Elderly individuals are often attractive targets for identity thieves and scammers. Luckily, there are quite a few organizations that provide help to this population. Below you will find a list of resources which may be able to offer additional assistance or information.  If you have questions or believe you may have been a victim of a scam or identity theft call us for free assistance at 888.400.5530, contact us via LiveChat or email us at ITRC@idtheftcenter.org.

 

  • AARP

http://www.aarp.org

(888) 687-2277

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, social welfare organization that works on issues such as health care, employment and income security, and protection from financial abuse.

  • Aging & Independent Services in San Diego

http://www.sandiegocounty.gov/hhsa/programs/ais/

(800) 510-2020

AIS provides services to older adults, people with disabilities and their family members, to help keep clients safely in their homes, promote healthy and vital living, and publicize positive contributions made by older adults and persons with disabilities.

  • American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry

http://www.gmhfonline.org/gmhf/consumer/depression.html

(703) 556-9222

The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry is a national association representing and serving its members and the field of geriatric psychiatry. AAGP promotes the mental health and well-being of older people through professional education, public advocacy, and support of career development for clinicians, educators, and researchers in geriatric psychiatry and mental health.

  • American Society on Aging

http://www.asaging.org/

ASA offers training for those working with seniors and the elderly.  These include financial literacy courses.

  • Elder Justice Coordinating Council

http://www.aoa.acl.gov/AoA_Programs/Elder_Rights/EJCC/Index.aspx

(800) 677-1116

The Elder Justice Act of 2009, as part of the Affordable Care Act, establishes the Elder Justice Coordinating Council to coordinate activities related to elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation across the Federal government.

  • Justice in Aging

http://www.justiceinaging.org/

(202) 289-6976

As the only national organization focused solely on protecting the rights of low-income seniors, JiA partners with advocates on the ground who help monitor issues that impact poor seniors. They represent seniors in the courts, on their own or in partnership with other organizations, litigating precedent-setting cases that benefit hundreds of thousands of seniors.

  • National Center on Elder Abuse

https://ncea.acl.gov/

(855) 500-3537

Directed by the U.S. Administration on Aging, NCEA is a resource for policy makers, social service and health care practitioners, the justice system, researchers, advocates, and families.

  • National Council on Aging

https://www.ncoa.org

(571) 527-3900

A respected national leader and trusted partner to help people aged 60+ meet the challenges of aging. Partner with non-profit organizations, government, and business to provide innovative community programs and services, online help, and advocacy.

  • Serving Seniors

http://www.servingseniors.org/

(619) 235-6572

Offer a variety of programs for seniors,  from health education, to meals, to affordable housing.

  • United States Senate Special Committee on Aging Fraud Hotline

https://www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline

(855) 303-9470

If you know someone who has been a victim of fraud – or if you suspect that they may become a victim – contact the Fraud Hotline. The Committee’s investigators have experience in fraud concerning retirement savings, identity theft, phone scams, Medicare, Social Security, and a variety of other consumer issues important to seniors and the elderly.

Scams targeting seniors are truly some of the lowest forms of exploitive crime, namely because their effectiveness is based on playing off the victim’s emotions. Whether it’s using fear tactics, promises of financial security, or even the enticement of a loving relationship, scams require some form of mental investment on the part of the victims. This investment can lead to feelings of mistrust and depression once the victim is aware of the crime.

While all forms of scams are awful, ones that prey on the elderly seem to be the worst. Why? Because elder scams typically target individuals who have an inherent sense of trust in others, a certain level of naivety about technology and crime, a fear of appearing incompetent to care for themselves, and worst of all, a limited income. Victims who are trusting, unaware, and who don’t have spare money to waste on criminals should be off-limits, but instead, they’re the prime targets for thieves.

Here are some of the top forms of scams targeting seniors and the elderly need to watch out for:

1. Utility scams

Seniors are often targeted by individuals who pose as representatives from a utility company, such as the phone, power, or gas companies. The reason is simple: with the threat of losing their service hanging over their heads, elderly residents are likely to pay up. If an agent calls to say that your gas bill is overdue and your heat is about to be cut off, or someone calls and states that your electricity is about to be suspended for non-payment, hang up immediately and call the utility company directly using a verified phone number. There’s an excellent chance it was the work of a random-dialer scam artist, but it will give you peace of mind to know that the matter is resolved. You’ll also be helping the utility companies remain aware of an active scammer in their area

2. Lotteries or Sweepstakes Scam

Callers go after senior citizens with scams involving lotteries or sweepstakes largely because most seniors could stand to use a little extra money. Even with the most meticulous planning for retirement, there’s a prevalent concern about having enough money set aside to weather any illness or medical condition, to pay for supervised care should the need arise, or just to leave a little inheritance to loved ones. So scammers play off of those feelings by promising you instant wealth in exchange for paying the “taxes and fees.” Remember, you will never be called and told you’ve won some mysterious prize, especially one that you don’t remember entering. If you’re ever informed that you’ve won money and only need to pay some upfront fees to claim it, walk away immediately

3. Phone scams

There’s an awful stereotype surrounding older adults—one of loneliness, coupled with an abundance of free time on their hands during the day—that makes them ripe for phone scams. Using basic robo-dial processes or lists of consumer information, scammers call and offer everything from free trial offers, account assistance, or even ominous threats from agencies like the IRS. By assuming the potential victims will be home to take the call and easily frightened into compliance, scammers are able to bilk older victims out of a lot of money. Even more alarming, many senior victims have admitted to not reporting the scam because they felt guilty for being so gullible, or were concerned about having their mental faculties called into question

4. Healthcare scams

Whether it’s an irate billing clerk or someone posing as a Medicare agent, senior citizens are easy targets for healthcare scams. The reasons are simple. First, once a citizen reaches the age of 65, Medicare is automatic; that means a scammer doesn’t have to phish around in the dark for an unwitting victim. Also, as a whole, elderly adults receive more frequent health care visits, meaning threatening callers posing as a billing clerk are more likely to be believable. Remember, your healthcare is a privacy issue. If anyone contacts you concerning an unpaid bill, asking for “verification” of your Medicare account, or any other health-related issue, refuse to comply. Contact your health care provider or the Medicare office directly if you have questions or concerns, and do not give out your personal data to someone who contacts you by phone.

Worried about a parent or loved one? Read our article, Protecting your Parent’s Identity.

If you think that you, or someone you know, may have fallen victim to one of these scams, or a scam of another kind, please do not hesitate to call us and speak with an Identity Theft Information Specialist.  You can receive free help by dialing 888.400.5530, via LiveChat or email us at ITRC@idtheftcenter.org.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: The Harm in Hoaxes on Social Media

ITRC Fact Sheet 137

The injuries suffered by an older person from physical abuse or neglect are tragic, but there is another form of abuse not as publicized called “financial exploitation.” Financial abuse or exploitation can rob a senior of self-esteem and trust as well as his or her means of subsistence. When a relative, friend or caretaker exploits an older person and manages to drain away savings, assets and good credit that have taken years to accumulate and establish, the result can be devastating.  From that point on, the elder’s lifestyle is severely diminished.

Criminals target older adults for financial exploitation for a variety of reasons.  Criminals find seniors susceptible to these crimes of deception because they believe the older population has higher cash reserves and are less likely to check their credit reports or financial account statements carefully.  This may be due to the fact that they are usually in a financially stable position and are not opening new lines of credit.  This gives the thief the opportunity to steal a senior’s identity or money with a reduced probability of detection.  Some other reasons seniors are targeted is because the thieves assume they are less aware of the crime of identity theft and various scam scenarios.

In addition, older adults living in residential facilities – or under the care of someone – are at greater risk because the caretakers have access to the senior’s personal records.  This creates a situation which allows unscrupulous individuals to exploit those in their care.

Examples of Financial Exploitation

  • establishing credit using the victim’s personal information
  • cashing an elderly person’s check without permission
  • forging the victim’s signature
  • misusing or stealing a person’s money or possessions
  • deceiving a victim into signing a contract, will, Power of Attorney, or another document

Identity thieves can drain bank accounts, open new accounts, rack up huge credit card bills, obtain loans, apply for jobs, refinance the victim’s home, obtain medical care and even commit crimes with the victim’s identity.

Most Common Ways That Identity Thieves Obtain Personal Data

  • Wallet or purse theft:  seniors are more likely to carry their Social Security cards or Medicare cards with them, making them prime targets
  • Dumpster diving:  thieves dig for personal information in the trash of homes and businesses.
  • Phone scams: thieves pose as insurance companies, charities, banks, governmental agencies or other businesses to gather personal information over the phone.
  • Personal theft:  personal information is stolen by an employee, nurse, relative, or friend.
  • Records theft:  medical records, social security records, and other forms of personal records are a golden ticket in the wrong hands.
  • Online fraud:  fake emails and websites with false fronts are set up to trick unsuspecting consumers to provide personal data. The emails and websites can look legitimate and may even look just like a real communication from a company with which you do business.  Thieves may also collect information and/or money via lottery scams.
  • Mail theft:  thieves intercept incoming and outgoing mail to obtain personal identifying information, collect checks and pre-approved credit card offers.

Although each case presents its own particular facts, exploitation tends to follow a predictable pattern.  The exploitation usually begins with the existence of a relative, “friend”, or caregiver in whom the elder has placed confidence or trust. The delegation of financial authority to the exploiter may be done openly or come about more subtly.

In general, there seems to be an overall reluctance to report financial exploitation.  Elderly victims may fail to report the crime either because of their own incapacity or because of the stigma they feel may be attached to their being identified as a victim.  An older person may also be reluctant to report a relative or caregiver because of the emotional attachment to that person.  Often times the senior may be scared that if they do report they have become a victim of identity theft or a scam, they may lose their independence, because family members or guardians may deem them incapable of handling their own affairs.  The senior is often embarrassed or feels responsible and blames themselves for falling victim to the thief. Identity thieves and scammers know this and will plan to take advantage of it as much as possible.

Seniors Protecting Personal Information

Because they do make such attractive targets, seniors should be vigilant about protecting their personal information.

  • Guarding Social Security numbers, checks, credit cards, Medicare cards, and financial statements. Leave these items in a locked security box at home or safety box at the bank. Do not carry such personal items in your purse, wallet or car.  See ITRC Solution SN 22 – Medicare Cards and Social Security Numbers.
  • Using a locked mailbox for incoming and outgoing mail.  Don’t put mail in your mailbox with the flag up. This is an open invitation to thieves. If possible, go to the post office to mail items.
  • Investing in a small cross-cut shredder and destroy unneeded personal documents, receipts, pre-approved credit offers, unused or old checks and any other item that includes personal information about you or your accounts.
  • Not giving your Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, account numbers or passwords to strangers who contact you, especially by phone, internet or email. Legitimate businesses will never contact their customers and ask for this information. If you are doing business with them, they will already have your pertinent information. If there is any question, contact the company directly with the contact information you have, not the phone numbers or email the stranger gives you.
  • Checking your credit reports and financial statements regularly. If you notice any suspicious activity on your accounts or bill, contact the bank or company immediately.  To obtain your annual free credit report, call toll free 1-877-322-8228 or go to www.annualcreditreport.com.

If you suspect that you or someone you know may be a victim of financial exploitation, please use the resources below for assistance.

Department of Justice – Elder Justice Initative

Contact the Department of Health & Human Services Administration on Aging abuse hotline by calling toll-free 1-800-677-1116. You will be directed to local contacts and resources to help with your specific situation.

Contact the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) at 1-800-667-1116 or www.ncea.aoa.gov.

 

This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to itrc@idtheftcenter.org.