You get a call from your frantic aging parent. He just opened the telephone bill to find enormous unauthorized charges on it for calls to a foreign country. A check bounces from an account that should have had plenty of money in it for Mom’s needs. She is panicked. It can be a sickening feeling to find out that someone has taken your vulnerable aging parent’s identity and run up thousands of charges on the charge card. What should you do? They turn to you for help.
First, contact the police department and report the crime. You may need a police report to verify the date you discovered the theft. Without it, you may be questioned and denied your request that charges be reversed or that your aging parent not be charged for fraudulent purchases.
Next, immediately close any account you believe has been or may be affected. The bank or credit card company can place a fraud alert on your aging parent’s bank account right away, making it easier to stop or catch the thieves when they try to access it again. You can prevent further damage by ending access to bank accounts which may not yet have been hit. Request a new credit card number and new account number right away. Change the PIN numbers and passwords for all accounts.
Contact the fraud department of the three major credit reporting agencies to have fraud alerts placed on their credit files. Thieves may apply for a loan in your parent’s name, or try to make a major purchase. The thief may try to use the stolen identity again, and law enforcement has a chance against them if you take this step.
If someone tries to steal your aging parent’s identity, it may show up as any unauthorized charge on any charge card. The statements need to be reviewed carefully each month to be sure your aging parent has indeed charged the items listed. If your elder can’t remember what she charged, it may be time to arrange for the credit card company to set a very low credit limit on the card, or for you to take over the responsibility of the credit card, and remove it from your parent’s control. This is especially true for aging parents with significant memory loss, who can’t keep track of what they’ve bought. Inability to remember what is a proper charge on a credit card bill and what is not is a clear danger sign that your parent is losing the ability to manage money alone. Will you get resistance? Of course. Be ready for it. Being firm about protecting your aging parent is the only way to keep him or her safe.
Still worried about what might happen if identity theft happens to Mom or Dad? Consider getting them to purchase identity theft insurance. It is an excellent way to protect our aging parents. Some insurers now offer this protection as a part of their homeowners’ insurance. If your parents are homeowners, ask their insurer if this kind of policy is available. Stand alone policies for identity theft are available from credit card companies, banks, and insurance brokers. The average cost, according to Stephen Maskaleris, an attorney specializing in representing injured individuals in Florham Park, New Jersey, is $25 to $50 per year for $15,000 to $25,000 worth of coverage.