Many seniors have spent their lifetimes building credit and saving money for their golden years. However, a single financial misstep could put their savings in jeopardy or leave them vulnerable to identity theft or other types of fraud.
Identity thieves and fraudsters pose a serious threat to older Americans, especially those who suffer from dementia or live in long-term care, because their personal information is more readily available to third parties. Because of these risks, you may have to step in and offer support.
If a family member or close friend needs you to oversee his or her finances, consider taking these four steps to protect your loved one’s savings, credit and identity.
1. Get a signed Power of Attorney.
In order to legally access your loved one’s finances, and to ensure that he or she is not being financially compromised, you will need a Power of Attorney (POA).
Through a POA, which is a signed legal document, your loved one can authorize you to act on his or her behalf in order to make financial, medical, or other legal decisions while he or she is still alive. Equifax can accept a POA only if the document is notarized and contains language that you are authorized to handle the financial affairs, credit, and so on for that consumer.
2. Regularly monitor your loved one’s credit report.
You should regularly pull your loved one’s credit report to make sure it contains both current and accurate information.
To gain access to your loved one’s credit report, you will need to submit your lawfully executed and valid POA. To order the credit report, you will also need your loved one’s personally identifiable information, like full name, date of birth, Social Security number, and current address. You can access one free credit report every year from each of the three national credit reporting agencies through annualcreditreport.com.
Check to make sure your loved one’s personal information is accurate and that there are no issues or discrepancies on his or her credit accounts. Inaccuracies could occur if a credit company has not correctly reported payments—or they could be signs of identity theft.
You might also consider a subscription-based credit monitoring product if you need frequent access to your loved one’s credit report. With a credit monitoring product, you can regularly track your loved one’s credit and help protect his or her identity by monitoring at least one national credit report—and sometimes all three.
If your loved one is no longer credit active, the alerts you receive through a credit monitoring product might be a valuable resource, as you will be alerted any time a key change is made on his or her credit file. Though you are signing your loved one up for the credit monitoring product, you can have the alerts sent to your own email address or mobile device.
3. Keep track of your loved one’s credit card charges and bank account activity.
Because senior citizens are common targets for identity thieves and fraudsters, it’s important that you also stay up to date with your loved one’s finances, including credit card transactions and bank account activity.
Common scams that prey upon the elderly include Medicare fraud, where fake companies offer medical equipment or products in exchange for Medicare information; tax fraud, where thieves use personal information in order to steal tax returns; and phone scams, where fraudsters offer free giveaways or products to get a hold of personal and financial information.
With a credit monitoring product, you have the ability to set up financial alerts for specific credit card and bank accounts to more easily monitor activity. These alerts are timely, and you should receive them as soon as transactions go through, such as anytime a check is written from your loved one’s checking account or a charge is made on his or her credit card.
4. Help protect against identity theft.
Identity theft is one of the most prevalent types of fraud that affects seniors, so keep an eye out for identity theft red flags, like unauthorized transactions on bank statements or unfamiliar accounts on the credit report.
If you think your loved one may be a victim of identity theft, consider placing a fraud alert and security freeze on his or her credit file.
Watching a loved one deal with the memory loss, impaired mobility, and confusion associated with dementia is difficult. By taking these important steps, you can help secure the financial future of your family member or friend.
Diane Moogalian is vice president of operations for Equifax Personal Solutions with responsibility for operational strategy and execution in support of customer care and fulfillment of credit and identity-related products for consumers. Prior to joining Equifax in 2007, Diane held several strategic roles with leading financial services companies. Diane graduated from the University of Richmond with a bachelor of science degree in business administration (marketing and economics) and earned a certificate in international business from Virginia Commonwealth University.