Identity Theft – Why our Seniors and their Grandchildren are at greatest risk.

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month.  It is an important part of our modern technologically advanced society that we protect our loved-ones, and ourselves making our online lives safe and secure. 

Cyber Fraud is on the rise and these criminals target all of us trying to steal our identity using it to open up credit card accounts, access our assets, for illegal immigration and even human trafficking.  In this article I am going to address two of the most vulnerable groups of victims of Cyber Fraud and Identity Theft: Seniors and their Grandchildren. 

Let us first look at what Identity theft entails.  Identity Theft or Cyber Fraud is a form of stealing someone's identity in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that person's identity.  This is typically done in order to access resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person's name. The victims of identity theft often do not know that their identity has been stolen until it is too late, such as when they are looking to buy a new car or obtain some other form of credit.  The victims of such crimes can suffer severe adverse consequences if they are held accountable for the criminal’s actions.

Identity Theft is of growing concern and children are currently the number one targets for this type of crime.  Your child’s birth certificate and Social Security Number are the first forms of identification.  They will need this information later in life as they build their credit, open up bank accounts and buy their first house and car, perhaps even apply for student loans for college.  Kids are innocent and share information on the Internet and with peer groups freely.  Their information is often available at their school, with a sports group or club, summer camps, doctor’s offices and even on their computers and mobile devices.  We think their information is secure when in reality it is easily accessed by criminals. 

These are some simple things you can do to ensure your Child’s Identity Safety:

Keep all documents that show a child’s personal information safely locked up. This includes a child’s date of birth, Social Security number, and birth certificate. Don’t carry your child’s Social Security card with you.

Limit the chances that your child’s information will be stolen or misused at school. Find out who has access to your child’s personal information, and read the notices that schools are required to send explaining your rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). That law protects the privacy of student education records, and gives you the right to opt out of the release of directory information to third parties, including other families.

Similarly, Senior Identity Fraud is on the rise as seniors, like their grandchildren, are vulnerable victims.  Often with good credit and savings seniors have an open and trusting approach to people around them, they are more likely to share trusted information on the internet and phone along with doctors, bankers and lawyers along with other “trusted” professionals.  In the case of Senior Identity Theft Fraud cases involving tax returns and medical care along with financial fraud are on the rise. 

The issue of Identity Theft has become so prevalent that this year (2013) The Federal Trade Commission held a one-day workshop on senior and child identity theft.  According to The Federal Trade Commission consumers 60 and older filed 52,610 complaints with the FTC about identity theft in 2012, or 19 percent of all complaints the agency received on the subject. That's up from 32,907 two years earlier when this age group accounted for 13 percent of all ID theft complaints.

According to The Federal Trade Commission, a common act of Identity Fraud with seniors “is tax return identity theft in which a thief uses someone else's Social Security number to file a return and collect a refund. When the legitimate taxpayer files later, their return is rejected because a return already was filed under their Social Security number. Victims must verify their identity to the Internal Revenue Service before they can receive their refunds.”

Christopher Lee, a senior attorney with the IRS' Taxpayer Advocate Service, said consumers should order a free copy of their tax transcript. If someone doesn't need to file but the transcript shows returns being submitted annually, they should contact the IRS, he said.

Taxpayers can order their transcript online at irs.gov.

It is as important to protect ourselves as our more vulnerable loved ones, such as children and their grandparents, whose lack of awareness that crimes are being perpetrated against them and their trust of others puts them at higher risk.  

Dr. Marion

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