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Identity theft has been the number one complaint received by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), for 12 years, and senior citizens are the number-one targets.
According to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, the mature market (age 50 and older) comprises 37 percent of all identity theft victims, and 49 percent of the same demographic are victims of fraud. In addition, the most common form of reported identity thefts was government document and benefit fraud (55 percent in Florida).
Whitney Ray, press secretary for the Florida Office of the Attorney General, shed some light on the Pensacola area when it comes to identity theft. Ray said that the FTC reports 89.4 complaints per 100,000 residents in the area, and 20 percent of all identity theft-related grievances come from people age 60 and older. According to the Data Book, the Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent area had 473.7 general fraud complaints per 100,000 residents, and the area ranks 89th out of the largest metropolitan areas when it comes to identity theft consumer complaints. Florida currently has the highest per capita rate of identity theft complaints in the entire country (192.9 cases for every 100,000 people).
The Identity Theft Assistance Center, which provides free victim assistance and identity management services for customers of their member companies, outlines several warning signs of possible theft on their website. In regard to senior citizens, some of their "red flags" include caregivers appearing to be getting paid too much or too often, vulnerable adults appearing confused about bank account balance and activity and acknowledgement of providing personal and account information to telephone and email solicitors. Ray noted phone and mail fraud as the hazards seniors should protect against most.
ProtectMyID, a division of Experian, outlines a couple of the chief reasons that senior citizens are targeted by identity thieves:
"Criminals find seniors susceptible to these crimes of deception because they believe that 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."
Even the smallest strange deviations in account activity can be a sign of identity theft. For example, out-of-sync check numbers and records of several small dollar checks (indicative of possible telemarketing and charity scams) are early warning signals, according to the ITAC.
Of course, there are numerous steps seniors and their family and friends can take to better ensure the safety of their personal and financial particulars. Things like shredding old credit card and financial statements, keeping card and account numbers secure and being wary of offers that require private information are obvious and applicable to everyone. Senior citizens should also take added precautions for their additional concerns like medical care. Lifelock's official website says that Medicare information should never be given out over the phone because Medicare actually does not request information in this manner.
"When in doubt, contact the organization or institution directly, at a number you know to be correct," Ray said.
In fact, medical identity theft is one of the thornier types of identity theft that seniors can face. Aside from unexpected charges and calls from medical debt collectors, medical identity theft victims can be notified that they have reached their benefit limit and denied insurance because their medical records show conditions that they do not have, according to the FTC. Being wary of these warning signs, as well as obtaining copies of medical records and accountings of disclosures, are effective ways to ward off potential threats.
One of the most malicious forms of identity theft specific to senior citizens is the "grandparent scam." This type of trick entails the victim receiving a phone call from someone impersonating a grandchild or close relative. The scammer feigns an emergency situation and insists that the victim wire them money immediately' often swearing them to secrecy or giving phony names of police or other officials in order to add layers to the scam. On their website, the FTC strongly encourages seniors in these situations to remain calm, never wire their money and to ask the caller verification questions that identity thieves would not know.
Seniors can access several resources in their efforts to protect their identities. The Florida Office of the Attorney General provides a free Victim Services Kit at www.myfloridalegal.com, as well as their Fraud Hotline (1-866-966-7226). Various other identity protection tools such as free credit reports, fraud alerts and credit freezes are also available.
View similar articles online in Council on Aging's quarterly magazine, Coming of Age.
The Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies (BRACE) and its partners know that the likelihood that you and your family will recover from a hurricane or other emergency tomorrow often depends on the planning and preparation done today. You should plan to survive on your own for at least three days. Think about the basics for survival - food, water, clean air and any lifesustaining items you require.
Get a kit: Consider the development of two emergency kits. In one kit put everything you will need to stay where you are and survive for several days. The other kit should be a lightweight, smaller version you can take with you if you have to leave your home.
Recommended basic emergency supplies include: water one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days for drinking and sanitation; food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food and a can opener if kit contains canned food; battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both; flashlight and extra batteries; first aid kit; whistle to signal for help; dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place; moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation; wrench or pliers to turn off utilities; local maps; pet food, extra water and supplies for your pet or service animal.
Include medications and medical supplies: If you take medicine or use a medical treatment on a daily basis, be sure you have what you need on hand to make it on your own for at least a week. Florida statutes allow for the replacement of prescription medications at any time during a declared local state of emergency.
Additional items: If you use eyeglasses, hearing aids and hearing aid batteries, wheelchair batteries, or oxygen, be sure you always have extras in your home.
Include emergency documents: Include copies of important documents in your emergency supply kits such as family records, wills, power of attorney documents, deeds, social security numbers, credit card and bank information, and tax records. Make an emergency plan and write it down. The Florida Division of Emergency Management offers an online tool to help you develop your plan through its website: Courtesy of BRACE Seasonal Hurricane prep www.FLGetAPlan.com. Keep a copy of your plan in your emergency supply kits and a list of important information and contacts in your wallet.
Develop a family communications plan: Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so plan how you will contact one another and review what you will do in different situations. It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so plan an out-of-town contact.
Deciding to stay or go: Depending on the nature of the emergency, the first important decision is whether you stay or go. Monitor television or radio news reports for information or official instructions as they become available. If you're specifically told to evacuate or seek medical treatment, do so immediately.
Consider your pets: Keep in mind that what's best for you is typically what's best for your animals. If you must evacuate, take your pets with you, if possible. If you are going to a public shelter, it is important to understand very few are pet-friendly and able to accommodate animals in separate space from evacuees. Pre-registration of pets may be required. If you have a medical condition, check with your doctor or the health department about alternative sheltering options.
Evacuation: There may be conditions in which you will decide to leave, or there may be situations when you may be ordered to leave. Choose several destinations in different directions so you have options in an emergency.
Fire Safety: Plan two ways out of every room in case of fire. Secure or remove furniture and objects that may block your path.
Be Informed: It's important to stay informed about what might happen and know what types of emergencies are likely to affect our community.
View similar articles online in Council on Aging's quarterly magazine, Coming of Age.
Ross Knight and his Senior Companion, David Alexander Jr., both project a kind of peaceful wisdom, an aura that comes from their own individual nature, but also from their compatibility as a pair. Native to Pensacola, Mr. Knight returned to Pensacola with his family and started a non-denominational church. He and his wife had seven children, all of whom have college experience, and his later years Mr. Knight had his own ranch and petting zoo. Reflecting on his varied professions and involvement throughout his life, Mr. Knight emphasizes that he likes "to be active. Sometimes things move a little too slow around here for me. I have always been active my whole life and like to be around energetic people."
His Senior Companion, Mr. Alexander, feels the same. A pastor and counselor by trade, he is affectionately referred to by Mr. Knight as "Bishop Alexander." Though he is approaching his 80th year, he says staying active is important to him because he loves "helping people unable to help themselves. There is something down in me." Mr. Alexander speaks with pride of his college educated children, his Ph.D., and his love of mentoring young people.
It is clear that these two men, both spiritually motivated and with a strong desire to effect change, are kindred spirts. Says Mr. Knight, "we have known each other for years in the community. At first I wasn't sure, because he is older than me, but now I couldn't imagine it without him...he helps me tremendously, and is such a fine gentlemen, active, independent..." Mr. Alexander sits,humble in light of this praise, but beaming. He chimes in, "I've enjoyed [being a Senior Companion]. I like to meet and help people. It's been very good."
Mr. Alexander continues, referring to the Senior Companion program as, "a beautiful program. I'm very proud." Mr. Knight nods his head in agreement. "When you age, you can't do things like you used to, though you want to. Thank God has preserved me up to now."
Mr. Knight concludes, sweetly, with the sentiment, "Bishop Alexander was gone last week, and I missed him! I couldn't hardly wait until he came back."
Please help us provide seniors in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties with the programs and services they need to live healthy, safe and independent lives in their own familiar surroundings. These program and services, which include Meals on Wheels, adult day health care and caregiver support, enable seniors and their caregivers to face an uncertain future with the dignity they deserve.
Coming of Age Magazine is the only senior - oriented lifestyle publication in Northwest Florida. Locally produced and published in Pensacola, Florida by Council on Aging of West Florida in partnership with Ballinger Publishing.
Spring 2016 - 3/1/2016
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