For a number of reasons, older adults are more vulnerable to identity theft than the general population. They are particularly vulnerable to what are termed “community scammers.” These individuals may share a common language, background or heritage; they might pose as helpful; but they may turn these traditional indicators of trust on their head to take advantage of their elders. Here at SAGE, we deal with the outcome of people who are taken advantage of by people who recognize their fear, social isolation and vulnerability. LGBT older adults in particular are extremely vulnerable to identity theft and we’re sharing stories to make people aware of this situation. If you, or someone you care about, has suffered from fraud, tell us your story at SAGE Story.
Mike*, a SAGE client, is a 70-year-old gay male who is single, suffers from depression and generally likes to stay in or near his home in NYC. He used to eat regularly at a diner and started to become friendly with Steve*, an assistant manager there. Their friendship developed and Steve visited Mike’s apartment on several occasions. Steve asked Mike to go shopping with him in order to establish his credit rating and asked Mike to use his credit card—this may not make sense, but that was the premise he cooked up for his scam. Steve bought some clothes, returned them for a credit on Mike’s credit card and gave Mike an IOU.
About a month later Mike gets word from several credit card companies and banks that accounts have been opened in his name and charges incurred of about $15,000+. Mike came to SAGE for help and we reported the matter to the police—who responded promptly and effectively.
Eventually, Steve was found out because he used Mike’s name on the credit card, but his own address. This was not the first fraud Steve had committed. In fact, he was scheduled to be arraigned a few weeks ago and Mike is currently distraught, but receiving help.
Another example is of an immobile client who lived in a second floor walk-up—he couldn’t get out of bed and he couldn’t go to store. This man had lost his partner, who had cared for him, but didn’t want to leave their apartment and the memories they shared and more importantly, he was afraid of how he’d be received in a long-term care setting. Instead, he paid people in his building to do errands for him, but not in cash. He gave people his debit card and PIN and they took advantage of his situation. His fear of moving and seeking the proper assistance he needed made his bad situation even worse. Ultimately, SAGE got involved and coordinated formal in-home services and a SAGE Friendly Visitor. In short, the fact that the man was quasi-out led to his fear of moving into an unwelcoming environment, and made him vulnerable to fraud.
The Federal Trade Commission, which recently held a day-long seminar and Senior Identity Theft, provides numerous resources to combat financial scams, identity theft, and other fraudulent scheme –providing minute-long audio tips, scam alerts, and tools for victims of identity theft and other scams. In addition, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau provides numerous tips and resources to help older adults protect themselves from financial abuse, including information on how to prevent people from taking your savings or your home, understanding your financial options when your spouse dies, and where you can turn for information.
*The names in this post have been changed.