Seniors often targeted in identity thefts
April 12, 2011 10:50AM
Betty Wirth - columnist
Ways thieves steal ID
The Federal Trade Commission has issued a brochure that details common ways thieves may commit ID theft:
Dumpster Diving: They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
Skimming: They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
Phishing: They pretend to be financial institutions or companies that send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
Changing Your Address: They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a “change of address” form.
“Old-Fashioned” Stealing: They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records from their employers.
Updated: July 29, 2011 12:23AM
“We’re all going to get old, and we’re all going to be potential victims.”
That was the message from Illinois State Police investigator Mary Woolery, who investigates financial exploitation of seniors. She recently spoke to residents and guests at The Timbers of Shorewood.
“I try not to be doom and gloom,” she said, “but I’m really good at that to raise your awareness.”
Woolery is dedicated to educating seniors and the disabled and their advocates in the State Police Crimes Against Seniors Program, which is funded 75 percent by the federal government and 25 percent by the state. The federal grant goes through the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority and the program is administered by the State Police.
“You’d be surprised at how many people give out personal information,” she said. “Don’t do it.” She added that no one is immune.
Starts with common sense
She advised the seniors not to carry unnecessary cards, especially Social Security, with them. It’s better to limit yourself to only one credit card, she added. “Only carry necessary information. Don’t put your PIN on your debit card, take your receipt from your ATM, restaurants, stores or gas station pumps. Use a password for your bank account. Shred unneeded documents.
“Use your common sense,” she emphasized.
Woolery encouraged her audience to talk about their own encounters with scammers. One grandmother received a call from her “grandson” asking for hundreds of dollars to get him out of jail in Canada. She didn’t have a grandson and she hung up.
Others received the e-mails from Egypt, Nigeria or London offering a share in the newfound wealth of the scammer, if the seniors only would agree to deposit the money in their own bank. Fortunately, they didn’t respond.
“Phishing” includes bogus e-mails that look like they are coming from your bank.
Top fraud complaint
Other examples are the pigeon drop asking you to put your money toward this envelope, using different people in the scam; the Lotto scheme that adds different elements to make it look real; the psychological scam that plays upon the victim’s greed.
Financial exploitation may be by family members, friends or professional caregivers. She cited abuse of power of attorney, health care, finances.
The top fraud complaint for all ages, Woolery said, is ID theft, which involves your loss of control over your finances, while the scammer takes over your identity.
You’re not required by law to give personal information over the phone to telemarketers, bankers or others.
Vulnerable seniors may have diminished capacity, and are subject to undue influence. Those with dementia may lack cognitive or emotional capacity and may be incompetent.
Victims poor and rich
Warning signs that a senior may be a victim can include they’re not given an opportunity to speak for themselves, they may be left in an unsafe place, they aren’t allowed to go to a doctor, they even may be locked in their homes, or admitted against their will to a nursing home.
An abuser may try to be added to the victim’s bank account. In one case, the caregiver tried to get power of attorney. The banker didn’t feel right about the situation and called the Adult Protective Services office. Steps were taken to protect the woman.
Victimizing doesn’t only happen to the poor. Well-to-do, well-educated citizens may lose thousands. One caregiver took $813,000 in three years, paid herself $1,300 a week and wrote checks to people not associated with the victim. A brokerage firm alerted the authorities and the caregiver was arrested by the state’s attorney.
Why does a senior sometimes let himself or herself be victimized? Intimidation, embarrassment, fear of losing independence, shame about how decisions are made, lack of awareness about a crime being committed, lack of communication, fear of control and losing a driver’s license may factor in.
If a crime is committed, Woolery contacts the appropriate state’s attorney in one of the five counties that she serves, which includes Will. The Department of Public Health, the Department on Aging and also Senior Services may become involved.
“We advocate for the victim … helping them to get to and from court.” Sometimes an ambulance is required if a judge wants the victim at a preliminary appearance. We keep updated on the case,” Woolery said.
“Everything I do is for criminal law.”
Reach Betty Wirth at email@example.com