The baby-boomer generation is one of identity thieves’ prime targets, the American Association of Retired Persons warns.
Identity theft occurs when someone takes another person’s information, such as credit card numbers and Social Security numbers, without that person’s knowledge, and exploits it for personal gain. These thieves most often obtain personal information to commit fraud or steal money from the owner’s active accounts. Identity thieves have been known to take out excessive loans, open lines of credit or commit other crimes under an assumed identity.
Lori Parham, state director of the AARP in Maine, reports hearing more during the last two years regarding fraud and exploitation, mostly on the older end of the baby-boom generation.
And here’s the kicker: Not only do scammers come from out of state or outside the country – Jamaican phone scams are a prime example – but also family members and others who gain the trust of older persons scam older people.
“It is estimated that every 3 seconds, someone’s identity is stolen in the United States,” Parham said. “Older adults in Maine are increasingly the target of financial exploitation. In fact, financial industry research indicates that most investment fraud victims are between 55 and 65 years of age. Many older adults have sound finances and a solid credit history, making them a prime target for thieves. For this reason, thieves may design their schemes to manipulate older adults.”
Parham breaks down the scamming of Mainers into three main categories:
This happens when a debt collector calls repeatedly or continuously, misleads you on the amount owed or current status of the debt, falsely threatens to sue, or uses profane language and threats.
Banks and lenders
This would include deceptive or predatory mortgage lending practices; problems with modification of mortgage terms; miscellaneous customer service and account issues with bank products, including fees and overdraft charges.
“We are seeing folks who have their email accounts hacked because of weak passwords – and a surprising number of people keep secure information in email,” Parham said. “Lost or stolen purses or wallets also lead to ID theft more than hackers.”
For example, Parham continued, because your Social Security number is your Medicare number, if someone gets hold of your Medicare card, you will be in real trouble.
“We have heard of cases where someone offers to help you at the drug store and ends up taking down your information from your Medicare card,” she said. “Also, taking advantage of a deceased family member or neighbor, collecting benefits or using the info to apply for credit cards, loans.”
What can people do?
Here are some ideas from AARP:
Purchase software like Password Safe that generates strong passwords and different passwords for all of your different online accounts. Or just be sure to develop strong and different passwords across accounts. Answer the security questions with a non-traditional answer. For example, don’t put the city where you were born when asked that question. Use a different city or place that you will remember.
Missing or stolen purse or wallet
Remove especially risky items that shouldn’t be in your wallet to begin with: your Social Security card; “cheat sheets” noting PINs or passwords for bank cards or online accounts; blank checks.
Parham advises people to keep a record of all of their account numbers at home in a safe place so that if they do lose a wallet, they can call the companies easily.
“If you lose your wallet, file a report with your hometown police department and the one where you think your wallet went missing,” she said. “Get a copy of the reports and send duplicates to your bank and credit-reporting bureaus.”
Regarding the death of a loved one, AARP recommends short obituaries. Make sure that you don’t include too much identifying information when you write the obituary. Identity thieves use this information (mother’s maiden name, address, ancestry, occupation, birth date, death date) to set up new accounts in the deceased person’s name.
Following the death of a loved one, people also should notify credit bureaus, Parham says. Request that the credit report is flagged with the note: “Deceased, do not issue credit.” Request a copy of the decedent’s credit report so that you will have a list of all of the accounts you need to modify or close.
For general safety against ID theft, place a “security freeze” on files at the three major credit bureaus: Experian at 888-397-3742 toll-free (experian.com), Equifax at 800-525-6285 (equifax.com) and Trans-Union at 800-680-7289 (transunion.com).
AARP has launched the Fraud Watch Network Nationwide to increase awareness of scams in Maine. The AARP Fraud Watch Network website is www.aarp.org/fraud. Its website is www.dashfraud.org.
Parham noted that the AARP is a member of the Maine Fraud Prevention Alliance, a group of local businesses and organizations offering consumers tools to help stop scam artists.
The alliance uses a self-defense kit with an easy-to-remember acronym – DASH – as a reminder of steps one can take to prevent fraud:
Delete unsolicited email and texts;
Ask for credentials from door-to-door salespeople;
Shred junk mail;
Hang up on unsolicited calls.
“The MFPA can provide speakers for local groups and has brochures available,” Parham said.
Maine’s court system, meanwhile, is warning people of a phone scam that could land personal information in the wrong hands. Through something called “caller ID spoofing,” the caller can make the call appear to come from any number, such as a Maine courthouse.
In late January, four people complained about getting a call from courthouses in Fort Kent, Bridgton, and Auburn, and the caller saying there was a warrant out for their arrest or an unpaid fine. In order to settle up, the caller asks the recipient to pay the fine over the phone using a credit card.
Mary Ann Lynch, with the Maine Judicial Branch, says the message here is: You can no longer trust your caller ID. Lynch says Maine State Police are investigating these calls.
Larry Grard is a staff writer at Current Publishing.