It’s unfortunate, but we first brought you True Crime Stories of Elder Abuse and Identity Theft. Now we can share with you tips on what you can do to protect yourself and what several states have started doing to protect their senior citizens.
What is being done to protect senior citizens from identity theft and financial scams?
In June, 2009, The West Central Vulnerable Adults Coalition, in North Dakota, held its first event to educate senior citizens about the danger of identity theft. At this event not only was information provided about how the elderly are targeted but a giant Shred-a-Thon was held to help senior citizens do away with papers containing information useful for identity theft that they may have been collecting for years. Many people, not just seniors are unwilling to get rid of the paper trail regarding certain financial and personal information and this event was an effort to teach what needs to be kept and for how long as well as providing a place to safely get rid of those records that could be trashed. At the event Wayne Stenehjem, the North Dakota Attorney General shared, “Certainly things you need to keep indefinitely like your marriage, divorce, other family, military records. Those kinds of things you keep forever, but your bank accounts and your telephone accounts, those kinds of things can be destroyed.”
North Dakota is not the only state that is leading the nation in attempts to protect our elderly. In 2008, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into effect two laws to help the elderly. The first, SB1343 permits senior citizens to have a friend or family member in the court room to provide support. “By allowing a friend or family member in the courtroom while giving difficult testimony, elderly and disabled adults will feel more comfortable coming forward and pressing charges to allow justice to be served,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “This legislation not only protects this vulnerable community, but helps to prevent these types of crimes from happening again.”
California law SB 612 provides victims of identity theft the opportunity to have their cases prosecuted in the county that they live in, which is not always the county where the crime occurred. This law provided victims with better resources to not only prosecute the crime makes it more likely they will since it will not involve the added expense and trouble of travel.
Ohio and several other states have begun to give stiffer penalties for crimes against the elderly.
The Attorney General’s office in Michigan has begun tracking of identity theft in nursing homes and conducts routine checks for residents.
What can you do to protect the elderly that you love or care for?
-Become educated, not only about the types of identity theft and other financial scams that are most likely to target senior citizens but also their rights and remedies. Find out more about the Older Americans Act. http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/NCEAroot/Main_Site/Library/Laws/Older_Americans_Act.aspx
-Quite often seniors carry their Social Security and Medicare Card with them in case of emergencies. Leave your cards at home and carry a copy of your medicare card with you, with the SSN blacked out. This will help you get the medical treatment you need in case of emergency and keep your information safe in case of a mugging. You can provide the real card at a later time. Hospitals will not deny treatment based on this “shortened” version of your card.
-Do not give out information over the phone. Check to determine the caller is legitimate if they claim to be from your bank or credit card company – call the company back. Legitimate businesses will already have the information that fake ones are asking you for.
-Research charities carefully before making donations. Those who use the Internet can do quickly and easily through CharityNavigator.org.
-Keep sensitive information locked up, shred and destroy documents you don’t need. For example a 15 yr old tax return can be shredded, one that is 4 yrs old needs locked away.
-Don’t sign the back of your credit cards; write in that spot, “PHOTO ID REQUIRED” so that a photo id will be required to use them.
-Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry to protect your phone number.
-Shred documents like pre approved credit card offers.
-Opt out of receiving offers based on your credit report by calling 1-888-567-8688, the Federal Trade Commission’s “opt out” line.
-Review your financial records including banking, credit card, Social Security benefits and Medicare statements as they arrive for inaccuracies.
-Use passwords to limit access to your information, but don’t use something simple like your birth date, last four digits of phone or social security or mother’s maiden name.
-Make copies of credit cards for reference in case of theft. Don’t carry any cards with you that you don’t need.
-Protect your mail. Use a locking mail box and make sure that if you are going to be gone from your home to cancel your mail delivery through the USPS website or at your local post office.
-Don’t put your trash out until the day of pick up. Avoid those dumpster diving criminals who can use your trash for identity theft treasure.
-Be careful when, how and to who you give your power of attorney too.
Use prevention and protection tips and information from trusted resources such as:
IDtheft.gov (the government’s website for this crime)
The non-profit organization Identity Theft Resource Center http://www.idtheftcenter.org/ that also offers Toll Free, No cost victim assistance at 1 (888) 400-5530
The US Department of Justice
These sources can also assist you, along with your local police departments in the reporting and prosecution of the crime of elder abuse and identity theft.