Identity Theft: Seniors and Apartments

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Identity Theft.  It’s been around for ages, but has certainly gotten much more prevalent in the Internet Age. Just like my recent post on Internet Security, ID theft can be a real mess to clean up, but taking some precautions will definitely help mitigate problems.

Consider these two stories.  ‘Bill’ is a 84-years young widower.  He lives part time in Florida in a retirement community and ‘Summers’ with his family in Virginia.
Tom is a 44-year older divorced father of a young son who lives in a MegaComplex in Houston, TX.


No one is quite sure how it happened, but Bill’s Checking account was hacked.  He does have a habit of downloading just about anything on his computer, not really thinking about who sent it or what it’s really about. Consider the forwarded from GodKnowsWho the joke about… (fill in the blank).  Anyway, he initially became aware of it when he received a credit card bill from a Retail Chain that caters to women.  His wife passed away a few years earlier and did not shop there, so he was a little confused.  Fortunately, his daughter (he lives with them) also saw the bill and did a little digging.

Long story short… someone opened the credit card in his name.  At 84, he’s not as sharp as he used to be, and if it wasn’t for her, this might have gotten worse.  She found out that there were two wire transfers from his Checking account.  One for a little over $100, then a few days later, closer to $3,000.  Yes, the first one was a test and the second the ‘big Score’.  When his daughter found out the transfer originated in one of the Large Mega Banks (LMB), she called my daughter, who works for the LMB.  From both sides, they were able to determine that the thief hoodwinked yet ANOTHER person into doing the wire transfer as a Craigslist scam.  This person was ‘paying the bills for a military person who as overseas’.  During the investigation, it was uncovered that the LMB didn’t check for a picture ID when the transfer was initiated.  Fortunately, he was able to get all of his money reimbursed from LMB.

Lesson Learned #1

As your relatives become a little more advanced in age, or have some type of mental decline, keep an eye on them.  Thankfully, he was living with his daughter’s family when the bill came.  If he had been in his Winter home in Florida, we have no idea how far this could have gotten.  His daughter now has access to all of his financials, credit card accounts, etc.  She is trustworthy so everyone feels comfortable with this arrangement.  If possible, routinely check their computers for virus’ and spyware. It’s very easy to do and can save a ton of headaches later.

I spoke with Bill about the problem and it didn’t just affect him.  Several of his family members had checking or savings accounts ‘linked’ to his account.  This made transferring money to and from accounts more convenient than writing a check and taking it to the credit union. As a result of his experience, several other family members changed their accounts as well.  This meant closing their old accounts, opening new ones, ordering checks, changing direct deposits, automated credit card payments….. just think about all of the transactions that are done automatically through your checking account.  Each one of those organizations had to be contacted and information changed.  And you just know they missed somebody.. and paid an overdraft fee.

I also asked him
Joe: “Bill, how many credit cards do you have?”
Bill: “I don’t know, a dozen or so”
Joe: “Why don’t you just close some of those cards.. just keep one?”
Bill: “I’ve heard closing a large number of cards at once can hurt your credit score”
Joe: “That’s true, but it only matters if you’re really needing to get a new loan. Do you plan on buying another house or car?”
Bill: “I’m 84 years old, why do I need either of those?”
Joe: “Exactly”
Bill:  “Hmm… I’m gonna have to think about that”


 The Mailbox Pull

Tom has recently been hounded by Debt Collectors.  His is a slightly different story, but offers a good lesson.

After getting the call from the Debt Collector, he’s told he owes $30k on a credit card he’s had for 20 years.  The card hasn’t been used in probably 10 years, but he keeps it around for credit score purposes.  Tom lives in an apartment complex in Houston yet receives his mail at a PO Box. If you’ve seen some of the complex’ in Houston, these are like small cities with thousands of units and central ‘Cluster Boxes’ for mail.  He’s lived in this particular unit for a few years, but has been in several apartment complex’ in Houston over the past 20 years or so. For consistency, he pays for the PO Box and all of his billing addresses are to that  address.

While he did his investigation with the Credit Card company, the confirmed that a ‘Convenience Check’ had been cashed for $30k.

Tom – “I didn’t sign the check. Can you send me a copy of the signed check?”
CC – “No, we don’t have that on file”
Tom – “Where was the check deposited, into a bank I’d guess, right?”
CC – “Yes, we show that it was”
Tom – “Was the Banking account in my name?”
CC – “Why, no, it wasn’t”
Tom – “What is the billing address you have on file for me?”
CC – “PO Box.. 123 Houston”
Tom – “Where was the check mailed?”
CC – “Apt 666 Houston Tx”
Tom – “Are you getting the picture?”
CC – “Let me speak to my supervisor”
Super CC – “It does seem that this is a fraudulent activity”
Tom – “Then call off the Debt Collector!”
Super CC – “I’m sorry, we can’t do that. The debt was sold”

While Tom’s story was based on a Mailbox Pull in a giant apartment complex, this could just as easily been done from the mailbox in front of your house. A car driving by just needs to slow down a bit, reach in and take off.  Paranoid?

Lesson #2

Contact any of the Credit Card companies you do business with and tell them in writing, that you do not wish to have any Cash Advance Checks sent.  Ask them to send you a confirmation letter indicating they will comply.


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