Why seniors are at special risk for identity theft Why seniors are at special risk for identity theft

Adults over age 60 are at increased risk for identity theft, according to UT-Austin’s Center for Identity. Many of the fraud risks to older adults center on medical records, healthcare scams, and mail theft. Seniors are at special risk for identity theft consequences because they’re usually living on a fixed income and have some savings. Fraud can steal your ability to pay for assisted living or senior housing when you need it. Here’s what to watch out for and how to protect yourself.

When paper puts your identity in peril

We often think of identity fraud as something that happens online or via stolen credit card numbers, but for seniors, old-fashioned paperwork presents a lot of risk. The Center for Identity says that carrying your Social Security and Medicare cards all the time increases the risk of loss or theft.

If you get your bank statements and medical bills through the mail rather than online, be aware that identity thieves often snatch these items from mailboxes—sometimes prying locked boxes open to steal the mail inside.

How to fight back: Keep your Social Security and Medicare cards under lock and key at home or in a safe deposit box at your local bank. Switch to online statements for your bank and credit card accounts. If you live in an area where mail theft is a problem, consider renting a mailbox at the post office for important statements or installing a security camera near your home mailbox.

When the phone is a tool for senior scams

Seniors are more likely than younger adults to become the victim of scammers who call them at home and get information like credit card and social security numbers from them. These calls may be disguised as charity appeals, attempts to verify shopping information, or “emergencies” to sort out your bank balance or Social Security payments.

How to fight back: Never give out account numbers, your Social Security number, or other personal information to someone who calls you. If they insist that they must have this information or make threats about what will happen if you don’t provide it, hang up the phone. You may want to screen your calls and only return those from people and businesses you know and trust.

Why you need to review your records

Identity thieves are sneaky but they almost always leave a trail. Review your medical bills and records, banking and investment account statements, assisted living or nursing home bills, and your credit report regularly. Call and ask about any unfamiliar items to make sure no one else is using your identity to go shopping with your money or to get medical care using your name and Medicare coverage.

Where to learn more about senior identity theft

The Center for Identity has helpful information about the types of ID theft that target seniors and veterans, including a toolkit to help you secure your information. You can learn more about the most common scams against seniors from the National Council on Aging. You’ll find tips on preventing insurance, medical, and financial fraud on the SeniorAdvisor.com blog.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


  1. Gail Garwood March 11, 2017 Reply

    It is annoying to repeatedly hear advice to keep Social Security/Medicare card under lock and key, when every health care visit requires the patient to produce said cards at every appointment.
    (A safe deposit box in a bank with limited hours, surely you jest.) At least that is the situation in my region and I have every reason to believe that we are not unique in that policy.

    Makes me think the writers have never accompanied a senior citizen to a physician’s appointment nor an Emergency Room or Urgent Care visit.

  2. Jane Rivers, RN-BC March 11, 2017 Reply

    I think you missed the primary reason that this happens to seniors. Effects of aging on the brain include cognitive changes in the prefrontal cortex, resulting in reduction of Executive Function. This makes it much more difficult to perform complex decision-making and makes predators’ jobs much easier by trying to force quick decisions and answers that aren’t properly thought through.

  3. Kay Capraro March 12, 2017 Reply

    I have complained that having our ss# on our Medicare card is exceptionally risky and this should be changed. Does this take an act of congress?!!

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