I found out about my own identity theft when the IRS notified me that someone had filed for my Federal tax refund before I did. Talk about a rude awakening. That was something that happened to other people, not me!
Going through that mess was something that I don’t want to repeat. Researching that situation has brought me to write this next series on “Frauds against Seniors.”
Identity Theft Definition
Identity (ID) theft is a crime where a thief steals your personal information, such as your name, address and/or social security number, to commit fraud. The identity thief can then use your information to fraudulently apply for credit, file taxes, or even get medical services.
These acts can destroy your credit status and cost you both time and money to restore your good name.
You may not know that you are the victim of ID theft until you experience a financial consequence (mystery bills, credit collections, denied loans) or receive notice of a data breach at a company where you do business. Not an uncommon experience these days.
Red Flags That Someone Has Stolen Your Identity Information
- You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
- You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.
- You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report. You do get an free annual report?
- The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
- Merchants refuse your checks or credit / debit cards.
- Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
- You don’t get your bills or other mail.
- Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
- Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
- A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
The Problem defined for seniors:
Seniors are at risk because, we are numerous, have assets and possibly are more trusting. For those of use born before 1947, we were raised to be considerate of others. Unfortunately our age and upbringing makes us very big targets for identity theft and other financial exploitation.
An additional reason for us to be targeted is our natural reluctance to report when we have been scammed. I don’t know of anyone that likes to admit doing something that probably wasn’t very intelligent.
Thieves are not stupid. Like the bank robbers of the 20s and 30s, they hit where the money is.
The first thing that you should do if your identity has been stolen is to FILE A REPORT. Don’t wait for next month’s statement from your bank or credit card issuer, FILE NOW.
Where and how to report Identity Theft:
- Put in a report with your local law enforcement agency. Ask for a copy of their report or the number assigned by them. You will need it when dealing further with financial institutions.
Place an initial Fraud Alert with one of the 3 credit reporting companies. Make sure that the credit reporting company will report to the other two.
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285 OR Experian: 1-888-397-3742 OR TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
- Mark your calendar. The original Fraud Alert remains on your file for 90 days and can be renewed if necessary.
- File an Identity Theft Report with the Federal Trade Commission. The best way is to go on-line at https://www.identitytheft.gov/ and follow the instructions. Print a copy of the report which will be titled “Identity Theft Affidavit” and attach it to the report copy from step one above.
- Be sure to keep complete and detailed records of all the steps taken, people contacted and the dates / times for each interaction.
- Contact the fraud department at your bank, credit card issuers and any other places where you have accounts. You may need your ID theft reports from the police and Federal Trade Commission in order to report the fraud.
- In order to clear your name, you will also need to report the fraud to companies where the identity thief may have created accounts, opened credit accounts, or even applied for jobs
- Your state Attorney General may offer resources to help you contact creditors, dispute errors and other helpful resources.
The fraud that is Identity Theft is growing. The senior citizen target group is large and getting larger. Please do not hesitate to report the crime. Help others that you know to prevent this and other frauds against seniors.
The Identity Theft – part 2 post will cover the areas of:
1. Know Your Rights,
2. Recovery from I.D. Theft and
3. Prevention of I.D. Theft
Further posts will shine a light on other of the many frauds and financial exploitations of fellow seniors.
These posts draw heavily on materials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/cyber/identity-theft and the Federal Trade Commission https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft . They are the 2 primary federal agencies concerned with Identity Theft.