Identity theft is a form of stealing someone’s identity, in which that person pretends to be someone else by assuming that person’s identity. The perpetrator will typically use this method to gain access to resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person’s name. Identity theft occurs when someone uses another’s persons identifying information such as their name, credit card number, identifying number such as Medicare or pension card without their permission to commit fraud and other crimes. The victim of identity theft can suffer adverse consequences if they are held responsible for the perpetrator’s actions.
We have been the victims of online banking fraud. I logged in to our home loan late one evening to discover thousands transferred from our account to an unknown account. My husband is not computer savvy so I knew something was wrong. I reported it immediately (within hours of the transfer) and even though the funds didn’t hit the other account there was still loads of paperwork to complete such as a statutory declaration and banking paperwork, so it was time consuming and the funds were not returned for about 6 weeks. I had inadvertently downloaded a computer virus that tracked my keystrokes when I logged onto our home loan account.
There are ways to protect yourself and signs to look out for, and more so for the elderly, to which I will target this article. One needs to be aware of potential risks and take intelligent precautions such as:
- Check and ensure that your computer software for viruses is current and up to date.
- Limit and be careful what identifying information you share on social networking sites.
- Be careful working on your computer in public Wi-Fi situations and avoid logging into your bank account from a public computer.
- Be careful of the websites you visit. Check to see if they have trusted verification (look for the lock icon next to the check-out cart).
- Never respond directly to emails or phone calls asking for information, especially if they are requesting pin numbers or for you to click on a link. No bank will ever request this information via email.
- Don’t provide your credit card details to a caller or visitor asking for a donation, unless you initiated the donation.
- Shred all documents with your name or any personal information, rather than just placing in the rubbish bin. Also shred receipts with your credit card number on.
- Keep personal and financial records in a locked file and do check your monthly credit card statements.
- Be wary buying from anyone who calls or visits unannounced. Ask them to send you something in writing before you join up or buy. Never give your credit card details unless you initiated the call.
- Sign up for the ‘Do not call’ register and take yourself off multiple mailing lists.
- Be aware that if you are receiving a lot of mail for sweepstakes, subscriptions or ‘free gifts’ than you may be on the ‘sucker list’!
If you have suspicions regarding your parents or grandparent’s affairs, signs to look out for include:
- Unusual recent changes in their accounts, including withdrawals, new person(s) added to the account or the sudden use of their ATM or credit card.
- Your loved one appears confused, unkempt or afraid.
- Mortgage, rent, medical, utilities or other essential bills are unpaid despite them having adequate income to cover this.
- A carer or family member will not allow access to your parent/grandparent. Elders are not just at risk from strangers but sadly also sometimes from those closest to them.
Of course any of these changes could also be the indication of other problems such as the onset of dementia so it requires careful assessment and judgment of the situation at hand.
If you think you or a loved one may have been a victim of identity theft take these actions immediately:
- Call your bank or credit card company.
- Cancel any debit or credit cards linked to the stolen account.
- Reset your pin numbers
So where should you leave those essential documents such as wills, birth certificates etc? Some people keep the originals with their solicitor or in a bank safety deposit box with copies kept at home or at another family members home. It is however important that in an emergency someone else can easily access these documents.
Protecting yourself comes down to being aware, being careful, doing your homework and asking for help if you find yourself the victim of a financial scam. Trust your gut too, if you feel something is not right investigate it, at the least you will have peace of mind. Scammers are getting savvier on how to trick us and our elders so we need to be one step ahead and protect our identity and assets now and in the future.
Jennifer Brosnan is the business owner of Leave it with me, a service based in Melbourne providing seniors and their families with administrative, project and support facilities to bring clarity and order to their paperwork, documentation, bill paying and records.