Senior Citizen Identity Theft05/24/2016

Senior Citizen Identity Theft

The Facts, Figures and What Senior Citizens Can Do to Prevent It

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, 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. 

If you think you are a victim of identity theft or fraud, report your case to the FTC at 1-877-382-4357 or

View similar articles online in Council on Aging's quarterly magazine, Coming of Age

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