Signs of Identity Theft
Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. If you suspect that someone is misusing your personal information, acting quickly is the best way to limit the damage. Setting things straight involves some work.
How Do Thieves Get Your Information?
"I thought I kept my personal information to myself." You may have, but identity thieves are resourceful: they rummage through your garbage, the trash of businesses, or public dumps. They may work — or pretend to work — for legitimate companies, medical offices, clinics, pharmacies, or government agencies, or convince you to reveal personal information. Some thieves pretend to represent an institution you trust, and try to trick you into revealing personal information by email or phone.
What Do Thieves Do with Your Information?
Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.
Clues that Someone has Stolen Your Information
- You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can't explain
- You don't get your bills or other mail
- Merchants refuse your checks
- Debt collectors call you about debts that aren't yours
- You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report
- Medical providers bill you for services you didn't use
- Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you've reached your benefits limit
- A health plan won't cover you because your medical records show a condition you don't have
- The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don't work for
- You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account
What If Your Information is Lost or Stolen, but Your Accounts Don't Show Any Problems?
If your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial or account information are lost or stolen, contact the credit reporting companies and place a fraud alert on your credit file. Check your bank and other account statements for unusual activity. Order a free copy of your credit report periodically to monitor your accounts. You have a right to one free copy of your credit report from each of the national credit reporting companies every year.
Elder Financial Abuse
What It Is and What to Look for
Elder financial abuse spans a broad spectrum of conduct, including:
- Taking money or property
- Forging an older person's signature
- Getting an older person to sign a deed, will, or power of attorney through deception, coercion, or undue influence
- Using the older person's property or possessions without permission
- Promising lifelong care in exchange for money or property and not following through on the promise
- Confidence crimes ("cons") are the use of deception to gain victims' confidence
- Scams are fraudulent or deceptive acts
- Fraud is the use of deception, trickery, false pretense, or dishonest acts or statements for financial gain
- Telemarketing scams. Perpetrators call victims and use deception, scare tactics, or exaggerated claims to get them to send money. They may also make charges against victims' credit cards without authorization
Who are the Perpetrators?
Family members, including sons, daughters, grandchildren, or spouses. They may:
- Have substance abuse, gambling, or financial problems
- Stand to inherit and feel justified in taking what they believe is "almost" or "rightfully" theirs
- Fear that their older family member will get sick and use up their savings, depriving the abuser of an inheritance
- Have had a negative relationship with the older person and feel a sense of "entitlement"
- Have negative feelings toward siblings or other family members whom they want to prevent from acquiring or inheriting the older person's assets
Predatory individuals who seek out vulnerable seniors with the intent of exploiting them. They may:
- Profess to love the older person ("sweetheart scams")
- Seek employment as personal care attendants, counselors, etc. to gain access
- Identify vulnerable persons by driving through neighborhoods (to find persons who are alone and isolated) or contact recently widowed persons they find through newspaper death announcements
- Move from community to community to avoid being apprehended (transient criminals)
Unscrupulous professionals or businesspersons, or persons posing as such. They may:
- Overcharge for services or products
- Use deceptive or unfair business practices
- Use their positions of trust or respect to gain compliance
Who is at Risk?
The following conditions or factors increase an older person's risk of being victimized:
- Recent losses
- Physical or mental disabilities
- Lack of familiarity with financial matters
- Have family members who are unemployed and/or have substance abuse problems
Why are the Elderly Attractive Targets?
- Persons over the age of 50 control over 70% of the nation's wealth
- Many seniors do not realize the value of their assets (particularly homes that have appreciated markedly)
- The elderly are likely to have disabilities that make them dependent on others for help. These "helpers" may have access to homes and assets, and may exercise significant influence over the older person
- They may have predictable patterns (e.g. because older people are likely to receive monthly checks, abusers can predict when an older people will have money on hand or need to go to the bank)
- Severely impaired individuals are also less likely to take action against their abusers as a result of illness or embarrassment
- Abusers may assume that frail victims will not survive long enough to follow through on legal interventions, or that they will not make convincing witnesses
- Some older people are unsophisticated about financial matters
- Advances in technology have made managing finances more complicated
What are the Indicators?
Indicators are signs or clues that abuse has occurred. Some of the indicators listed below can be explained by other causes or factors and no single indicator can be taken as conclusive proof. Rather, one should look for patterns or clusters of indicators that suggest a problem.
- Unpaid bills, eviction notices, or notices to discontinue utilities
- Withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts that the older person cannot explain
- Bank statements and canceled checks no longer come to the elder's home
- New "best friends"
- Legal documents, such as powers of attorney, which the older person didn't understand at the time he or she signed them
- Unusual activity in the older person's bank accounts including large, unexplained withdrawals, frequent transfers between accounts, or ATM withdrawals
- The care of the elder is not commensurate with the size of his/her estate
- A caregiver expresses excessive interest in the amount of money being spent on the older person
- Belongings or property are missing
- Suspicious signatures on checks or other documents
- Absence of documentation about financial arrangements
- Implausible explanations given about the elderly person's finances by the elder or the caregiver
- The elder is unaware of or does not understand financial arrangements that have been made for him or her