Helping protect seniors from fraud and identity theft | Health

Betty Q. Hixson

While identity theft and fraud can strike people of all ages, senior citizens may be particularly vulnerable, for several reasons.  They’re more likely to have more savings and good credit scores, which makes seniors attractive targets, according to the FBI.  In addition, says the FBI, they “were generally raised to be polite and trusting.  Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say ‘no,’ or just hang up the telephone.”  Senior citizens may also be less likely to report fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are ashamed or may be afraid, the FBI says.  For instance, a fraud victim may worry that family members discover the fraud, they may believe the victim is no longer able to manage his or her own finances.

According to the National Council on Aging, here are some common frauds and scams that may target senior citizens:

Medicare / health insurance fraud 

In these types of scams, a fraudster may contact a consumer and claim to be a Medicare representative in order to get victims’ personal information.  They may also provide bogus services at makeshift clinics for senior citizens, then use their personal information to bill Medicare.  

What you can do 

If they receive a phone call, email, or letter from someone claiming to be from Medicare, encourage seniors to contact Medicare directly to verify its legitimacy.  Medicare encourages senior citizens to record dates they receive health care services, keep receipts and statements, and carefully monitor claims.  The agency also encourages seniors not to allow anyone but their doctors to review their records or recommend services, and to be wary of providers who say a service isn’t covered but they “know how to bill Medicare.” 

Phone scams 

Scammers may use fake telemarketing calls to get money or personal information from senior citizens.  These may include offering a prize or money in exchange for a “good faith” payment; telling the senior citizen they must wire or send money because a relative is in this hospital; or posing as a fake charity soliciting donations.  In a “grandparent scam,” a caller will pretend to be a grandchild needing money for an emergency, while other callers may claim to be from the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration.  

What you can do

Educate the seniors in your life about these scams and let them know it’s best to never provide personal information over the phone.  If they are concerned a caller is actually a relative in need, encourage them to contact the person first to verify before giving any information or sending money– and not to be persuaded by aggressive tactics.  They can tell solicitors that they don’t buy from anyone who visits or calls them unannounced and ask for information in writing.  Show them how to research charities using online services such as Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau before donating.  Lastly, let them know the IRS and the Social Security Administration will never contact people by telephone unless the person initiates the contact.

Online and email scams

Scammers may use pop-up browser windows to warn of a virus or tout virus-scanning software, prompting victims to buy and download a fake anti-virus program – or even an actual virus that may open the information on their computer to scammers.  Also, phishing emails may appear to be from a legitimate company or financial institution, asking them to log in to their account.  Or an email may claim to be from the IRS regarding a tax refund.  

What you can do

Explain the risks of pop-up windows warning of a “virus” or other computer issue and help them install and update reputable anti-virus protection on their computers.  Teach them how to recognize phishing emails – for instance, they can hover over the sender’s address to see if it matches that of the company.  Encourage them not to log in to their accounts from an email link, but go to the company or financial institution’s web site directly or contact them to verify a communication is legitimate.

If a senior citizen you know has been a victim of fraud or scammed, encourage them to report it and not to be afraid or embarrassed –everyone is at risk for fraud and identity theft.  Here are some steps they can take if they’ve been a victim:

• Check your credit reports.  Request copies of your credit report from all three nationwide credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union—and keep an eye out for any information that’s inaccurate or incomplete, or unfamiliar accounts and addresses.

• Consider placing an initial one-year fraud alert on your credit reports. 

Fraud alerts serve as a “red flag” to those who pull your credit reports that you may be a victim of identity theft.  They encourage companies to take additional steps to verify your identity before granting credit in your name.

• Consider freezing or locking your credit reports 

A lock and a security freeze have the same impact on your credit reports, but they aren’t the same thing.  Both generally restrict certain access to your credit reports.  Unless you temporarily lift or permanently remove a security freeze, or unlock your credit reports, they can’t be accessed to open new accounts – with certain exceptions.

• Submit an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission online at www.identitytheft.gov

• File a police report with your local law enforcement agency.  

A police report provides you with a document saying you’ve been a victim, which can be helpful – when requesting a seven-year extended fraud alert on your credit reports, for instance.  This type of fraud alert requires a police or FTC Identity Theft Report.

• Report certain types of identity theft to specific agencies

For instance, you can contact your health insurance company’s fraud department or the Medicaid fraud office to report medical identity theft, when someone gets medical care or medications in your name, or report tax identity theft to the Internal Revenue Service and your state’s department of taxation or revenue.

• Monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity, including changes and charges you don’t recognize.

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own parents, and In-Laws, she understands your struggles and aims through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern?  Our team would love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime. Call and ask for Mariclair or Daniella.


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