Case Study: Identity Theft Hits Too Close to Home for Seniors
Eileen and Laurence Cashman carefully planned their retirement, securing an affordable apartment in a building for seniors where they’d have the support they needed in their twilight years.
They didn’t know their home address would make them more vulnerable to identity thieves who prey on the elderly. A temporary, state-paid employee who was working in their building stole their Social Security numbers and used them to open email and online Social Security accounts, view their bank account balances, and access their life insurance—all without their consent.
“I was astounded when I found out,” said Eileen Cashman, who serves as guardian for her husband, who is he recovering from a stroke. “I felt very violated.”
Cashman immediately contacted the police. Then, she remembered her auto insurance provided identity management services with CyberScout. A CyberScout fraud investigator was assigned to help the Cashmans until their case was fully resolved.
The investigator took immediate steps to protect the couple’s identity and credit by:
• Placing fraud alerts on their files with all three major credit bureaus
• Filing an identity theft affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission
• Requesting the IRS place a tax marker—an identity protection indicator—on their tax accounts, and
• Providing ongoing monitoring of their credit files and accounts.
“The investigator notified credit bureaus right away. I had no idea how to do that,” Cashman said.
Though no immediate fraud was detected, the couple could be vulnerable to many kinds of fraud—from the opening of new credit lines to government benefits theft—that can destabilize their livelihood.
“That one person could change your whole life,” Cashman said. “She could just redirect the Social Security (direct) deposit. If I can’t protect my Social Security check, what can I protect? Everything else is easy to get at.”
Seniors are often the target of scams and fraud because they often have nest eggs, are less computer savvy, and are more trusting of people, said Brett Montgomery, CyberScout’s fraud operations manager. According to AARP, they account for roughly half of all scam victims.
And government documents and benefits fraud is one of the most common forms of identity theft, comprising 34 percent of complaints reported to The Federal Trade Commission, according to its annual Consumer Sentinel report. The FTC also estimates that about 20 percent of identity theft victims are age 60 or older.
The Cashmans are grateful for the identity protection and support they’ve received from CyberScout because it will help them remain vigilant and stay ahead of identity fraud.
Cashman plans to alert more agencies, including the federal housing authorities, and keep warning others. She even has driven a few neighbors to the Social Security Administration office to help them block online access to their accounts.
“When we looked to rent, we gave (the landlord) copies of our whole lives. We trusted them to handle our information and respected their ability to use the information properly,” she said. “It floors me, what they did.”