A Personal Experience: Seniors Find it Difficult to Report Fraud

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I often try to draw attention to real stories of fraud and identity theft whenever I can. I think that it helps to drive home the point that financial harm, fraud and identity theft can happen to anyone. By sharing our personal stories we expose the impact it has on our lives.  That's the same reason that I often share my own experiences; it allows me to say "This is real, and here is how I experienced it."  Sometimes we learn from our own mistakes --and sometimes, we learn from the mistakes made by others.  

I received a phone call from my mom this week. When I answered, my mom started the conversation with words that nobody wants to hear anyone on the other end of a phone say: "You're not going to like this." she relayed. And she was right: I didn't like it. I learned that my mom was caught off guard and turned over her Medicare account information along with her Social Security number to a telemarketing con artist. By the time she realized the "nice" guy on the other end of the phone wasn't from her doctor's office or insurance company, it was too late.

After she told me what had happened --I told her she needed to take immediate steps to help protect her credit and thwart attempted fraud. She called her local bank to let them know what was going on, and then called the police department--who simply told her to call her bank.  She contacted a Medicare agent and  notified the Social Security Administration without much difficulty. But --when she tried to place a credit freeze or fraud alert with the credit bureaus, that's when she became overwhelmed.   

By this point my mom was understandably upset by the entire incident. She was angry with herself for being caught off-guard and giving out such personal information, and she was feeling very anxious. 

As I listened to her share her distress, I immediately realized she couldn't be the first senior citizen to have this problem. Not being able to quickly place a fraud alert or freeze one's credit can prove to be quite costly.  

I recently mentioned the Federal Trade Commission's report that summarized the experiences of identity theft victims.  In that staff report it was determined that the credit reporting agencies may need to do more to help consumers reach a live agent as opposed to automated phone lines.  This is especially important with senior citizens who may be anxious, intimidated or confused by extensive automated phone systems and who are statistically one of the age groups that is least likely to report identity theft incidents in the first place.  If seniors encounter difficulties when they try to report an identity theft and place fraud alerts on their credit reports then they may decide that it's not worth the hassle should they be victimized again in the future.

In addition to major reform for the way that the credit bureaus accept reports, education efforts need to be increased to help keep senior citizens safe.  Efforts need to be made to teach seniors, and individuals of all ages, how to identify fraudulent calls and predatory con-artists, and it needs to be reinforced that there is some information that they shouldn't give out to anyone ---even if they are asked for it. This will help to prevent fraud incidents just as direct access to customer service agents would help prevent further damage from being done.

The bad guys are very good at what they do. If you think you may have fallen victim to a con-artist who tricked you into divulging too much information, you're not alone. Here are some additional steps you can take to limit your exposure to fraud: I think I'm being scammed! What do I do? 

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