When you consider fraud & identity theft, the first culprits that come to mind are telemarketers, right? Well, just like any other crime, those closest to the targeted victim are most likely the offender. This includes financial advisors, home health workers and even family members.
According to The National Adult Protective Services Association:
- One in nine seniors reported being abused, neglected or exploited in the past twelve months; the rate of financial exploitation is extremely high, with 1 in 20 older adults indicating some form of perceived financial mistreatment occurring in the recent past
- Elder abuse is vastly under-reported; only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported
- Abused seniors are three times more likely to die and elder abuse victims are four times more likely to go into a nursing home
- 90% of abusers are family members or trusted others
- Almost one in ten financial abuse victims will turn to Medicaid as a direct result of their own monies being stolen from them
- Cognitive impairment and the need for help with activities of daily living make victims more vulnerable to financial abuse
The methods that can be used to milk you or your loved one out of life savings and future financial security truly can be insidious. Just this past week, I received a call from a family seeking help for their father after he shared his Social Security number with his new neighbor on the promise of being included in a mythical real estate investment.
So, what is the best course of action to create a wall around finances & personal security?
- Put a freeze on your credit. By contacting TransUnion or Experian credit bureaus, you can put your credit on lock down so any perpetrator can’t get past even opening an account. This is one of the few preventative steps you can take. With PIN access, credit can be “re-activated” for use as appropriate.
- Good ol’ Life Lock. This is where the internet works for you. Scouring the net for your information to raise the red flag if a new account is opened or if there may be changes to your credit.
- Careful vetting of your “Guardians” – your trusted circle that helps maintain home, health & lifestyle. This includes your CPA, estate lawyer, financial advisor, physicians, daily money manager and even your insurance agent. Each of these individuals must come to you with not only familiar personal recommendations but endorsements from local and national organizations as well that you can verify directly.
- Do you have help within the home? From housekeepers to home health aides – there is inherent risk. Get organized. There is a laundry list of security steps that everyone should take prior to having regular help within the home. This includes but is not limited to:
- Removal of any/all account or statement information. Bank information, estate plans, utility bills, real estate documentation….. the list is extensive. This critical information can be stored with a loved one or kept in a lock box.
- Depending on health status and other factors, forwarding mail to a PO Box or a trusted individual may be wise.
- To that end, if there is a level of comfort without paper records, activating paperless billing & statements is a safe bet.
- PIN numbers & passwords must be activated on cable/internet access. Running up Pay Per View charges and spending working hours surfing the web are abuse.
- Install a personal safe or rent a safety deposit box for valuables.
- Background checks: how & when were they last completed?
- Passwords. Each account needs it’s own security and must be guarded. Like it or not, the financial world is digital and the trail of logins, passwords, payment information, and other sensitive personal information is precarious. Using a digital password keeper like LastPass or DashLane keeps your information accessible while still under the highest of security. Further, you can designate a POA or another trusted individual access in the case of emergency, thus insuring bills are continually paid and your finances stay on track.
What’s still at stake despite all these measures? Your Social Security number can still be used for medical and tax fraud.
Medical identity theft is on the rise as it enables the perpetrator to obtain drugs or submit fake bills in your name. Your best course of action is to keep a record of all EOBs and immediately flag any charges that are not familiar.
Tax identity theft occurs when an individual files a false report under your name to obtain refund. Being well prepared to file early & quickly is the safest recourse. Any subsequent attempts to file will be rejected by the IRS. Being organized throughout the year so when January rolls around, you can swiftly hand off your tax package to your vetted & trusted CPA is best.
At the end of the day, security for your identity and finances require ongoing support. Incoming mail, email, statements and billing require scrutiny and evaluation. Engaging your Guardians and family to assist is the first step to creating your own firewall of safety.