Protecting Seniors from Identity Theft

May 29, 2023

In an increasingly digital world, it’s essential to protect your personal information from the clutches of fraudsters. Unfortunately, the crime of identity theft is surprisingly common. Just last year, there were more than 1.1 million reports of identity theft received through the Federal Trade Commission’s website. In this blog post, we will explore the nuances of identity theft, why seniors are often targeted, and most importantly, equip you with effective strategies to safeguard your identity.

Understanding Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when a stranger gains access to your personally identifiable information (PII) such as your name and address, Social Security number, bank account information, or even your medical records. Identity thieves can use that information to do things like make unauthorized purchases with your credit cards, raid your finances, or file a fraudulent tax return to pocket the refund.

Due to a combination of factors, seniors are frequently targeted by identity thieves. In 2019, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Identity Theft Supplement found that nearly 1 in 10 adults aged 65 or older experienced identity theft, with financial losses totaling $2.5 billion.

Firstly, many seniors are at a point in their lives when they tend to have more substantial financial assets, making them alluring targets. Secondly, seniors may be more trusting, courteous, and less inclined to question suspicious requests – making them susceptible to social engineering (i.e. psychological tactics to deceive people into revealing sensitive information or granting access that they would otherwise not provide) used by identity thieves. Age-related neurocognitive changes, like Alzheimer’s disease, can also play a role by impacting the ability to make good decisions.

Tips for Preventing Identity Theft

Safeguard Personal Information

Be cautious when sharing personal information, both online and offline. Only provide sensitive details to trusted entities and organizations. When throwing away documents containing personal information, ensure they are shredded to prevent unauthorized access. Additionally, it’s wise to avoid carrying unnecessary identification documents (such as your Social Security card) in your wallet or purse, as losing them could lead to identity theft.

Strengthen Online Security

Take measures to bolster your online security. Create strong, unique passwords for your online accounts and avoid using the same password for multiple accounts. If a scammer already knows the login information for one of your accounts, they will likely test it on other accounts. You should also enable two-factor authentication whenever possible, which adds an extra layer of security by requiring a verification code in addition to your password.

Regularly update your computer and smartphone’s security software and operating system to protect against the latest threats. Be sure to also keep your devices locked with a password, fingerprint, or facial recognition. Otherwise, your PII will be easily accessible if the device falls into the wrong hands.

Watch Out for Phone Scams

Phone scams are one common method used to commit senior identity theft – particularly robocalls. The Federal Communications Commission estimates there are nearly 4 billion robocalls made each month. Robocalls typically play an automated message that claims you owe money or need to take immediate action.

Whenever you receive calls asking for personal information or money, be skeptical. Don’t share any sensitive details unless you initiated the contact and take the time to confirm the identity of the caller before taking any action. However, the best way to prevent identity theft over the phone is to simply ignore calls from numbers you don’t know.

Monitor Financial Accounts

Regularly review your bank statements, credit card bills, and financial transactions for any discrepancies. Many scammers who already have your personal information will try to make small charges first, to see if they can get away with it, before moving on to larger purchases. If you notice unfamiliar transactions or charges, immediately report them to your financial institution. You may also want to consider signing up for credit monitoring services that provide alerts regarding any suspicious activity on your credit report.

Advice for Family Members & Caregivers

Greater awareness of identity theft and building a healthy sense of skepticism can help keep older adults from becoming victims. Start by talking to them about how to keep their identity secure. Help ensure their devices have secure settings, such as setting up a lock screen. Update their contacts to anyone who might call regularly (family members, close friends, doctors, etc.) and add emergency contact information. Encourage them to let unrecognized phone numbers go to voicemail.

If you’re especially concerned about identity theft, you may consider purchasing identity protection services – which are usually offered through your bank or other financial institutions. Your home insurance provider may also offer identity theft insurance that can help you recover any assets lost through identity theft, should it ever occur.

Warning Signs of Identity Theft

Detecting identity theft early is crucial. Be vigilant and watch for the following warning signs:

  • Unfamiliar transactions or charges on your financial statements.
  • Receiving calls or letters about accounts you didn’t open or debts you don’t owe.
  • Unexpected denial of credit or loan applications.
  • Not receiving expected bills or mail, indicating a possible address change.
  • Unusual withdrawals or transfers from your bank accounts.

If you suspect your identity has been stolen, contact the FTC at or call 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338). You can follow their recommended steps to make a recovery plan. Seniors can also call the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311), a free resource set up by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime to report fraud against anyone aged 60 or older. You should also notify your bank, credit card companies, and other financial institutions about the theft – they can help you establish a fraud alert with the major credit bureaus to prevent further damage to your credit rating. They can also help you set up a credit freeze to prevent new accounts from being opened without your knowledge.


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