Conduct a thorough review of the state of your family member’s finances:
- Review bank accounts, insurance policies, investments, and annuities for changes in account ownership or beneficiaries. Rather than taking money while a senior is alive, some sophisticated scammers may try to switch beneficiaries or account ownership so that assets will legally transfer to them upon the senior’s death.
- Review any wills, trusts, and powers of attorney. Watch for changes that may have been made under undue influence.
- Sign your family member up for a credit-monitoring service, which will send alerts out for activity that shows up on credit reports. Note that this monitoring will not tell you when someone has withdrawn money from the account.
Federal agencies can help victims of identity theft. They also provide useful information about reporting a fraud what steps to take if your identity is stolen, and what your rights are as a victim of identity theft. See:
- Identity Theft Resource Center: https://www.idtheftcenter.org/, 1-888-400-5530 (English and Spanish)
- Federal Trade Commission: https://www.identitytheft.gov
Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes
Fraud victims have the option of placing a temporary fraud alert on their credit report.
Fraud alerts ensure that creditors contact a person before any new accounts are opened in his/her name, or when changes are made to his/her existing accounts. Only people who have had their identity stolen, or who suspect it may have been stolen, may place fraud alerts.
To create a temporary Fraud Alert, contact one of the three major credit bureaus:
- Equifax: http://www.equifax.com; 800-525-6285
- Experian: http://www.experian.com; 888-397-3742
- TransUnion: http://www.transunion.com; 800-680-7289
The credit bureau you contact will place alerts with the other two credit bureaus. After placing an alert, a victim is entitled to ask for a free copy of credit reports from all three major credit bureaus.
Fraud alerts are mainly effective in preventing new credit accounts from being opened in a victim’s name. They are not likely to stop thieves from using a victim’s existing accounts or from opening new accounts, especially those for which credit is not checked. Furthermore, businesses can still check a victim’s credit report when a fraud alert is in place.
There are two types of fraud alerts:
- Initial Fraud Alert. If you’re concerned about potential identity theft, this fraud alert will protect a potential victim’s credit from unverified access for at least 90 days. You may want to place a fraud alert on behalf of a victim if their wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial, or account information was lost or stolen. In many scams, victims provide personal identifying information such as Social Security numbers, date of birth, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, etc.—often from the mistaken belief that the scam perpetrator is legitimate—in hopes of winning a lottery, assisting a ‘romantic partner’, or helping a loved one they believe may have been hurt or arrested overseas. Victims of such scams are vulnerable to being victimized through other scams i. Such scams often include identity theft, including the filing of tax refunds impersonating the victim. Taking steps to protect one’s credit and financial identity can be critical.
- Extended Fraud Alert. An extended fraud alert will protect the credit of an identity theft victim for up to seven years.
Credit Freezes prevent potential creditors and other third parties from accessing a victim’s credit report, unless a victim lifts the freeze or already has a relationship with the company. Some consumers use credit freezes because they feel this option provides more protection.
We would like to acknowledge the Los Angeles Scam Working Group and Bet Tzedek, whose research informed this article.