Thousands fall victim to identity theft and fraud each year. Fraud statistics from consumer credit reporting agency Experian indicate that consumers reported $905 million in total fraud losses in 2017, a 21.6% increase over 2016.
But not everyone is at the same risk. Identity thieves focus their efforts wherever the opportunities are, and there are plenty of opportunities across all age groups. Two groups are particularly vulnerable—children and senior citizens. The reason? Both are less likely to closely monitor their credit and financial accounts.
Children are lucrative targets for ID theft because they have clean records—in most instances, a Social Security number has yet to be filed with any credit agencies.
Adding to the problem: Hospitals routinely provide the paperwork necessary to get a Social Security number (SSN) issued to a newborn—as parents want to claim children as dependents on income tax returns. The numbers normally are not filed with any of the credit agencies and will go unmonitored for years, giving fraudsters plenty of time to damage or steal a child’s credit and identity. Once they establish a credit account, criminals will use it to apply for loans or even to get work.
Many find it hard to picture that we will ever be in a position where we cannot manage our own affairs and make appropriate financial decisions. Yet, research shows that our ability to make sound financial decisions decreases as we age—and therefore, the elderly are more apt to be financially exploited.
Unlike children, the elderly may have better and longer credit histories that have been clean for many years. Studies show that people over the age of 60 are less likely to have frequent activity and transactions on their bank accounts and therefore don’t monitor them as often.
FBI research shows that seniors may trust others with their information easily. Because these individuals grew up without the Internet, they may not understand what they need to do to help protect their online identity.
Another factor is that seniors may neglect to report an incident, whether out of shame or simply not knowing whom to call.
Most scams perpetrated on seniors and their families include tax fraud, medical identity theft, various nefarious phone and mail scams involving fake lottery/sweepstakes, charities, and home repairs, and fraud committed by nursing home employees and long-term care staff.
According to the FTC, any situation that requires the submission and processing of personal information, including Social Security numbers, account codes, and background information on relatives can be a gold mine for identity thieves.
Steps to take
Here are some identity protection tips for seniors and children’s accounts:
Many adult children providing assistance for their elder parents are challenged discovering debt they didn’t know their parents had. Taking the step towards more openness can help forge a line of financial defense for elder loved ones.
Protecting one’s SSN is the best line of defense. Avoid giving it out as much as possible. The Identity Theft Resource Center says you should tell your children they should try to avoid using their SSN, especially on the Internet or when applying for financial aid or summer jobs. Parents and college-age kids should keep all sensitive information locked in a secure place, use a locked mailbox to send and receive mail, and take precautions when filling out forms for school and sports activities.
Because of habit, many seniors have carried their social security card in their purse or wallet. Instead, have them leave their cards secured at home and carry a copy of their Medicare card with them, with the SSN blacked out.
Make sure your family members, young or old, are wary of posting too much personal information on social media.
At the age of 15 or 16, periodically try to pull your child’s credit report. If you haven’t added your child as an authorized user to a credit card, your child shouldn’t have a credit report. If your child does, that means someone has opened a credit account under your child’s name.
If you’ve established an SSN, be sure to create an online Social Security account—regardless of age or retirement eligibility—to prevent attackers from doing so. If you already have an account, regularly review your statements and be alert for benefits activity you didn’t initiate.
Have seniors select a trusted individual when drafting a power of attorney.
Be suspicious of ALL phone calls and emails that request personal or financial information, or threaten that you’ll lose access to something if you don’t login or respond. If you think it might be real, look up the company’s contact information and ask, or hang up and call the institution back at a number you already have on a statement. Read more tips on staying informed.
Put a freeze on credit reports to prevent attackers from obtaining credit histories and opening new lines of credit. The cost of a credit freeze is now free of charge. You can unfreeze your report at no cost, too. In addition, new federal law allows parents across the country to get a free credit freeze for children under age 16. A child’s credit file would be frozen until the child is old enough to use credit.
What to do if you suspect identity theft has occurred
IdentityTheft.gov is the U.S. government’s one-stop resource to recover from identity theft. The site provides streamlined checklists and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process.
- Tell them what happened.
- Get a recovery plan.
- Put your plan in action.
Resources: Experian®, The Federal Trade Commission, Lifehacker, Symantec Corporation, TransUnion LLC, CreditCards.com