to handle their own affairs
- Lack of information as to how to identify and report the crime, or
- A reluctance to report a relative or caregiver.
Learn the warning signs so that you can protect yourself and your loved ones.
Signs that you or your loved one may be the victim of elderly identity theft:
- You receive phone call or mail from collection agencies seeking to collect on debts created in the senior person’s name, without their permission.
- You seek to get new insurance coverage or to change residence to an assisted living or nursing facility and are denied when a credit check uncovers negative credit history.
- You find charges on your account statements that you do not recognize.
- Your mail is missing. For example, you suddenly stop receiving your bank statements.
- You receive unexpected mail. For example, a letter or statement regarding an account that you never opened.
- You receive bills for medical treatments you never had.
- You are denied insurance coverage for a medical procedure, because your insurance provider claims it’s already happened.
What to do if it happens to you or your loved one
Visit our What To Do page for details on steps you can take to correct your credit record.
If you are the designated or court appointed guardian of an elderly person, you may write the three credit reporting agencies on behalf of the senior person in your care. When you write the agencies to request their credit report or dispute information on their report, you should include in your letter:
- The senior family member/dependent adult’s full name and Social Security number;
- Your name, address, and relationship to the senior family member or dependent adult;
- Documentation showing that you have legal responsibility for the senior family member/dependent adult.
Order credit reports as needed, but remember you may only get the credit report of a senior family member/dependent adult if you have the legal authority to do so as their designated or court appointed guardian. Obtaining another person’s credit report information without their consent and without legal authority may have legal consequences.
Below are some tips to help you safeguard you and your elderly loved one’s information:
- Closely guard personal information, including your Social Security number, checks, credit and debit cards, Medicare cards, and financial statements. When not in use, leave these items in a locked security box at home or in a safety box at the bank.
- Use a locked mailbox for incoming and outgoing mail. Don’t put mail in your mail box with the flag up, because this is an open invitation to thieves. If possible, go to the post office to mail items or personally hand them to your mail carrier.
- Use a shredder to destroy unneeded personal documents, receipts, account statements, pre-approved credit offers, unused or old checks and any other item that includes personal information about you or your accounts.
- Do not give out your Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, account numbers or passwords to strangers who contact you, especially by phone, internet or email. Legitimate businesses will never contact their customers and ask for this information. If you are doing business with them, they will already have your pertinent information. If there is any question, contact the company directly with the contact information you have, not through the phone numbers or email the stranger gives you.
- Before entering a nursing home or retirement community, do your homework and talk with the operators or managers about security. If in a nursing home, have your mail forwarded to a trusted relative or friend’s home.
- Do not allow hired care providers, home help, etc. to open mail or handle any financial transactions. Do a criminal background check on any caregiver, home help or anyone else that might have regular access to your home.
- Check your credit reports and financial statements regularly. If you notice any suspicious activity on your accounts or bill, contact the bank or company immediately.