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identity_theft and seniorsIdentity Theft and Seniors – It’s not a matter of “If” but “When”

I want to share with you a couple of recent experiences that happened to me all in one week,

1) Attempts to steal my identity, and

2) Suspected fraud in my personal bank account.

A few years ago, I heard a presentation by a fraud detective from the Fort Worth, Texas police department.  At the end of his talk, he said, “Bottom line, it is not “IF, but WHEN” someone will attempt to steal your identity. That quote has always stuck with me.  I understand IDENTITY THEFT is becoming one of the top crimes in America today.

Following is my story:  I received a call on a Saturday morning from a credit card fraud prevention department.  The caller informed me verification was needed on some charges to my business credit card. I received this call on my private home number and it sounded like a legitimate call but I was instantly suspicious because I did not want to give personal information on the telephone without making sure I was talking to the right person. I voiced my concern and was told I could call the number on the back of my card.  I made the call and was told someone had made an actual imprint of my business credit card and it was being physically scanned for purchases in China  In this particular case, there was only 1 card in question and it was in my possession. I stated to the investigator that I had never heard of this type of scam where they actually produce a duplicate card and she told me this crime is now something being commonly used to steal identity.  The credit card company had placed a fraud alert on my account after a small item was purchased in China (probably to test the water) and then two attempts were made to purchase or charge a more costly item.

Because of the fraud alert, the attempts were denied until the company could investigate the charges.  The card was instantly cancelled and I was so glad to be working with a credit card company that had an active fraud protection program. They were extremely pleasant to work with and I appreciated their quick response. This is a good time to tell you to notify your credit card company when you are traveling so they can flag your account with that information and help to stop fraud from happening to you.  My second experience occurred that same week. I was reconciling my personal bank account and noticed a duplicate charge on my statement. After investigating it appeared a check was processed on two different days and appeared as a duplicate debit on my account. I notified my bank and completed a form to investigate the error. Thankfully, they ended up crediting my account with the overcharged item.

Because of past experience, I believe what could have happened is the individual who initially handled the transaction processed the check, refunded the amount and placed the amount in their pocket and then again presented the check for payment. My point is, if I had not reconciled my account, I would not have found this error. I know it is work but you must take time to review your accounts to prevent fraud or loss of funds from happening.

A few years ago, someone stole my Mother’s identity by identifying her Social Security number and once they knew this, they went after her credit and bank accounts. My sister, who handled Mother’s finances at that time, worked for over two years to clear all her accounts so identity theft can be a hassle to everyone involved. For the record, Mother had been hospitalized and went from there to a rehabilitation center and then finally to a nursing community before returning home so there were several opportunities for someone to gain her private information. A good rule of thumb is to try to always be present when using a debit or credit card.  Remember, just about everyone has smart phones these days and a photo image of your card can be easily made without your knowledge.

I know from personal experience that unscrupulous individuals and companies take advantage of persons that have dementia and memory loss which causes them to more vulnerable. They will ask for donations by telephone and/or make personal home visits in an attempt to sell products and services that are not necessary.  An example was when a client of mine who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease was talked into re-insulating her home to the tune of $25,000.  By the time her support system became aware of the situation, the contract had been signed and the job was well under way and she was out the $25,000.

In a recent newsletter publication the following 10 SCAMS were identified:

  • Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud that ask for personal information and Social Security numbers.
  • Counterfeit Prescription Drugs that may even be harmful.
  • Funeral & Cemetery Scams that don’t disclose the full cost of funeral services.
  • Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products that don’t work as advertised.
  • Telemarketing Scams that take money but don’t send the product purchased.
  • Internet Fraud that gets the person to give out personal information, passwords, credit card numbers, and even banking information.
  • Investment Schemes that don’t pay out as promised.
  • Homeowners/Reverse Mortgage Scams that offer money or a free house somewhere else in exchange for title to the person’s property.
  • Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams that ask for “free information” before sending winnings.
  • The Grandparent Scam, where criminals pose as grandchildren in trouble to get the person to send money.

The Cash Back Fraud

While I was at my bank processing my claim, a teller told me of another scam that was occurring frequently to their customers. When the customer is using a debit card for purchases, the attendant will ask if they want cash back and even if they say no, they will activate the cash back option and pocket the money so also be watchful of debit card transactions.

The Financial Fraud Research Center says that each year 30 million Americans are defrauded of more than $50 billion.  They continue to say that Scammers that solicit your money understand that most people don’t know how investments are supposed to work, so they will miss the warning signs.  The scammers take advantage of both your lack of knowledge and your desire to make money quickly.

You may also want to look at the Texas Attorney General website and sign up for Senior Alerts to help you to stay aware of the ways identity theft, fraud and scams are happening in the state of Texas. If you have questions you can call the Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 621-0508.

In closing, please remember I have 20 years of experience working in the senior market and regretfully have personal knowledge of several cases of fraud and exploitation of vulnerable adults. I urge you to learn more about these types of crime so you can better protect yourselves, your family and friends. Begin by not carrying your social security card with you, be careful of how and to whom you give any  personal information and by shredding your personal information before disposal of correspondence. REMEMBER to protect your identity and be cautious because if something seems “TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY IS”!