WASHINGTON, July 31, 2013 — Baby boomers are the largest generation to reach late adulthood thus far. Coupled with the numbers is the vulnerability of senior citizens. It is then not surprising that the elderly are being targeted in the multitudes by those who would scam them. For those reasons, it is important to be aware that this is happening and learn how to help protect yourself or your loved ones.
Why are seniors at greater risk?
There are many reasons seniors would be a highly targeted portion of the population compared to others. It isn’t that seniors are all senile and easy prey, but that is a common generalization that is made by thieves. However, with aging comes certain natural setbacks. The elderly are more prone to depression than the general population. This is for many reasons, the loss of one’s mobility, health, loved ones and the ability to live life as they have in the past could all be reasons. No matter what the reason is, research has shown that depression in the elderly leads to a ten percent increase in falling prey to fraudulent activities.
This is because when one is lonely, it is so much easier for that person to crave interaction. Especially those who have come from a “simpler time” and are more trusting. Senior citizen identity theft could, and does, easily occur when a scammer gains the trust of a senior. From that trust, much can be gained by a scam artist including personal information, account numbers, and large sums of money or personal belongings worth great sums.
Failing memory is also used by con artists to dupe senior citizens out of money. With age comes memory loss, and in worse scenarios, the onset of illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Methods Scam Artists use include Fear and Opportunity
Con artists use a variety of schemes and techniques, some use intimidation while others may try a friendly approach. A scammer over the phone could pose as an employee of the electric or phone company – and state that the victim forgot to pay a bill or didn’t pay enough. This could lead to that victim being convinced to give out credit card numbers and personal information over the phone.
Senior citizens are at an increased risk of falling victims to these scams due to the real facts of aging. A scammer is more likely to target this group because there is an increased likelihood of success, as well as not being caught. A lot of elderly people are terrified of losing their independence, and if they were to admit falling prey many would fear the loss of that independence. Many people in our culture are quick to jump on the nursing home bandwagon. This could lead seniors to be scared to report scams and abuse of their information and finances. Criminals know this and use it to their advantage.
Another reason for the targeting of seniors, and a potentially long term big gain, is social security income. The very thing that helps many of the elderly survive is also seen as a ripe peach for the picking by scam artists. There are many different forms of fraud aimed at stealing or redirecting a seniors social security payments. Even friendly fraud occurs because of this, when a friend or family member of the victim steals the social security checks. This can add up to thousands of dollars gone before a senior is able to stop the theft.
Finally, knowing how to prevent id theft is a relatively new practice. Seniors may be missing out on a lot of information because they are uncomfortable accessing technology. This may mean they miss out on the warnings by authorities when new scams are identified. At the same time the elderly who are vulnerable, would also be missing out on prevention and cure tips for this scourge being inflicted upon them by heartless thieves with no conscience.
How do we help our seniors prevent this?
One way to help yourself or a loved one from falling victim to these scams is education. As mentioned above, seniors who were born into simpler times are likely more trusting. Sit down with your elderly loved ones and explain to them they cannot trust just anyone. Create a list of scenarios they could put on the fridge to refer to if they are suspicious. Remind them that they should never give personal information out over the phone. If a company is actually calling about a missed payment or billing issue, tell them to tell the rep they will call right back. Instruct them to look at the bill in question and call the company at the phone number provided on the bill.
Another method is through credit monitoring. Any population that is at a higher risk of being abused should be monitoring their credit, so they know if something is amiss. Keeping track of credit scores and the information used to generate them is the best identity theft protection. This is because the person monitoring their finances can use their records and the records of the monitoring service to check if there are discrepancies. This is helpful for those who may have a failing memory, being able to check lists against each other. This also returns power to the senior, giving them more control.
If you have an elderly friend or relative, please take the time to go through some of this information with them, and help them understand and be ready. A senior citizen doesn’t have to fall victim to scammers.
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