Types of Identity Theft to Know About
Financial scams that deliberately target senior citizens happen all too frequently these days. Since identity theft crimes tend to be hard to prosecute and sometimes will even go unreported by the victims, they are considered “low risk” crimes. This is likely why so many people engage in identity theft: They believe they can get away with it unscathed.
Senior citizens are popular targets for identity theft because they are more likely to have saved and invested more money for retirement than other age groups. Many of the people committing these crimes believe that this age group is fair game because they already have more money or better health-care options. However, identity theft is not a crime that only wealthy citizens are victims of; it’s a risk that low-income senior citizens may have to deal with, too.
Medicare Identity Theft
Everyone in the U.S. over 65 who is a citizen or permanent resident can qualify for Medicare. While this is a great way to ensure that senior citizens are covered if they are ever in a medical bind, it also makes it easy for scammers to prey on them for health insurance fraud. This is because scammers don’t have to research the victim to figure out who their insurance provider is: They know it’s probably Medicare.
In these scams, the criminals get in contact with the victim and claim that they are Medicare agents to get seniors to give out personal information. This can be done over the phone, over email, or even at makeshift clinics where they deliver fake services for seniors solely to bill Medicare and pocket the money.
- Protecting Yourself and Medicare: This booklet directly from Medicare explains how to protect yourself from fraud by identifying errors and reporting concerns.
- Medicare Identity Theft and Medicare Fraud: Learn who to contact in case of suspected fraud and what you can do to prevent Medicare fraud.
- What to Know About Medical Identity Theft: Find out everything you need to know about medical identity theft and what to do about it.
Internet Fraud and Online Identity Theft
Since seniors had to learn how to use computers and the Internet later in life and did not grow up with this technology, they are not as adept at maneuvering what is and isn’t safe online. Due to this, they are easier targets for online scams.
One popular scam is pop-ups that mimic antivirus software to get users to download fake software to get rid of the virus. The user may purchase this software and find that they now have a virus on their computer that could potentially share personal information stored on the computer as well as important usernames and passwords with the software’s creator.
Another type of Internet scam is email/phishing scams, which steal money and personal information. These scams trick the victim by pretending to be a person in authority and urging quick action, with a threat of severe consequences if that action is ignored. These scams play on a person’s psychology and are often incredibly persuasive; the victim becomes focused on the importance of fixing the supposed problem and may not think clearly about the reliability of the rest of the content. These emails often:
- Appear to be from a legitimate company or institution (such as Amazon, your bank, FedEx, PayPal, USPS, or another website commonly frequented) asking to update or verify personal information
- Indicate that the victim’s membership has been canceled and they must take action to resolve this immediately
- Indicate that an official government record needs to be updated
- Suggest that the victim missed a package delivery or a shipping agency needs more information to deliver a package
- Indicate a need to confirm an account or click on a link to unlock an account
- Indicate that an account will be suspended until your information is updated
- Offer unexpected refunds and free money from seemingly trustworthy organizations like the IRS
All it takes is one click and you could be at risk from an Internet scam. These phishing attacks usually contain information personalized to the victim, so they can be difficult to ignore; the criminal often studies their target in advance so when they email the victim, the scam lures them in without raising red flags.
- National Elder Fraud Hotline: Find details on who to call if you or a loved one thinks you may have been the victim of elder fraud.
- Seniors Guide to Fighting Fraud: This guide includes facts about fraud as well as details about common schemes and what you can do to avoid them.
Social Security Identity Theft
When criminals don’t want to pay taxes, other people’s Social Security numbers appear much more valuable. They can use other Social Security numbers to avoid paying their taxes through a variety of different means.
- Criminal Identity Theft: When a person uses your Social Security number while dealing with law enforcement, you could find that there’s a warrant out for your arrest even though you’ve done nothing wrong.
- Financial Identity Theft: Scammers use your Social Security number and other personal information to apply for credit cards in your name that will be sent to their address. They’ll use these credit cards but won’t pay the bills, and this will damage your credit score and lead to you receiving calls from angry creditors seeking payment.
- Government Identity Theft: Someone may use your information and Social Security number to file a tax return in your name and steal your tax refund. This essentially means that the criminal is stealing from the federal government in your name without you knowing.
- Medical Identity Theft: This occurs when the criminal uses your Social Security number to get medical treatment or emergency care. You will be the one to receive their medical bills, reach health insurance plan limits, or be denied coverage when you need it because of the information the scammer has added to your medical records. Not only that, but it could end up compromising your health if you need care because the care the criminal received is in your medical records and can affect potential treatment plans.
- Utility Fraud: This happens when somebody uses your Social Security number combined with other personal details to open a utility service account or upgrade existing accounts.
Social Security numbers can be sold online and used multiple times by a variety of criminals. Once a person has that number, for all intents and purposes, they become you, and they can collect your benefits and income, establish residences, use your health insurance, and commit crimes. It can be difficult to bounce back if you’ve had your Social Security number stolen, but it’s not impossible.
- Identity Theft Victim Checklist: This easy-to-follow checklist can help victims clear their records and learn what steps to take to limit the damage that’s been done.
- The Taxpayer’s Guide to Identity Theft: Learn the signs of identity theft so you can point out issues before they become a more significant problem. This page also details actions you can take if you’re a victim and what other steps can be taken to better protect your information.
Other Schemes That Target Seniors
Con artists know that people born in the 1930s through the 1950s were often raised to believe that people are trustworthy and you should be polite. These people become prime targets because con artists know that it will be difficult for the victim to say no. Identity theft also goes unreported in most cases, either because they are ashamed or because the victim isn’t sure who to call about it. These are some common scams that seniors tend to encounter:
- Advance Fee Schemes: The victim gives money to the criminal expecting that they will receive a benefit such as an investment, loan, gift, or contract.
- Bank Account Theft: A criminal gets access to your financial accounts.
- Credit Card Fraud: A criminal fraudulently uses your credit or debit card.
- Military Identity Theft: A scammer uses a service member’s details to claim their benefits. This often occurs when a veteran gets a call or email to “confirm” their status, but instead, that communication is used to retrieve personal information.
- Telemarketing Fraud: People send money, personal information, or financial information to unknown callers.
- Wire Transfer Fraud: A criminal convinces you to transfer money electronically from your account to their account.
Social Media and Identity Theft
Social media is a great tool to keep in touch with family and friends spread around the world, but not everybody on social media has good intentions. Often, criminals turn to popular social media platforms to collect information about potential targets because senior citizens may not think twice when sharing personal details. Things like family names, birthdays, pet names, and even birthdays, all of which are common passwords, can help criminals to potentially access your login details across various websites.
- Identity Theft and Social Media: What You Need to Know: An estimate shows that 80% of U.S. residents over 18 have at least one social media profile and therefore could accidentally put themselves at risk of oversharing and risk being targeted by con artists.
Additional Help for Seniors to Avoid Identity Theft
- Ten Ways to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
- Identity Crime Prevention Methods
- Identity Theft: How Seniors Can Protect Themselves
- Protecting Seniors From Identity Theft
- How to Protect Seniors From Scams, Fraud, and Identity Theft
- Identity Theft: Are the Elderly Targeted?
- Protect Yourself: Hang Up, Shred It, Opt Out
- Stop Fraud Before It Starts
- Savvy Seniors: How to Avoid Financial Scams
- Money Smart for Older Adults Resource Guide