Identity theft is the most common form of fraud. Thieves gain access to personal and financial information to order credit cards, set up cellphone accounts, steal bank and tax return funds, make purchases, and much more. Unfortunately, the elderly and the disabled are frequent targets of identity theft due to their vulnerabilities and special needs. Sadly, thieves often pretend to be disabled as well, or raise funds for physically and mentally handicapped relatives or friends in order to make their targets feel safe and trusting of them.
There are nearly 50 million people in the United States identified as disabled, many of whom have been affected by fraudulent crimes along with their families. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the population of disabled Americans has increased each year of the past few decades due to an aging population and more women joining the workforce.
Criminals never cease finding new and inventive ways of stealing from others, be it money, personal information, or identity. It would incredibly difficult and time-consuming for consumers to remain informed of current trends in theft and fraud activities. Fortunately, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there are ways to help protect yourself against identity theft, including:
- Avoid cold communications. A large part of a fraudster’s operation is making contact, which usually comes as unsolicited phone calls, emails, mailers, or door-to-door visits. These communications often state there is a problem with one of your accounts, and request you provide your account and access information in order to investigate the problem. Do not provide this information. Legitimate businesses never ask for this information, nor do they direct you to a website or phone number to contact and provide your information. If you are unsure, ask for some form of verification of who the person is and contact the bank or other business they claim to represent to confirm the person’s identification.
- Do not provide information. Avoid giving out personal information, such as banking, tax-related information, and your Social Security number. Those committing fraud often push or rush you to supply the information in order to quickly gain access and prevent you asking questions or contacting others. Ask the caller for contact information so you may call back to confirm the requests are legitimate. Callers who are legitimate will provide you with a way to verify their identity and a method of contact.
- Search phone numbers. Criminals can easily spoof caller identification so the phone number displayed on your screen may not necessarily be the number from which they are calling. If you do not recognize a phone number, or want to verify a number after answering, there are many online methods of searching information related to the phone number. You can also search the company name the caller provided to see if they are a real business. Social Security and IRS scams are prevalent as well, but a quick search of scams for each entity will quickly provide information on current scams and tips to avoid fraud.
- Monitor all of your financial accounts. Regular reviews of all your financial accounts, credit card statements, credit reports, medical records, and any other personal accounts will allow you to spot fraudulent activity more quickly. If you discover suspicious activity, such as missing funds, out of sequence checks, or credit accounts you did not open, report the fraud immediately to the various businesses holding your accounts.
Criminals will always find new and more elaborate ways to defraud people, but trust your instincts.
How Does Identity Theft Affect Disabled Persons?
Being a victim of identity theft is frustrating and stressful, particularly when trying to repair the damage, but it can be especially devastating for people with disabilities, financially, emotionally, and physically.
Financial Toll of Identity Theft
Disabled individuals are often seen as easy targets in order for thieves to steal their disability benefits, even though most benefits are minimal. Sadly, one of the most common instances of identity theft of disability benefits is committed by family members or caregivers, who have access to the disabled person’s personal and financial information. Theft by family members or caregivers usually occurs over extended periods of time, as the thief is often the primary caregiver and trusted to oversee paying expenses, managing bank accounts, purchasing groceries and medications, and more.
Another scam to access disability benefits involves thieves impersonating themselves as a representative from government agencies, such as Medicare, Social Security, or the IRS. Scammers contact their targets and request their Social Security number, date of birth, or bank account information as part of a “routine confirmation” of the person’s identity to apply for additional disability benefits. In actuality, they will use the information to steal available funds and transfer the benefits to themselves.
Many crimes involve thieves offering participation in special programs that want to hire disabled persons to perform some sort of work for lucrative income. Scammers promise acceptance into the program, but they first need to collect an upfront fee in order to submit the application on behalf of the victim. Sometimes, the same scanners call back multiple times with additional fee requests related to another part of the application process, capturing even more money from the victim each time.
One of the most common scams, for disabled and non-disabled victims alike, are phone scams announcing the recipient has won a prize or cash lottery. Similar to the previous job scam, the caller claims in order to receive the prize or money, they must first pay the caller a fee to process the reward, often repeatedly over time. In other popular scams, the caller claims to be part of a charitable or community organization requesting donations to a fundraiser or a cause, often related to the person’s disability to seem more legitimate. Calls of this type increase in frequency following a natural disaster or catastrophe in order to appear more realistic. In addition to phone calls, scammers will also email, text, or send direct mailers to victims or create pop-up adds on social media in order to establish contact with their intended victims.
In addition to callers claiming to represent the government benefits agencies, there are many others who scam disabled persons in order to claim their disability benefits, including family members, caregivers, neighbors, friends, and many others.
Physical Toll of Identity Theft
The effects of being victimized on a disabled person’s health is often immediate and intense. The physical toll begins with the initial feelings of pressure and harassment scammers use in order to elicit personal and financial information, coupled with threats of losing money or benefits if they do not provide the information. Stress continues to build as the fraud escalates and can reach unhealthy levels when a victim realizes they have been scammed and have lost money or control of their benefits and bank accounts. Stress can be extremely dangerous as stress and anxiety magnify conditions, disabilities, and diseases for disabled persons.
Additionally, loss of financial resources often makes victims feel physically diminished and weakened and prevents them from seeking medical treatment, medicines, therapies, or groceries. Victims who were defrauded by scammers in person can be threatened with violence if they do not comply, causing overwhelming fear, trauma, and anxiety.
Emotional Toll of Identity Theft
The emotional toll resulting from being scammed or having their identity stolen can be devastating for disabled persons. Crimes of this nature are incredibly personal, causing some victims to feel responsible, embarrassed, and more. Falling prey to a scam causes individuals to feel diminished, with low self-esteem and shattered self-confidence. Many feel they no longer have a sense of security and unable to trust others or their own decision-making abilities.
Pittsburgh Identity Theft Attorneys at East End Trial Group Advocate for Disabled Persons Experiencing Identity Theft
Unfortunately, disabled persons are frequent targets of fraudsters. If you have experienced identity theft or other fraud, one of our experienced Pittsburgh identity theft attorneys at East End Trial Group can help you put an end to the fraud and recoup what is rightfully yours. Call us at 412-223-5740 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pittsburgh, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.