Identity theft is one of the most prevalent crimes being committed today, and anyone can be a target. But retirees need to be especially careful.
In 2020, the FBI found that senior citizens lost almost $1 billion due to scams.1 The average loss per victim over age 65 was $9,175—but nearly 2,000 American seniors lost $100,000 or more.2 With the growing number of phone scams, romance scams (more on those below), and overall identity theft, those numbers have likely gone up.
The information scammers are after is your valuable personal information, such as your:
- Social Security number
- Date of birth
- Bank account number(s)
- Health insurance information
- Email account passwords
Whether you’re here because you’re worried your identity is at risk or you recently discovered that your identity has been stolen, we want you to know the proper next steps to take.
6 Things To Do Immediately If Your Identity Is Stolen
If you are a victim of identity theft and you don’t have identity theft protection in place, take a deep breath. All is not lost. Here’s what to do now:
1. Report fraud to your bank(s).
If you notice transactions or withdrawals that you did not make, report it immediately to the fraud department of your bank.
2. Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission.
There is a division of the Federal Trade Commission dedicated to investigating and tracking identity theft. They can’t directly intervene in your case, but the FBI can use the information you provide to potentially catch the perpetrator(s).
Click here to file a report with the FTC. When you do, they’ll provide a recovery plan that includes prefilled letters you can use to file reports with the police and fraud departments of your financial institutions.
3. Report the incident to your local police department.
While it’s unlikely they can track down who stole your identity, filing a report with local law enforcement will create a paper trail for your own case. Just be sure to get a copy of the report to keep on-hand.
4. Notify a credit bureau.
There are three major bureaus that monitor your credit: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You’ll want them to know about the identity theft so they can stop someone who is not you from taking out a loan in your name.
When you notify one of those three bureaus about identity theft, they’ll communicate a fraud alert to the other two. The fraud alert will be put on your credit report for one year so that anyone pulling your credit report will be extra cautious and know your identity has been compromised.
Here is the contact information for the identity theft departments of the major three credit bureaus:
5. Tell your financial advisor, if you have one.
If you work with a financial advisor, be sure to keep them in the loop. They can help protect your retirement income from the identity thieves. For example, here at Beacon, we have a process in place for when a client calls in to let us know their identity was stolen.
First, we’ll verify that we’re actually speaking to the client by getting their date of birth, Social Security number, and more. We do this to ensure we’re not being scammed or contributing to a scam. Our clients’ security is our top priority. Then, we’ll notify our third-party custodian (like TD Ameritrade) about the incident so that the client’s retirement accounts remain safe.
6. Monitor your credit report.
If you know your identity has been stolen, now is the time to actively monitor your credit report. Your personal identification may be floating around the dark web, which means someone might be waiting to use it months or even a year later. From now on, you’ll need to keep a close eye out for any suspicious activity. You can pull your full credit report for free once each year for free using sites like AnnualCreditReport.com. And due to the pandemic, at the time of publishing this article, you can actually pull it for free once each week.
Common Scams Targeting Retirees
Identity theft isn’t the only type of fraud threatening older adults. In fact, according the Federal Trade Commission, gifts cards are the overall payment method of choice for scammers.3 That means if someone you don’t know is asking you to send them a gift card for any reason, you should be highly suspicious.
It’s important to be aware of these scams and make any senior citizens in your life aware as well. Here are some of the top scams that target seniors:
This is one of the saddest scams out there because it targets the lonely. Romance scammers create detailed fake profiles on social media (like Facebook) or dating websites. A scammer will pretend to be long-distance—often overseas—making the possibility of meeting in person impossible. After cultivating a romantic relationship with an unsuspecting senior, they’ll eventually request money to pay for visas, medical emergencies, and/or travel expenses to come visit. The Federal Trade Commission found that seniors lose over $84 million to romance scams each year.4
“The Grandparent Scam”
This is a phone scam where a fraudulent caller says something like, “Hi Grandpa, do you know who this is?” At this point, the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of a grandchild, and the scammer goes with it. They’ll make up a reason for needing money right away and try to swindle the grandparent into transferring money to them.
These calls use a technology that allows them to appear as coming from a local area code on your caller ID. There are a variety of robocall scams out there, but a popular one is to get the person on the other end of the phone to speak the word, “Yes.” This is a form of identity theft because once they have that on recording, they can use it to authorize anything over the phone as you.
Fake Government Calls
These scams involve someone pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Social Security Administration, or Medicare. They’ll accuse you of things like having unpaid taxes and threaten to have you arrested if you don’t pay up right away. They might also say your Social Security benefits will be cut off if you don’t provide personal information—which they’ll use to steal your identity.
This might come in the form of a cold call claiming you’ve won a cruise or all-expense-paid vacation that, conveniently, you don’t remember registering for. They’ll say you just need to pay the taxes or a small fee on the total prize and collect your credit card information. By charging $200 to victims who fall for this, they’re able to make thousands of dollars every day.
How to Report a Scam on a Senior Citizen
The best way to report a scam targeting a senior citizen is to alert the National Elder Fraud Hotline. You can call: 1-833-FRAUD-11 or 1-833-372-8311. This is a free hotline created by the U.S. Department of Justice and they’ll take your case seriously.
Here at Beacon, we take your security seriously. Please reach out to us if you have questions about:
- An investment deal that seems too good to be true
- Anyone pressuring you to do something with your money that makes you uncomfortable—even a family member
- Suspicious phone calls you’ve received about Medicare
- Your will, trust, or overall estate plan
We will always act in your best interest. And even if you’re already working with an investment firm, we’d be happy to look at your retirement portfolio and give you a free, no-obligation second opinion.
1 ABC News. June 18, 2021. “Senior Citizens Lost Almost $1 Billion in Scams Last Year.” https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/senior-citizens-lost-billion-scams-year-fbi/story?id=78356859. Accessed May 6, 2022.
2 ABC News. June 18, 2021. “Senior Citizens Lost Almost $1 Billion in Scams Last Year.” https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/senior-citizens-lost-billion-scams-year-fbi/story?id=78356859. Accessed May 6, 2022.
3 The Federal Trade Commission. Oct. 18, 2020. “Protecting Older Consumers.” https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/protecting-older-consumers-2019-2020-report-federal-trade-commission/p144400_protecting_older_adults_report_2020.pdf. Accessed May 9, 2022.
4 The Federal Trade Commission. Oct. 18, 2020. “Protecting Older Consumers.” https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/protecting-older-consumers-2019-2020-report-federal-trade-commission/p144400_protecting_older_adults_report_2020.pdf. Accessed May 9, 2022.