Why would identity thieves target senior citizens when most of them are retired? Simple — to get at the wealth accumulated over a lifetime of working and saving.
According to Pew Research, households headed by someone over the age of 65 have 47 times as much net wealth as the typical household headed by someone younger than 35.
Consider Florida with its high concentration of seniors. Consumer Sentinel Network statistics for 2013 show that Florida has the highest rate of identity theft in the country, with 192 complaints per 100,000 residents and an astounding 340 complaints per 100,000 residents in Miami. In 2014, the state legislature deliberated tougher penalties for identity theft but the effort, SB1472, died in committee.
There are specific ways that seniors are targeted, leading to the opportunity for extra protection:
- Medicare ID Theft: Your Medicare number contains your entire Social Security number, plus some extra letters. Identity thieves go to great lengths to get their hands on your number. Don’t routinely carry your card in your wallet. Hospitals must treat you in an emergency so they can get a photocopy of your card later. Once your primary care physician makes a copy of your card the doctor doesn't need to see it again. If they ask for it, tell them to refer to their files — it hasn’t changed.
- Tax Refund Fraud: Following retirement, many seniors stop filing tax returns annually as their income drops below the threshold that requires the filing. While refund fraud is a huge problem for all Americans, it hits seniors harder because it takes longer to realize they’ve been victimized. Filing taxes is free — go through the mental exercise even if it’s not required. You may even get a few dollars back.
- We’re Issuing You a New Card: The senior receives a phone call from a person who says that he or she is being issued a new Medicare card. The caller just needs to confirm a few things such as date of birth, your old Medicare number, etc. Don’t fall for it. A government agency never initiates contact by phone and never asks for personal identifying information —they already have everything on file. Just hang up.
- Stolen Mail: Seniors often do things the same way they’ve done them for 50 years — such as put outgoing mail in their mailboxes to be picked up by the mail carrier. Swiped mail, incoming or outgoing, contains a wealth of information from credit card numbers and bank account numbers to driver’s licenses and unsolicited credit card applications. Get a locking mailbox or a mail slot that drops mail into a secure place. Post outgoing mail at the post office or a USPS mailbox.
- Fake Funeral Notices: Due to their advancing age, seniors know more people who die than younger people. This makes them more vulnerable to scams involving death. Earlier this year the Federal Trade Commission warned of fake emails purporting to be funeral notices. The recipients were invited to click on a link in the email for more information and to leave condolences. The link downloaded malware onto the victim’s computer, making them vulnerable to identity theft.