How to Educate an Older Adult about Identity Theft

Sunrise Senior Living  |  October 9, 2017

October is National Crime Prevention Month. While many of us know that older adults are at higher risk of becoming a victim of crime, we often think first of a purse snatching in the parking lot or a break-in at their home. But experts say identity theft is also a growing concern for older adults.

With identity thieves setting their sights on seniors, it’s important to take time to help educate this population who grew up before identity theft was even an issue.

Here’s what adult children need to know to help a senior avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.

Seniors and Identity Theft

Identity thieves gain access to a senior’s personal information in a variety of ways. Four of the most common ones are:

1. Theft of Medical Information: Unsuspecting seniors may carry important documents, such as their Medicare card or Social Security card, in their wallet or purse. They may need to use them often and keep them in their wallet for convenience. But if their wallet is lost or stolen, thieves have access to the senior’s most personal information. 

Unfortunately, thieves also steal data files from medical centers. They do this by hacking into the healthcare system’s computer system or by bribing an employee. The information the perpetrator finds is all they need to assume the senior’s identity.  They can then open credit cards, access checking and savings accounts, and even file income taxes in the older adult’s name.

2. Mail Theft: Another way criminals obtain older adults’ important personal information is by stealing their mail right out of the mailbox. Thieves believe seniors are likely to have strong credit history and therefore be profitable targets for identity theft. Medical bills, insurance statements, and investment plans often contain information that can help make it easier to assume someone’s identity.

3. Grandparent Scam: While this one seems hard to believe, it is a fairly common scam. A person with a voice that sounds young calls claiming to be a grandchild. They might even know the name of the older adult’s grandchild and use it. The scammer claims to be in trouble and begs for money to be wired to them or for a credit card number. A frantic grandparent complies, and it turns out to be a scam.

4. IRS Agent Scam: Another growing type of fraud is the IRS agent scam. The scammer calls or sends a threatening email telling the victim they owe the IRS money that must be paid by credit card immediately or they will be arrested. It is important to know that the IRS will never call about a payment. You will receive a written letter explaining any outstanding debts, and it will include information about how to appeal.

If you’d like to learn more about identity theft and older adults, you might want to read a guide created by the IRS. The IRS Taxpayer’s Guide to Identity Theft is a complimentary toolkit that should help answer your questions.

To stay updated on the latest news for older adults and their families, we invite you to follow The Sunrise Blog. We share safety alerts, health and fitness resources and survival tips for weary family caregivers.