Senior Identity Theft and Elder Abuse in New York City
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft occurs whenever someone surreptitiously uses someone else’s personally-identifying information, such as their date of birth, Social Security Number, military or personal ID number, or financial information to commit a fraud or crime. Although anyone in New York City can be a victim of fraud, seniors can be particularly vulnerable to this form of elder abuse.
Senior identity theft is most often committed to gain access to someone’s financial accounts and records and to obtain and spend money using their identity. Millions of Americans fall victim to scams each year at a cost estimated to be $2.9 billion, making it the number one consumer crime in America, by far.
Common Ways Senior Identity Theft is Committed
These days, identity scams are more sophisticated than ever because of new technology and online accessibility. Financial fraud against elder people can be committed in a variety of ways, both new and old:
- The old-fashioned stealing of a purse or wallet.
- The theft of credit applications and documents containing a person’s financial records from their mailbox.
- “Shoulder surfing”, where an identity thief uses direct observation techniques, such as looking over someone’s shoulder, to obtain a person’s PIN, password, or credit card number, while they are transacting business online, at a store, or at an ATM.
- Dumpster diving, where the thief goes through dumpsters and garbage cans to find documents containing an individual’s personally-identifying information.
- Phishing, which involves using phone calls, surveys, and email messages masquerading as legitimate and trustworthy businesses in order to solicit passwords and credit card details.
- The use of high tech “skimming” devices to monitor and extract information from debit cards and credit cards being used online, in stores, and at ATMs.
Why Seniors Are More Vulnerable to Financial Abuse
Anyone can fall victim to identity fraud regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. While identity thieves can and do target anyone, senior citizens are extremely vulnerable, more so than any other segment of the population, for a number of reasons. To name a few:
- Seniors often don’t check their credit card and bank statements thoroughly
- Seniors often don’t request or review their credit reports regularly because they are not as often looking to borrow money to purchase things like cars and homes
- Seniors are often more trusting, in general, making them more vulnerable and susceptible to crimes of deception
Identity thieves come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and can be anyone around the corner or around the world, including sophisticated hackers and unsophisticated people using technology they purchased online.
Moreover, financial scams could be perpetrated by a relative, close friend, caregiver, or someone else the victim trusts and relies on. Because of this, identity theft is one of the most common forms of elder abuse in New York City and across the nation.
How Can Seniors Avoid Becoming a Victim?
Identity thieves can do a lot of damage to a person’s finances and it can be very difficult for the victim to reverse the damage once it has been done, especially if they are living on a fixed income like many seniors.
However, seniors can significantly lessen the likelihood of becoming a victim of identity scams by simply protecting their sensitive information more carefully and by monitoring their accounts and credit reports more closely.
Here are some tips that can help:
- Always safeguard your social security card, Medicare card, credit cards, personal checks, and financial statements.
- Consider freezing your credit. This will prevent new accounts from being opened in your name without your permission.
- Never provide personal or financial information over the telephone or internet to anyone you do not know.
- Review your credit report regularly. You can get a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every year by going to com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. (During the COVID-19 pandemic, the reports are available for free at this website weekly, instead of annually.)
- Check your bank account statements thoroughly and often. Report any suspicious activity right away.
- Install and update the latest security software on all of your devices.
- Refrain from clicking on unverified links.
- Change your passwords regularly and make sure that they include letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Shred all unnecessary paper statements and financial documents.
- Retrieve your mail from the mailbox as soon as possible and mail sensitive information from a secure mailbox or the post office.
- Considering closing financial accounts that may be unnecessary or that you don’t use.
What to Do If You Believe You Have Become a Victim of an Identity Theft Scam in New York City
If you suspect that your personal information has been stolen or placed at risk, there are three things that you need to do:
- Immediately contact the creditor with whom you have the account that has been compromised or opened without your authority, either online, by mail, or by phone, to inform them of the fraud and to dispute the charges. Then follow up immediately with the creditor in writing, preferably by Certified Mail with Return Receipt Requested, and save copies of all documents and communications related to the dispute.
- Report the incident to each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). These agencies will then place a notice on your file so that banks, lenders, and other financial institutions know that your information has been compromised.
- Report the situation to the FTC, who can provide you with guidance on other options and other necessary things that you may need to do to secure your personal information.
- Consult with an experienced attorney who can educate you on your rights and obligation, assist you with repairing the damage done to your credit history, and help you hold those responsible liable to compensate you for your losses.
Who Can I Sue If I Become A Victim of a Financial Scam?
When a person is victimized by a financial scam, it is natural to consider suing the thief. However, this is often difficult or fruitless as a practical matter. Identity thieves are often very hard to identify. Furthermore, you will only succeed in this respect if the person who stole from you has money to repay you.
If the thief has no money and no ability to repay you, suing them may be a waste of time. You are more likely to obtain a recovery if you bring a lawsuit against the creditor or financial institution that refused to reimburse you for your loss or against the credit reporting agency that failed to correct your credit report after you sent in your dispute.
The Fair Credit Billing Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Truth In Lending Act, the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, and other federal and state consumer protection statutes provide a wide variety of important regulations that protect victims of identity scams. These include prohibiting the credit card companies and banks from holding the consumer responsible for various types of unauthorized transactions, placing strict limits on consumer liability in a variety of contexts, and requiring credit card companies, banks, and credit reporting agencies to undertake reasonable investigations of disputed transactions.
If a bank, a creditor, or a credit reporting agency ignores the provisions in these statutes by refusing to adequately investigate any unauthorized charges or insists you are responsible for charges when the law says otherwise, you may be entitled to bring a civil action for damages, attorney’s fees, and costs.
Contact a New York City Attorney if You have been the Victim of Senior Identity Theft and Elder Abuse
Many American seniors struggle to repair the damage done to their credit history after falling victim to identity theft, with no help from their creditors or the credit bureaus. However, there is help available.
If you are a senior who has become a victim of identity theft and elder abuse in New York City, or if you know someone who is, call Schlanger Law Group LLP, or visit our contact page to arrange a consultation with an experienced financial fraud litigation lawyer. Whether the issue involves getting significant credit card charges reversed, disputing with the bank to credit back your account for money stolen from you, repairing your credit report, or seeking compensation for lost credit opportunities that are the result of financial scams, we can help you obtain justice.