Elderly people are often appealing targets for identity theft. Identity theft is the crime of committing fraud for financial gain by using the personal information of another. The elderly are targeted in part due to the perception that they have more money and better equity. They are also perceived to be more trusting, more likely to live alone, less tech-savvy and less likely to take security precautions. Additionally, elderly people are more likely than others to suffer from dementia, making them more vulnerable to exploitation.
How can you protect yourself now and as you grow older? How can you help protect elderly friends and family members who may be in the dark about identity theft? Let’s explore few options.
Power of Attorney and Guardianships
Durable Financial Power of Attorney
In simple terms, setting up a durable financial power of attorney allows you to select someone to be “in charge” of your finances now or in the future, dependent on one or more conditions. For example, you can create a power of attorney that would go into effect only if you were to become incapacitated. Throughout the course of this agreement, unless you became incapacitated, you’d retain complete legal authority to act on your own behalf. If you were to become incapacitated, legal authority would then shift to your agent, the person you authorized to act on your behalf.
If you think an elderly friend or relative can no longer make sound decisions, you can petition the court to become your loved one’s guardian (and he or she would become your ward). In most states, the court will begin by determining whether the person is incapacitated. If a finding of incapacity is made, the court will then determine whether a guardianship is appropriate and, if so, who the guardian should be. If you’re ultimately appointed guardian, it will be your legal right and obligation to care for your ward’s personal and property interests.
Which One’s Right for You?
Power of attorney is more desirable than a guardianship. By creating a power of attorney, you choose who will be responsible for your care and finances in the terrible event you ever become incapacitated. Setting up a power of attorney will also save your loved ones from the stress and cost of later petitioning the court.
We are human, though, and we don’t always plan ahead. If someone you love failed to appoint an agent and is now incapacitated, a guardianship is a good option. Your loved one’s wellbeing is worth the possible stress of going to court.
Talk, Listen and Keep Your Eyes Open
Do not assume that the elderly people in your life are ignorant, but do understand that they existed in the world long before the Internet and phone scams – long before we had to shred just about every document that arrived in the mail. Keep a dialogue going. Talk about common email and phone scams. Ask questions about their security practices. Do they shred important documents? Do they keep quiet when asked about passwords and other important information?
Watch for signs that they may be taken advantage of. Creepy strangers aren’t the only people who commit fraud; family members and friends often try to take advantage of the elderly too.
It can be difficult to admit to being the victim of a crime. Though people of all ages can be taken advantage of, being exploited may feel extra embarrassing to elderly people; it may feel like an admission of a failing mind. Be sensitive to this. If you suspect someone you love has been taken advantage of, approach the conversation with kindness and understanding.
If you have become a victim of identity theft, or if you know someone who has, come forward – the sooner the better. Report the crime by calling the Federal Trade Commission at (877) 438-4338 and the local police. Reach out to the National Center on Elder Abuse at (855) 500-3537. People are in place to help.
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