There are myriad ways the unscrupulous can and do take advantage of older adults, as we’ve touched on in this post about financial fraud. In Part 1 of our Safety series, we looked at one smart way to protect a senior’s health and personal safety. But what about one’s identity? We read a lot about identity theft, especially online. Yet even someone who rarely or never uses the Internet can fall victim to an identity theft scam.
Two of the easier and more common ways identity thieves steal seniors’ personal information involve “contests” and, perhaps surprisingly, Medicare. Here are some scenarios and solutions to help your reverse mortgage clients and prospects protect their assets:
In the first instance, an identity thief phones a senior and tells them they’ve just won a sweepstakes. While this can sound compelling to someone of any age, an older person, especially if they are lonely or in need of funds, may be particularly vulnerable. And the thieves are becoming more wily. Since many people know not to send money through the mail, identity thieves now ask for a senior’s checking account number, “so the winnings can be direct deposited into your account.” This alone isn’t damaging — your checking account number appears on the bottom of every check you write — but then the caller requests the account’s debit card number and PIN to verify the deposit, “in case there is any problem.” By the time a family member or another concerned person investigates, the unsuspecting senior’s funds are gone.
Even more insidious is the Medicare card scheme. Many seniors keep their Social Security card, Medicare card, and other vital information in their wallet, something they’ve always done and deem the best place to have the information handy for doctor visits. Yet if a senior is hospitalized, or even spends time in a medical office, it’s all too easy for these cards to be “mislaid” by an opportunist, and the information used to drain a senior’s resources.
Instead, experts advise, make a copy of your Medicare card, black out your SSN, and carry this copy with you instead. This will enable you to receive treatment in an emergency, and you can write your SSN on any forms necessary once you’re in the medical facility.
It’s also crucial for seniors who delight in the wonders of the digital age to understand how to keep their personal data secure, avoid “phishing” sites and emails, and only send sensitive information or payments over encrypted sites. One way seniors can protect their searches from seizure is by using Epicbrowser.com, a free browser that allows you to block companies from tracking you. If someone prefers to stay with the browser they’re familiar with, they should set their privacy options to block both tracking and third-party “cookies.”
The Federal Trade Commission provides a thorough web page on how to keep your personal information secure at any age. AARP also offers a range of identity theft protection plans for individuals and families.