There are many older Americans who served in World War II and the Vietnam War and look back with great pride on how they served our country. As well they should, because without their often heroic efforts, America wouldn’t have prevailed in the global fight against our adversaries. And it wasn’t only soldiers who contributed to America’s success, it was all Americans, including women who took on the responsibility of building our arsenal, nursing our troops, and helping in any way they could, while their husbands and beloved family members went off to fight.
Those who served in those wars are rapidly aging and now find themselves fighting yet another war, only this time the adversaries are cybercriminals who are waging a battle to steal their identity, their integrity, and their money. In fact, senior identity theft is a constantly growing problem, with new scams targeting seniors appearing each day. It’s a tough fight, but it’s a battle that can and must be won. To win that war, we all need to help seniors avoid identity theft before it happens.
Cybercriminals Target Seniors
Everyone is at risk of becoming a victim of identity theft, but seniors are a key target of cybercriminals. There are many reasons why seniors are at the forefront of cybercriminals lists, including the fact that many have diminished faculties and are easy targets. Another reason seniors are easy marks is that they’re not vigilant about checking credit card and bank statements, nor do they review their credit bureau reports which would reveal suspicious activity.
Another reason why cybercrooks target seniors is that older Americans are reluctant to admit that they’ve been a victim of a scam. They are embarrassed and concerned that they will have to give up their independence and rely on others to manage their affairs. It’s a similar issue to having to “give up the keys to their car” when their loved ones recognize that they should no longer be driving.
The key to helping seniors avoid identity theft is to have a trusted family member or friend help manage their financial affairs. That is the only way to preemptively shut down identity theft before any damage being done.
Types of Scams
Many scams lead to identity theft, which is costing Americans $56 billion each year. They come in the form of phone scams, email phishing, and texting, and other means of contacting seniors. Because it’s hard for many older Americans to recognize fraud is occurring, the cybercriminal is often successful in pulling off their intended scam.
This can include tax fraud, where the cybercrook gets enough personal information about the senior to ultimately find their Social Security number. The cyberthief then files fraudulent tax returns in order to steal their refunds. Bank fraud is also a huge problem because once the cybercriminal gets hold of a senior’s bank information and their Social Security number or password, they will drain their bank account or take over the account and use it to pay for anything they want to buy. The senior is left to deal with the financial disaster that is created by the cybercrook.
Many scammers use cell phones to lure their victims, because through spoofing technology they can make the phone’s Caller ID look like it’s coming from a real and official government agency. They target veterans in order to steal their benefits, tax refunds, and credit cards. This is a growing problem, with the FTC reporting that over 160,000 cases of veteran fraud were reported in 2019.
Yet another huge scam is Medicare fraud, with cyber crooks stealing medical identity information in order to acquire medication, medical procedures and submit phony bills to Medicare for services that were never performed. The list goes on and on, and each day cybercrooks are implementing new ways to commit senior identity theft.
Avoiding Senior Identity Theft
Now that you’re aware of the magnitude of the problems facing seniors, let’s look at some ways to help avoid those from happening in the first place. The first step is to cut off the cybercriminal’s access to a senior’s personally identifiable information. Without that information, they can’t successfully implement their scams and frauds.
Most cybercriminals get their information on seniors from people-search sites, including US Search, PeopleFinders, and Truthfinder. There are more than 100 people-search sites that have unauthorized personal information about seniors, and they make this data available to anyone willing to pay for it. It can include phone numbers, email addresses, family member information and so much more. With their computer knowledge, cybercrooks can use this data to ultimately get a person’s Social Security number, which is the key to identity theft.
You need to opt out and delete all of that information from every one of the people’s search sites, but unfortunately, each site has its own methods and rules for opting out, which can make it an extremely time-consuming project. In addition, many seniors are not computer savvy, so either it would take even longer to accomplish or the senior couldn’t do it at all. They could hire someone to do this, or have a trusted family member help to manually remove all data. The bottom line is that it must be done.
Another key is to become familiar with ongoing phone and email scams. The Identity Theft Resource Center and the FTC publish information on current scams and how to avoid them. Having a trusted friend or family member review the email and phone “best practices” with the senior is another way to build up a good defense to stop the scam before it even starts.
By following the suggestions and recommendations listed above, seniors can help to avoid senior identity theft and win the war on cybercrime against seniors.