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Identity Theft and Fraud Target Elders and Others with Special Needs

One of my geriatric care clients, an 80-year old widow who lives in an independent living center, came to me with what she felt to be an embarrassing story.  Since it is about fraud, I offer it now during a season when we all may feel the spirit of giving and we also can be duped by thieves.


My client received a telephone call from “her favorite grandson.”  At least that is how the caller introduced himself and my client inadvertently gave in to the urge to guess the caller’s name as her eldest of five grandsons.  She readily admits she has no favorites, but she gave in to what seemed to be a tease from her grandson, a fully grown young man with a family of his own.  Her “grandson” then proceeded to relate a story of a bit of partying with coworkers on a business trip to Canada that resulted in his incarceration.  He desperately needed $3,000 for bail.  He wished to avoid informing his wife or parents until he could return to relate the unfortunate events in person.  My client agreed to this conspiracy and wired the funds.  Only later did she discover it was a fraud and reported the caller to the police.  Unfortunately, she could not recover the funds, but she did go on local elevision for a news segment to help others avoid her mistake.

I am writing today as a geriatric care manager to offer a heightened alert to elders and others with special needs along with those who help care for them.  It is not just telephone scams, but also identity theft or fraud of a variety of sorts that prey upon the elderly.  It is estimated that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen every year.  Be on the alert to:


    • Your older loved one whose checking account does not balance or is missing checks from the book.


    • An “extra page” beneath the signature page of a document that may be stealing your loved one’s signature.


    • Letters or other solicitations requiring account information of passwords to “reactivate” accounts.


    • Important financial documents discarded by your loved one in the trash without shredding.


    • Caregivers who also assist with banking on behalf of the older adult or other special needs client.


    • Unauthorized individuals requesting social security or Medicare numbers for identification.



As you gather over the holidays with family, encourage your older loved ones to check their free annual credit reports as a way to identify suspicious activity.  Help make certain your older loved one has current spyware and other internet security software.  Make sure your loved one is not leaving important identity or password information lying openly on surfaces where anyone might steal them.  Consider a locking mail box if incoming mail is not retrieved soon after it is delivered.

And consider the Federal Trade Commission’s website , a useful elder resource on addressing victimization.


Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families throughout metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.


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