After Amy Wang’s husband’s identity was stolen in 2016, they spent the better half of the year trying to recover their credit. Someone had redirected their mail and stolen tax documents that contained sensitive personal information, and then proceeded to take out — and max — a number of credit cards (at KMart, Bloomingdale’s, and Macy’s) in her husband’s name. Now, Wang worries that her teenage children are equally at risk — and she’s right to be concerned.
Of the 15.4 million consumers that had their identities stolen in 2016, minors comprised approximately 1 million of them. Children are targeted because nobody is checking their credit scores — most don’t have credit reports at all, so there’s no need to check them –, so no one has any idea of what has happened until the child comes of age and applies for a credit card or a loan themselves; this allows fraudsters to continue sprees without being detected for years.
The technique is relatively simple, which makes it all the more despicable. Fraudsters use childrens’ personal information to create new credit reports, and then (if they’re playing the long con) make many small purchases — and pay off their monthly bills — until their credit limit is increased. Once they reach a sufficient amount, they go on a spending spree and abandon the card.
“They do a ‘bust out’ once they have access to a large amount of credit,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of ID Theft Center. “They don’t pay, then walk away, leaving a 10-year-old with this awful credit profile that’s not theirs.”
The resulting damage can last throughout a good portion of their newly-attained adulthood, equating to more loss and higher out-of-pocket fees than adult victims. However, the elderly are just as at risk as their miniature counterparts, if not more so.
With over 10,000 people reaching the age of 65 every day in this country, the need to be informed about credit card fraud and identity theft in elderly communities is more important than ever. While many adults and young adults are aware of applications that allow them to easily access and request their credit card information and scores, most elderly people are still very much analog — think about the number of older people you know who still use their checkbook to keep track of their bank account balance.
Additionally, many are unaware of the various ploys and manipulations fraudsters use to gain access to personally identifiable information. For example, technology has become available (for those criminally inclined) that can read the magnetic strip — which contains personal details such as account numbers and names — on your credit card. Known as credit card skimmers, these tools can be installed in places that are usually considered safe, such as gas stations and ATM machines.
The best way to keep your relatives, both young and old, safe from such a debilitating risk is to simply stay informed. Teach your parents what schemes may be legitimate and what may be plots to obtain sensitive information, and put a credit freeze (which lets you restrict access to your credit report, making it harder for fraudsters to create new accounts in your name) on your children’s credit reports.