Tips for protecting older adults from identity theft, fraud and scams
March is Fraud Awareness Month.
The best protection begins with awareness of the dangers of fraud and identity theft.
Fraud may seem like just one more thing for you to worry about as a caregiver, but acquiring this awareness can prevent financial headaches and disasters down the road. Not only will you be learning how to better protect someone you are caring for, you also learn fraud prevention tips that you can apply to your own personal and financial security.
Through identity theft, criminals can use personal information such as date of birth, Social Insurance Number (SIN), home address, and driver’s license number to apply for credit cards, mortgages, loans, make purchases online, and even sign up for services such as cable, utilities, and cell phone plans.
Seniors may not know what to do especially if they are unaware of the risk of identity theft and fraud. It is important for caregivers to be aware of the risks and educate the person(s) in your care. If you suspect that identity theft has occurred, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) recommends filing reports with the following authorities:
- Your local police force
- Your bank/financial institution and credit card companies
- The two national credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion Canada
- The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
Once these reports have been filed, the police can begin an investigation, your bank/financial institution can lock down your account(s), credit card companies can close your account(s) and issue new cards, and the national credit bureaus will be on alert to protect you from new, fraudulent transactions made in your name.
Debit and credit card fraud
Debit and credit card scams occur when a con artist uses or copies the card(s) (either the physical card or just the card number) to make unauthorized purchases or withdraw money from the account(s).
You can help prevent this type of theft from taking place by making sure that credit and debit cards are kept confidential and out of sight especially when they are used to make a purchase or withdraw money from an automated bank machine (ABM).
Teach seniors in your care to cover up the ABM keypad or point-of-sale terminal when they use their debit or credit card and to select a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that is not too obvious.
And when the card transaction is complete – no matter how long the line-up at the register is – never let the cashier or other customers rush you (or the person you’re taking care of) through the process of putting the card safely back into a bag or wallet. Sometimes thieves take advantage of the moment of distraction to slip the credit card or wallet into their pocket with you none the wiser.
Have you ever clicked on an unfamiliar link only to have a pop-up window open in the middle of the screen that says you’ve downloaded a virus? Or, received an e-mail that looks like it came from a legitimate business asking you to “verify your identity” by clicking on a link to login to your account (or replying to their e-mail) with your personal information?
These are called “phishing scams” and they’re exactly what they sound like: scams that lay out the bait in order to “fish” for your information.
Phishing occurs over the phone or online by someone pretending to be a person that their intended victim knows or a representative from a legitimate business.
Here are some tips to protect yourself and the person in your care from phishing scams:
- Check the e-mail address format before you reply to a suspicious e-mail. Legitimate businesses will often have their name in the domain (the part after the @ symbol) so if you see an e-mail from your bank or credit card company and the domain doesn’t match their name, it’s most likely from a fake address.
- Don’t give out your personal information to “verify your identity”. A legitimate business will never ask their customers for their personal information, such as password, account number, Social Insurance Number, etc. especially in an e-mail or phone call.
- If you receive a phone call from a person claiming to be someone you know, ask them to call back in a few minutes. Use that time to contact the person they are claiming to be and ask them to confirm whether they just called you or not.
- Confidential information can be stolen from your own garbage can. Shred confidential documents that contain your unique personal information such as date of birth, address, and account number(s).
Another method that con artists use to violate a person’s sense of security is by posing as trustworthy, friendly people in order to get inside the home.
These types of con artists often go door to door posing as representatives of a charity, religious group, or a utility company there to service an appliance in the home. Some door-to-door con artists even pretend to be selling appliances like furnaces and hot water heaters or services like gutter cleaning, window replacement, and driveway repair.
It must be said, though, that not every person who knocks on your door is looking to scam anyone, although even legitimate salespeople can employ high-pressure sales tactics to literally and figuratively get their foot in the door.
While not outright scams, the products or services they offer may be unwanted or unnecessary, which the person you’re taking care of may purchase anyway — either to get rid of the sales person or because the person just can’t say no to a friendly face.
Identity theft protection and fraud prevention tips
There are ways to protect yourself and the person you’re taking care of from fraud. Here are a few fraud prevention tips to keep in mind:
- Keep all personal documents in a safe location such as a locked drawer or fireproof safe and never carry around passports, SIN cards, and other types of ID unless you need them.
- Don’t write down Personal Identification Numbers and passwords or tell anyone what they are “just in case you forget.”
- Monitor credit card transactions and bank accounts regularly for suspicious activity and report it immediately.
- Shred old bills and statements including anything with your home address (i.e. envelopes, letters, and the back page of a magazine subscription).
- Don’t click on pop-up windows to close them. Instead, press the CTRL+ALT+DEL keys (at the same time) to close the window (on a Mac, it’s Command+Option+Esc) or manually shut down your computer by pressing and holding down the power button.
- Don’t give out any personal information over the phone or via e-mail.
- Don’t feel pressured to sign a contract on the spot. Ask the representative if you can have a few days to think it over. If they refuse to grant your request and insist that the offer is “time-sensitive,” it’s probably better to pass.
- Be suspicious about anyone asking you for money over the phone or via e-mail even if they claim to know you or someone you know.
- Before contracting any work on your home (or the home of the person you’re taking care of), always ask for proof of identity and references from previous clients. Don’t let anyone claiming to be a service repair person in if you didn’t call for one.
For more information about identity theft and fraud as well as what to do if you think you or the person in your care has been scammed, visit the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Identity theft and identity fraud webpage and the Government of Canada’s What every older Canadian should know about: Fraud and scams webpage.
Has anyone ever tried to scam you or someone you are caring for? We want to hear from you.