Protect Your Senior From Identity Theft
Maria is a frequent guest blogger here at The Caregivers' Living Room. Today, I'm happy that she's chosen to write about fraud and identity theft, largely because I see warnings about these scams in my Mom's residence elevator every time I visit and I'd like to better protect my family from fraud. It's a real issue for caregivers and our vulnerable loved ones.
Identity theft has become a common, pervasive and destructive form of crime in recent decades, and it's an unfortunate fact of life that senior citizens are a frequently targeted demographic. Because many seniors are more inclined to trust seemingly well-meaning strangers, are less tech-savvy than younger people and are potentially suffering from dementia or age-related memory loss, identity thieves view the elderly as easy targets.
While technologies such as self-driving cars, home automation products and other innovations have reduced some of the burden on seniors, the growth of technology has also made it easier than ever for criminals to prey on vulnerable people. In fact, 2.6 million seniors were victims of some form of identity theft in 2014 alone. Fortunately, as a caregiver, there are several steps you can take to help prevent this type of theft.
Be Wary of Common Scams
Most people are aware that the Internet can be a breeding ground for various scams, but many instances of fraud and identity theft still occur as a result of phone or door-to-door scams. Seniors should never comply with requests to provide sensitive personal or financial information over the phone, particularly to unexpected callers with whom they are not familiar. When in doubt, seniors should verify information requests with their caregiver before proceeding. Similarly, caregivers should explain the risks posed by door-to-door salesmen and encourage their seniors to simply not engage.
Practice Safe Password Etiquette
A password is often all that stands between a would-be thief and a person's bank account, credit cards and other sensitive information. Passwords for technology in the house should also be secure as a tech-savvy hacker can get their hands on personal information that way as well. This includes your internet and home security system. Multiple resources offer more information on how hackers can get into your personal information and how to protect yourself from being a victim.
Indeed, passwords may be all that stand in the way of a person's entire identity being stolen. For that reason, it's extremely important that seniors take basic steps to improve their security. Passwords should always contain a combination of numbers and letters, uppercase and lowercase, and even symbols when possible. Each account should use a separate password, and passwords should be changed on a regular basis. This is also true of home security passwords, which should ideally be changed once per month.
Monitor Credit Reports
Monitoring every detail of a person's financial life can be difficult, but a credit report makes the process much easier. Fortunately, the three major credit reporting companies are legally required to provide a copy of a person's credit report once every 12 months upon request. This is a tremendous benefit for seniors and their caregivers, as it provides a simple way to review any suspicious activity or erroneous information without manually wading through old statements and other paperwork. Requesting a report from one of the three agencies every four months will provide consistent, year-round access to the most recent information.
Destroy Nonessential Documents
Saving financial documents and other important papers is a beneficial habit, but most documents need not be saved for very long. Documents that are no longer essential should be properly destroyed on a regular basis, whether through burning or with a shredder. A cross-cut shredder is sufficient for most purposes, though a micro-cut shredder provides an added level of security for especially sensitive documents. Shredding or otherwise destroying papers such as old banking slips, bills, credit card statements and sensitive mail will ensure that the information they contain cannot fall into the wrong hands.
Protect Credit Cards
It's no secret that credit cards are especially vulnerable to fraud and theft, which is why seniors should have as few as necessary. Canceled or expired cards should be shredded or otherwise destroyed, and current cards should be kept in a secure location whenever they are not in use. In situations where another person may need to handle a credit card, such as a gas station attendant or wait staff in a restaurant, seniors should keep an eye on their card at all times.
Identity theft and fraud can be a devastating blow, and seniors are at greater risk than nearly any other group. Criminals are always searching for new ways to exploit the elderly, but there is much a well-informed senior can do to minimize the risk. By following the steps presented above, you and the senior you care for can take comfort in knowing that their personal information is well protected.