By age 60, you’re likely to have a well-established credit history, a home with built-up equity, and debt nearly paid off.
Those are all attractive qualifications for lenders and credit card companies.
They also make seniors 60 and older “high-value targets” for identity thieves, says Jeff Salter, founder of Caring Senior Service, a San Antonio franchise company offering nonmedical in-home care.
“When (an identity thief) wants to go get credit, they want to use a senior’s identity because there’s a higher probability that they’ll get a bigger limit,” Salter says.
Add other potential factors like a deceitful caregiver or family member with too much access to your personal information, plus loneliness that makes you let your guard down, and your vulnerability grows.
How to avoid becoming an identity-theft victim
Before you hire an in-home caregiver, make sure that person has undergone a thorough background check. The vetting process should include interview questions that seek clues about the candidate’s character, a national background check and a preference for those with a long-term interest in caregiving.
“If someone is making this a career, they know that doing any harm is going to keep them from continuing,” Salter says.
Be careful when a caregiver or family member starts to display an inappropriate level of interest in your finances, says Paige Hanson, manager of educational programs for LifeLock, an ID theft protection company in Tempe, Arizona.
Be careful what you reveal. Never give out personal information like your birthdate, Social Security number or bank account number to anyone unless you sought contact with that person.
Monitor your credit. Andy Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Caring.com, recommends investing in a credit monitoring system that can flag signs of potential ID theft, such as large bank withdrawals or new credit cards being opened in your name.
You can check your credit report for free at myBankrate.
Adult children can use these tools to monitor the accounts of parents who may not have the technical savvy or cognitive ability do their own tracking.
Call the FTC when you’re a victim
Although ID theft against seniors is on the rise, Cohen says, “the good news is that there are more solutions for their adult children to monitor their finances and make sure they are not being taken advantage of.”
If you discover you’ve been a victim of ID theft, report the incident to your local police department and the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC will provide you with an ID theft affidavit, which, together with your police report, will be helpful in working with creditors, banks and other institutions where the thief has set up accounts in your name.
How to fight back
Close any bank account or credit card account that’s been affected. Damage from this type of fraud is relatively easy to fix, Hanson says. You notify the credit card company, shut down the account and receive a new card.
It’s a different story if “someone has financed a house in someone else’s name,” Hanson says. Or, in a case like one she recently heard about, someone stole the identity of a woman more than 70 years old to get insurance coverage for a childbirth.
In this kind of situation, the identity thief submits multiple documents claiming to be you, and now you have to prove they’re fake.
“Cases like that are going to take a lot longer, and the process is going to be exhausting to remediate,” Hanson says.
The Federal Citizen Information Center website lists several guidelines for preventing and reporting ID theft.