Everything You Need to Know About Elder Fraud

March 21, 2019 by Comerica Bank

Financial scams are widespread, meaning consumers always need to stay on guard when it comes to their personal finances. Yet the scale of elder fraud and financial abuse in the U.S. makes it difficult for older Americans to address all the risks that come their way. Whether through fake IRS phone scams or a deceptive marketing campaign, elderly Americans are often the target of con artists and financial fraudsters.

However, despite this reality, there are many tools and strategies available to seniors and their loved ones. Taking advantage of these resources is an important step for consumers as criminal tactics become more advanced and generational shifts mean more older Americans than ever may be at risk. According to the Population Reference Bureau™, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to more than double to 98 million in 2060.

Combating elder fraud requires becoming educated on the topic and then pursuing measures to protect bank account and personal information. Read on for more information on everything you need to know about elder fraud:

Millions in self-reported losses a year

The first thing to know about elder fraud is that it is a big problem in the U.S - and growing even bigger. According to the Federal Trade Commission, American adults 60 years and older reported losing around $250 million due to fraud in 2017. But that number only tells half the story. The same FTC data indicated that adults 80 years and older lost an average of $1,092 per instance of reported fraud, almost double the next highest average ($621 for adults 70 – 79). Furthermore, seniors were the least likely age group to report fraud. While nearly a third of consumers 30 – 39 reported an incident in 2017, only 20 percent of those 60 – 69 reported fraud; this occurred despite that age group accounting for 19 percent of all reported cases.

These statistics underscore the reality that seniors are not only more vulnerable to fraud, but they are also often hit hardest by its financial impacts. This is compounded by the lower likelihood of self-reporting fraud, which only increases the risk older adults face.

How to identify and address the most common scams targeting seniors

Key to addressing elder fraud in real life is getting to know the usual suspects. There are many forms that senior financial abuse may take, but some of the most common actors to be aware of include:

  • Telephone and mail scammers.

  • Medicare scam operators.

  • Internet scammers.

  • Persons seeking or claiming to have the power of attorney or the legal authority to access or manage one’s money.

However, watching persons assumed to be close to seniors is important. Family, caregivers, and other relatives and friends may just as likely be after hard-earned money or personal information. A couple of the scams that are most commonly perpetrated to obtain such information or material gains include:

  • IRS phone scam: The No. 1 thing for any consumer — especially those who are seniors — to know is that the Internal Revenue Service does not and will not call you personally to demand immediate payment or face referral to law enforcement or some other form of punishment. The agency says so itself clearly, so be wary of anyone phoning that presents themselves as the IRS and demands such action. Never give out your Social Security number or credit card details over the phone to unknown callers.

  • Medicare fraud: This can come in different forms. For instance, criminals may steal Medicare insurance information to abuse directly through phishing scams or the like, while others operate seemingly legitimate services that will use your Medicare information to make bogus claims. Seniors may also be bombarded with marketing for medical equipment that could lead to financial fraud. 

Know what makes a senior vulnerable

Barring serious illness, the Center for Retirement Research of Boston College® said most seniors are capable of handling their finances. If cognitive ability isn't at fault for financial loss, it becomes more important to identify root causes:

  • Telephone calls: A senior who receives several telemarketing calls a day is greatly exposed to potential fraud. Opting out of marketing lists and opting into Do Not Call lists is a necessary step to take.

  • Loneliness: Lack of social and emotional support leaves seniors isolated and without mechanisms of defense against financial predators. Those living alone, recently widowed or living far from close family need the most attention and should find services that help them protect their finances.

     

Yet even if all precautions and measures are taken, elder abuse can still happen. When, and if, it does happen, you or your loved one will need to know what actions should be taken in the aftermath. You can report instances of suspected fraud or abuse to the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau, the Better Business Bureau®, the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general offices. Also check with credit reporting agencies to ensure your information has not been used to open fraudulent accounts. You can even request a freeze on inquiries into your score, which could prevent further harm.

Whenever seeking ways to avoid elder fraud, talking to a financial partner is at the top of the list. Speaking to a reputable institution like Comerica Bank with proven tools and services can help connect seniors with the means they need to ensure their accounts and money are safe from the hands of prying calls and internet scams.

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such.

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How to Get an Identity Protection Plan

January 2, 2019 by Comerica Bank

Identity theft has become a fixture of news headlines, television crime dramas and public policy. But although most Americans are familiar with the ideas surrounding fraud in the internet age, few actually have an identity protection plan in place. This leaves them unprepared for a crime that now poses a distinct threat to a majority of people regardless of their tech savvy or internet use. Simply being aware of the threat of identity theft and basic safeguards against it can significantly reduce the chances of becoming a victim. Going the extra mile and signing up for a full-featured identity protection plan provides an additional layer of security that often proves invaluable.

Identity theft facts

Identity theft or identity fraud is committed when a group or individual gains unauthorized access to another person's personal information. That information is then used to profit by opening accounts in the victim's name, purchasing products, selling that person's private data to others or any number of illicit activities.

Javelin Strategy & Research®️ found that in 2017 alone, an estimated $16.8 billion was stolen from U.S. consumers and businesses through identity fraud. The vast majority of these crimes are conducted using computers and the internet, but one does not necessarily need an active online presence to fall prey to identity theft. It's estimated that 16.7 million Americans were victims of these kinds of crimes in 2017, and the incidence of identity fraud continues to grow substantially each year.

Despite the threat posed by identity theft, many Americans are either unaware of the magnitude of risk involved or do not take the right precautions to reduce that risk, according to Pew Research Center®️. Given the wide variety of methods scammers use to assume the identity of others and profit from deception, though, it's hard to blame U.S. consumers for their complacence.

For example, in a 2018 poll of 1,000 participants sponsored by AARP®️, more than three quarters of respondents incorrectly believed that IRS agents could contact taxpayers through email or text message, or were unsure. Impersonating IRS agents over the phone or internet has become a common scam to commit identity theft or coerce victims into making fraudulent payments. Although schemes like this have grown in frequency, a majority of respondents to the AARP poll still said they were "extremely confident" or "very confident" in their ability to detect fraud.

Identity theft presents a major threat to American consumers and businesses because it is both deceptively simple to carry out yet difficult to spot. 

Consumers who do not keep a close watch for signs of identity theft - particularly those who are not frequent internet users - go more than 40 days on average until realizing their identity has been compromised. In that time, criminals could be racking up thousands of dollars in illicit charges and otherwise digging victims into a deeper hole. By the time victims realize what's happened, they could be facing more than just an empty bank account balance. It may become impossible for identity fraud victims to use credit cards, withdraw funds from their bank accounts or conduct any routine financial transactions. The end result is a great deal of lost time, money and any sense of security.

Identity protection plan basics

The best offense against identity theft is a strong defense. Everyone should take steps to ensure their personal information is secure, as well as to recognize the signs of identity theft and respond quickly. According to security experts and financial regulators, the most effective steps involved in an identity protection plan are also some of the easiest for the average person to accomplish:

Set up account alerts

Most banks, credit card companies and other financial services now automatically alert customers to suspicious activity. If a large sum of money is withdrawn or a card is used in an unusual location, for example, financial institutions may contact consumers to notify them of these transactions and confirm their legitimacy. Most will also give customers the option to enable additional automatic alerts and to customize the events that trigger them or how they are communicated. These alerts offer an excellent first line of defense against many types of identity theft.

Use strong, unique passwords

Online password security is another major component of identity theft protection. Many acts of identity fraud are committed by simply guessing a victim's password or PIN. Criminals are easily thwarted by users who practice good password security, which involves the way passwords are created and managed.

  • Use a different password for each online account.

  • Each password should be at least eight characters and contain different letters, numbers and symbols.

  • Do not use common passwords or anything that is easy to guess. Refrain from your own birthday or, worst of all, the word "password." 

Stay vigilant

Identity thieves are always becoming more sophisticated in the methods they use to steal data or tap into computer networks. However, some of the most effective types of identity fraud are based on tactics that have been in use for decades. Digital scammers still often rely on tricking users into a false sense of trust so that they willingly give up information. As a general rule, never give out any password or piece of personal information to anyone. Don't enter passwords, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or other important identity data into any website or email without first verifying the authenticity of that site.

Signing up for an identity protection plan

Taking all the necessary steps toward protecting your own identity can become tedious and confusing. The threat of identity theft is constantly evolving as criminals switch to different tactics and adopt more sophisticated technology. That's not to mention the fact that many businesses with access to consumer credit card numbers and passwords have become victims of digital theft themselves, leaving countless people vulnerable at no fault of their own.

For many individuals, the risks and consequences of falling prey to identity thieves are simply too great to handle on their own, which is why more people are enrolling in services that create a full-fledged identity protection plan to keep a watchful eye over it all. Commercial identity protection plans typically include services that monitor for potential fraud, financially insure against the risk of identity theft and take action to recover losses sustained in the event of a security breach.

Credit monitoring and fraud detection

Identity protection services often combine the fundamentals of fraud prevention discussed above into one package. That usually includes services to monitor users' credit reports, Social Security numbers and other sources of personal information for signs of illicit use. If a threat is detected, the identity protection plan should then take steps to warn users and actively address the problem. For example, if the service provider detected suspicious activity like an unexpected new account on a recent credit report, they might institute a temporary freeze on all of the user's credit accounts and reach out to them to confirm what additional steps should be taken.

Identity recovery

If identity theft does occur somehow, an identity protection plan may include recovery services to help clients through the legally complex task of "cleaning up" after the crime. Victims of identity theft need to know the proper channels for reporting and resolving these issues, which may include working with law enforcement or the court system. Dealing with creditors, collections agencies and credit reporting firms is also essential to the identity recovery process, one that can be difficult for the average person to take on alone. 

Identity theft insurance

In many cases, the identity protection plan will include a level of insurance coverage to financially reimburse customers for losses sustained from an identity theft case. This may include funds to cover the money that was actually stolen as well as legal fees that result from the recovery process.

Is an identity protection plan worth it?

Consumers should conduct their own assessment of the risks posed by identity theft and the potential impact on their lives. In the end, paying a regular fee for additional protection against these threats may prove worthwhile.

Identity protection plans may be made available to fraud victims for a limited time after their personal information is compromised for reasons beyond their control. That can include high-profile corporate data breaches. Identitytheft.gov is a website managed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that provides numerous resources for those who have had their identity stolen, whether in a random incident or as part of a larger case. Reviewing tools and advice available here through the FTC may be a useful first step for those who are concerned about identity theft.

 

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice. 

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such.

 

 

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