Helping Seniors Avoid Identity Theft
Identity theft is an ever-increasing problem, especially for seniors. According to data from the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network, the number of seniors reporting identity theft has nearly doubled since 2013 with a record 185,673 reports to law enforcement agencies in 2015.
Seniors tend to be targets of identity thieves for a number of reasons. Seniors are usually more trusting and have amassed more assets than their younger peers. Seniors are often less guarded about protecting their sensitive personal information, too. Additionally, seniors with chronic medical conditions can be at an increased risk, as paid and family caregivers have access to their medical and financial information, and they are frequently providing their name, address and Social Security number on medical forms, which might not always be stored securely.
Knowing the Signs of Identity Theft
There are a number of indicators when an individual has been the victim of identity theft. These can include withdrawals from bank accounts or charges on credit cards that cannot be explained, debt collection calls for loans the individual never acquired, medical bills for services the individual did not receive, or a notification from the IRS that a tax return has been filed. If a senior mentions any of these, or if you notice them, it is best to investigate further if identity theft has taken place by obtaining a copy of the individual’s credit report and looking for discrepancies. Suspicious activity that is likely to appear on a credit report if an individual’s identity has been stolen include unknown addresses, loans, lines of credit, and public record reports that are not associated with the individual’s activities.
What to Do When You Suspect Identity Theft Has Occurred
If a senior has become the victim of identity theft, it is best to help them report it to local law enforcement right away. The next step should be placing a fraud alert with one of the nationwide credit-reporting companies. Next, banks and credit card companies should be contacted to begin the process of resolving the theft. To help individuals who are victims of identity theft, the FTC has launched IdentityTheft.gov. Through this website, consumers can report identity theft and receive a customized recovery plan. The website provides checklists, sample letters and pre-filled forms to help victims recover.
Understanding Identity Theft Services
With the threat of identity theft increasing, a number of companies have appeared to help consumers be proactive in preventing their identity from being stolen. It is important to know no company can protect you from identity theft. Consumers should be aware of this when reviewing the marketing materials from companies offering identity protection services. In general, identity theft protection services fall into two categories: monitoring services and recovery services. Monitoring services vary by company, with the most comprehensive level of monitoring including both identity monitoring and credit monitoring.
Identity Monitoring Services
Identity monitoring will watch for changes in personal information. This can include monitoring address change requests; court records; orders for new utility, cable, phone or internet services; loan applications; and social media websites where identity thieves tend to sell and trade stolen information.
Credit Monitoring Services
Credit monitoring will watch for changes in an individual’s credit report. Changes in a credit report occur when a credit history is requested by a company, a new loan or credit card account is opened, late payments are reported to a credit-reporting agency, or legal judgments are filed against the individual. The FTC states that it is important for consumers to understand that credit monitoring is limited to only what is reported to the credit-reporting agencies. For example, if someone uses your Social Security number to file a tax return, that will not be caught by credit monitoring.
With both services, it is important to know exactly what is being monitored, the sources the company is monitoring and how frequently the monitoring is happening.