When we think about “seniors”, we think of our grandparents, the “Norman Rockwell” image of a smiling, affectionate older couple, lovingly looking at their children and grandchildren. To cybercrooks, there’s a totally different image that comes to their minds: an easy mark, people with money that’s theirs for the taking. It’s a shocking image, because the cybercrooks are preying on a group of people who are usually not tech-savvy and are generally not very familiar with cybercrime.
It’s a problem that’s growing. While one in five people in the general population are victims of cybercrime and identity theft, the number jumps to one in four when you’re talking about seniors. That’s 25% of the senior population that have become victims of cybercrooks. It’s a devastating problem, as the seniors can often lose their life savings. And at their age, that’s money that can’t be replaced.
There are many other reasons why cyberthieves target seniors. They are often reluctant to report any theft or financial scam, out of embarrassment or fear of losing their independence. Seniors usually don’t check their credit reports to see if anything is amiss, either because they don’t know how or are not familiar with doing so. In addition, many seniors are subject to scams just by the nature of where they’re living. If they live in a care facility, their chances of being taken advantage of increase sharply, because the caregivers often have access to their financial records.
Scams targeting seniors have been going on for years, sadly because they’re such an easy target to steal from. Once a cybercrook acquires enough of their personal and financial information, they graduate to all types of identity theft, including medical, synthetic and financial identity theft.
Medical identity theft and Medicare fraud are a growing problem. Cybercrooks steal a senior’s identity and medical record information in order to obtain medications and treatments without any intention of paying for those services. The seniors become victims when hospitals and medical groups try to collect payment.
Bank fraud is another big type of senior identity theft. The cybercrook will access their financial records and bank accounts and steal money or take over their account and write checks to cover their own purchases. Because many seniors don’t review their bank statements on a frequent basis, if at all, it will take a long time to discover the fraudulent activity.
Another big scam targeting seniors is the IRS phone scams, where an “agent” is calling to collect money owed on a previous year’s tax return. Many seniors fall for this scam, because they’re not aware that the IRS would never call a taxpayer requesting money. Helping seniors become aware of the many different phone and email frauds would help to protect them from identity theft and other methods of stealing their finances.
Warning signs appear that show a senior is either being targeted or is already a victim. Making seniors aware of these red flags will help to minimize the damage that cybercriminals can cause.
For example, if one of their credit cards is declined when they try to make a purchase, or if unfamiliar charges appear on one of their credit card bills, or the bank is calling because the account is overdrawn are all signs they’ve become a victim of identity theft. The sooner action is taken, the sooner the problem can be reported and stopped.
A trusted family member or trusted caregiver should take on the responsibility of making the seniors aware of the different red flag warning signs, as well as to help the seniors monitor their credit bureau reports and financial accounts. A free credit report is available by request online, or from one of the major credit bureaus including Expeerian, Equifax or TransUnion.
If you see activity that is unfamiliar to the senior or you see charges you don’t recognize, you might want to have the senior place a credit alert or a credit freeze on their account(s). It may seem like a pain to go through this, but in the long run you will help to eliminate financial damage and preserve the senior’s financial integrity.
Many cybercriminals get personal and financial information about seniors from people-search sites, including Intelius, US Search and Pipl, so the first step is to remove all unauthorized information from those sites and opt out. The problem is that there are more than 100 people-search sites, and each one has their own rules and regulations for deleting information and opting out. This could take a large amount of time, and for many seniors it can be quite difficult to do. One option is to hire someone to do the work, but it could prove to be costly because of the amount of time needed. However, be assured it’s worth the effort.
Because many scams and identity theft targeting seniors begin with scam phone calls, it’s best to place seniors on a Do Not Call Registry. It won’t completely eliminate those scam calls, but it will help to limit them. Many seniors are also victims of phishing emails, so it’s best to help seniors by explaining what those scams are and how to avoid them. Doing this, and advising seniors about best practices when doing online shopping and utilizing online banking services will help to minimize the risks involved.
Helping a senior or elderly parent by following the suggestions and recommendations listed above is the best gift you can give everyone involved. Seniors need a trusted friend and advisor and it will give you great pleasure to be there for them when needed.
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