Identity theft continues to be a real problem in the United States — and our senior population is at extreme risk.
According to identitytheft.info, 15 million people in the U.S. have their identity stolen each year. The resulting financial losses are a staggering $50 billion annually.
I had my identity stolen once and, needless to say, the perpetrator was willing to give it back without hesitation. Seriously though, our elderly population is an easy target for people who want to take advantage of them. A parent living alone with early dementia, general loss of memory and confusion, plus an honest, trusting personality are just a few reasons that make our aging parents so vulnerable.
There are steps one can take to help protect a parent or loved one from a stolen identity.
Education is the first step. Talk to your parents about identity theft. Warn them about phone solicitors and the dangers of giving out information. Help Dad sort his mail to see what he is receiving. Having a paper shredder close by is a good idea as well. You can even have certain types of mail stopped or diverted if necessary, but make sure you have an open, honest conversation with him first before taking this step. Remember that respect and dignity are important throughout this process.
Guard credit cards, driver’s license, computers and cellphones. Our seniors are savvy users of technology. Unfortunately, the potential loss of sensitive, personal information is the trade-off for the comfort and ease technology brings to our lives. Teach your loved ones how to use technology in a safe manner. And get rid of rarely used credit cards so Mom has just one to be concerned with. She will have fewer bills and less mail to sort through in the long run, too.
Speaking of mail, put all letters and bills in a secure mailbox when mailing. Unfortunately, the mailbox at the end of your driveway is not as safe as it once was. Also, many senior communities have an unsecured receptacle or basket for outgoing mail, which invites trouble.
If you suspect a sibling or relative might take advantage of Mom or Dad, take the necessary precautions to protect everyone involved. Many times, a family member who is experiencing trying times is the culprit in stolen property and finances. These situations can be tricky when handling, so you may want to reach out to a third party such as a reputable elder-care-law attorney for direction. The money you spend now on such advice is well worth the time, expense and anguish one goes through later resulting from a dishonest member of the family.
Times certainly have changed. If you believe someone may be the victim of a stolen identity, or is being taken advantage of, you can contact the Adult Protective Services of Georgia through the Division of Aging Services. We have both a legal and moral obligation to protect our senior citizens.
DeLong is the executive director for The Suites at Station Exchange. Email him at Suites.StationExchange@gmail.com.