Senior Identity Theft: The Rise of Senior Scams and Fraud Among the Elderly

Did you know that people in their “golden years” are more vulnerable to fraud?
Senior scams and identity theft

Senior citizens are prime targets for identity theft and other types of senior scams. In this guide, we’re going to explore why this population is so vulnerable, what you can do if you or your loved ones are victims of senior scams, and how you can prevent them from happening.

Quick Overview

Why are Seniors at Elevated Risk of Scams?

According to Georgia’s Consumer Protection Division, fraudsters target senior citizens because they’re:

  • Living off of Savings: Most senior citizens are retired and living off of their retirement or savings funds. This is proof to a scammer that there’s a collection of disposable income that they can begin siphoning.

  • Less Likely to Check Reports: The elderly don’t check their credit reports or bank statements as often as younger or middle-aged people. Because of this, scammers can get away with riskier scams that have higher yields.

  • Living with a Caregiver: Seniors living in a residential facility or under the care of someone may be especially vulnerable to scams and identity theft. Caregivers often have access to their personal records and sometimes bank accounts.

  • Less Likely to Report Crimes: The elderly may also be unable or unwilling to report senior scams because of physical or mental incapacity, fear of the stigma of being a victim, or a lack of necessary information to identify and report the crime.

  • Self-assurance that they will not be affected: according to a report by Wells Fargo nearly all older Americans (98 percent) say that older people are susceptible to scams but four out of five say they are confident they will not be scammed. 

Common Types of Senior Scams

Some common forms of senior scams include:

  • Medicare Fraud: A case of Medical identity theft, a fast-growing crime that involves fraudsters stealing someone’s identity to obtain medical care, buy drugs, or submit fake medical bills to Medicare.

  • Tax Fraud or Tax identity theft: A damaging type of fraud perpetrated by a scammer who files a tax refund in someone else’s name.

  • Financial Identity Theft: Also known as bank fraud, financial identity theft refers to any criminal act that involves bank account takeover or the generation of fraudulent loans, wire transfers, debit transactions, or checks.

  • Familiar Fraud: This especially shocking scam occurs when someone’s identity is stolen by family members or caregivers, often for financial gain.

  • Phone Fraud: Cell phone scams is an incredibly common method that fraudsters use to access sensitive information and financial accounts.

  • Email Scams: Like phone scams, email fraud and email phishing is another favorite tool that scammers use. From false romances to savvy IRS scams, there’s no shortage of ways that email can be abused to exploit a population that can’t spot the warning signs of fraud.

  • Military Identity Theft: According to the FTC, over 160,000 cases of fraud targeted veterans in 2019. This form of fraud is often used to access government benefits, tax returns, and credit cards.

  • Synthetic Identity Theft: A particularly difficult form of fraud to spot, synthetic identity theft involves mixing some real information (such as a senior citizen’s stolen SSN) with fake details (such as a made-up name).

  • Criminal Identity Theft: Criminal identity theft occurs when fraudsters present themselves as someone else when arrested or cited for a crime, leaving the victim to deal with the consequences.

  • Utility Fraud: Utility scams involve an imposter pretending to be a utility provider and demanding payment.

Warning Signs of Senior Identity Fraud

Senior identity theft can be very damaging and stressful for seniors who worked so hard to enjoy “golden years”. Here are the signs you should look out for if you believe you or your loved one may be a victim of senior scams:

  • You’re being Contacted by Collection Agencies: If you’re getting emails and phone calls about debts you’re unaware of, it’s likely that someone has been fraudulently abusing your identity to make purchases.

  • Your Credit is Denied: If you try to get new insurance coverage or move into a different living facility only to discover that your credit has been denied due to a negative history, this could be a sign of fraud. Check your credit report for unfamiliar derogatory marks.

  • Mysterious Charges on Your Account: If unauthorized charges appear in your bank account, someone may have access to your finances.

  • Unfamiliar Notices or Bills: If you’re receiving notices about new accounts being opened or medical bills that you know aren’t yours, someone is probably making purchases in your name.  You should also be concerned if you suddenly stop receiving your bank statements.

What to Do If your Elderly Parent is Being Scammed?

If you believe that you or a loved one is a victim of elder identity theft, take action right away. As soon as possible:

  • Contact Your Bank and Credit Card Company: Let your bank know that you’ve been scammed. They can help you resolve fraudulent charges and secure your account from further abuse.

  • Cancel Compromised Debit or Credit Cards: Find out which cards are being used to make fraudulent purchases and immediately cancel them. This will help you minimize damages while you continue to secure your accounts. You can also freeze your credit to be extra safe.

  • Place a Fraud Alert at a Credit Bureau: Everyone gets one free annual fraud alert from the three major credit bureaus. Enable the alert at one bureau, and it will contact the other two. This alert will inform businesses that they must verify your identity before opening up new lines of credit.

  • File a Report with the FTC, Credit Bureaus, and Police:

    Report to the Federal Trade Commission
    Report to Major Credit Bureaus and your Local Police Department
    Report to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA)

How to Protect Seniors from Identity Theft and Elder Fraud

Preventing identity theft is better than trying to fix it when it’s too late. Here’s what you can do to keep you or your elderly loved one safe:

  • Opt Out of People-Search Sites: Just like with other types of identity theft, most elder scams and senior identity fraud cases begin with locating a victim. People-search sites make this easy by aggregating sensitive information on individuals into one easy-to-access profile. Make sure you aren’t just a click away from fraud; try the OneRep privacy protection tool to automatically remove your data from 196 people-search sites.

  • Learn Online Safety Best Practices: Scams are constantly evolving, and the most vulnerable populations are those who might not be aware of what is or isn’t normal on modern technology. Being privy to the dangers of elder scams via phone, email, social engineering, and so much more is key. Follow trusted sources like FTC and ITRC (Identity Theft Resource Center) to stay in the loop. We also suggest you take a look at our blog where we publish lots of useful information about latest digital risks and high-profile scams.

  • Lock Down your Accounts and Information: Turn on two-factor authentication and make sure your passwords are unique, randomized strings of numbers, letters, and punctuation. Likewise, keep your physical information and documents behind lock-and-key, and never hand them out unless you can verify that they will be in safe hands.

FAQ About Elder Scams and Identity Fraud

How can I protect my elderly parents’ money? 

Help them automate their recurring payments, and sign them up for the Do Not Call list so they can know that any suspicious call they get is likely a scam that can be safely ignored.

How can I protect my seniors online? 

Let them know that they will never need to give out sensitive personal or financial information unless it’s to a verifiable government agency. If they ever have questions, let them know they can contact you.

Who is most likely to mistreat an elderly person?

Caregivers and family members, due to their close proximity to the finances and documents of senior citizens, have alarmingly high abuse rates.

How much does a caregiver typically end up paying when a loved one is exploited? 

There is no fixed penalty for familiar fraud. However, depending on the extent of the crime, the fines can be high and include prison time.

What is the punishment for financial elder abuse? 

Depending on the extent of the crime, anyone who commits elder abuse (even family members) can face very large fines and possible prison time.

Let's Wrap It Up...

When you know what to do, preventing identity theft is just a matter of persistence. Help your loved ones to stay protected. Sign them up for OneRep and let us take care of their privacy together.

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Iryna Slabodchykava

Content Strategy Manager at OneRep | LinkedIn