Senior adults fall victim to identity theft at higher rates than other adults

Around the world, seniors are victimized by cybercrime and identity scams at higher rates than most other age groups. Each year, financial fraud and scams affect approximately 1 out of every 18 older adults.

As the Baby Boomer generation enters their retirement years, it’s important to warn seniors about the risk of identity theft and help them stay on guard against fraudulent scams.

Why do seniors fall victim to identity theft at higher rates than other adults?

Criminals are drawn to seniors for a variety of reasons. Limitations in mobility may keep seniors at home more, creating a sense of loneliness and isolation from family and friends. Some may have memory or cognition difficulties that leave them more susceptible to manipulation. But mostly, identity thieves know that as a group, seniors have greater financial wealth than other generations, therefore the payoff for stealing seniors’ identities can be greater.

Nine common scams used to steal identity information and defraud seniors

Educate the seniors in your life about these common scams that identity thieves and fraudsters are using:

  1. Prize scams: Fraudsters contact the senior and say they have won a sweepstakes cash prize or lottery and need to make a payment to unlock the prize.
  2. Technical support scams: A caller, claiming to be from a reputable technology company such as Microsoft or Apple, calls to tell the senior that something is very wrong with their computer. Claiming the computer has been infiltrated by hackers, the caller offers to help in exchange for a fee. People in the U.S. lost $55 million to this scam in 2018.[1]
  3. Grandchild scam: The scammer calls a senior and then says something like “Hi Grandma, can you guess who this is?” When the senior guesses with the name of one of their grandchildren, the scammer uses that identity to request financial support for anything ranging from bail money to car repairs to overdue rent.[2]
  4. Inheritance scam: Similar to the prize scams, someone calls pretending to be an attorney and informs the senior they’ve received an unexpected inheritance. Then they press them for personal information.
  5. Medicare/NHS impersonation: One thing that all seniors have in common is their national health insurance plan. That gives identity thieves one key piece of information about a senior before doing any other research. By impersonating Medicare or NHS personnel, identity thieves get seniors to give out their personal information for “verification” purposes.
  6. Bank official impersonation: This works very much the same as the Medicare/NHS scam, except the information being captured is bank account numbers in addition to personal information.
  7. Tax scam: Tax documents contain a trove of personal information, and nearly everyone has to file them. There are two ways identity thieves approach tax scams—by telephone and email. On the phone, the identity thief poses as a tax official and demands payment. Phishing emails look like official communications from the taxing authority with the goal of obtaining personal information for identity theft and possibly stealing refund checks.[3]
  8. Romance scams: Like any of us, seniors want to pursue love interests and new friendships, and many use online dating websites and social media. Seniors need to be aware that people do create fake online profiles in order to meet potential targets for fraud.
  9. Caregiver or familiar fraud: Sadly, the elderly often become victims of the very people charged with their care—family members or paid caregivers. It’s important that caregivers be trustworthy people with stable financial footing. Be wary if a caregiver tries to block the families access to a senior or hides bank statements or bills.

Help the seniors you care about watch out for these identity frauds and scams. Talk to them about the dangers and offer to review suspicious emails/mail or to help them look for unusual activity on bank statements and bills. In the event that a senior loved one has recently passed, maintain extra vigilance about the decedent’s credit report and identity in order to protect their surviving spouse and estate.

To learn more about digital defense tools families can use to protect their personal information, contact your local Rural Mutual Insurance Agent.

[1] “The awful, fast-growing tech scams fleecing the elderly out of millions,” Fast Company, May 5, 2019.

[2] “Top 10 financial scams targeting seniors,” National Council on Aging.

[3] Internal Revenue Service