Forum looks to help seniors avoid becoming ID theft victims

SIERRA VISTA — When it comes to fraud, financial exploitation and other forms of abuse, seniors are often silent victims.

Breaking the Silence of Elder Abuse, a day-long forum presented by Cochise County Elder Abuse Prevention and co-hosted by Sierra Vista Parks & Leisure Services, drew a steady stream of participants to the Ethel Berger Center on Wednesday.

Vince Rabago, left, assistant attorney general for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office; Jim Riley, Superior Court Division 3, retired; and Cochise County Attorney Ed Rheinheimer, right, chat prior to Wednesday’s Report Elder Abuse meeting at the Ethel Berger Community Center. The three attorneys were guest speakers. (Mark Levy•Herald/Review) The event, held in observance of International Elder Abuse Awareness Week, consisted of seven one-hour sessions, each with a different emphasis.

While open to the public, the seminar attracted a number of agencies, caregivers and health care professionals.

Nancy Krieski’s personal story of family members who took financial advantage of older parents put a face on a serious exploitation issue. It’s a problem that crosses all socioeconomic levels, from low income to upper class families.

“People were thrilled with the information that she presented,” said Megan Sneary, a supervisor for Parks & Leisure Services.

“She told a very moving story and was informative about where to turn when these kinds of things happen. She discussed the agencies that helped with the problem and talked about the good support she got from the different agencies.”

In a session called “Financial Exploitation : Identity Theft and the Involvement of Meth,” state Assistant Attorney General Vincent Rabago dovetailed a presentation with Cochise County Attorney Edward Rheinheimer.

Both presenters provided tips to help lower the risk of identity theft, along with what steps to take to minimize the financial damage if identity theft happens.

“The key to preventing identity theft is found in your credit report,” Rabago said. “If you are the victim of identity theft, you need to act quickly and report the crime immediately, so watching your credit report is one way to catch problems early.”

In 2007, there were nearly 10,000 cases of identity theft reported in Arizona. But not all the cases get reported.

“Many seniors are embarrassed to report these crimes,” Rabago said.

Identity thieves obtain personal information through a number of avenues.

Credit card theft, stealing mail, wallets, purses or debit cards and by finding information on the Internet are just some of the ways a person’s identity is stolen. Rabago presented a number of red flags for recognizing identity theft and discussed the importance of requesting credit reports on regular basis.

There are three credit report bureaus that are required by law to provide consumers with a free credit report once a year. Rabago and Rheinheimer advise taking advantage of the free service by requesting a report at different times of the year, staggering the different agencies. It’s the best way to spot problems early, before they spiral out of control.

Rheinheimer talked about how crimes involving identity theft are directly correlated with drug use.

“Methamphetamine is a huge problem in Arizona,” he said. “If you know someone who is using meth, it’s as if they’ve been taken over by an alien. It completely changes the person. Don’t trust anyone who has been using this drug.”

He gave a number of tips that people should to take to protect themselves.

“When people have service providers in their home doing a job, they need to stay with them to ensure the person does not have access to areas of the home (such as offices or files) where important personal information is stored.”

There are cases where elderly people fall victim to identity theft when service providers have full access to the person’s home.

Both presenters agree that acting quickly is vital when a person’s identity is stolen. It’s the best way to stop the crime from spiraling out of control, causing devastating financial damage.

Sierra Vista Councilman Tom Reardon, who attended some of the forum’s sessions, said, “We have to make sure our elderly community is treated fairly, and forums such as this one help raise public awareness about different issues that the elderly face.”

WHAT IF MY ID IS STOLEN?

According to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, there are three important steps people need to take when their identity is stolen.

• File a report with the local police department and, if the identity theft did not take place within the person’s area, file another report with the police from the area where the theft took place.

• Close all accounts that have been tampered with or opened without the person’s consent. The longer the thief has access to the accounts, the more money can be stolen.

• The person will need to place a fraud alert on their credit file and carefully review their credit report.

There are three major credit bureaus that are required by law to provide consumers one free credit report annually. If one of the three credit bureaus is given a fraud alert, it is required to contact the other two. However, to ensure that the alert is included on a credit file as quickly as possible, it’s best to contact all three credit bureaus immediately.

The three bureaus are:

• Equifax

www.equifax.com

P.O. Box 740256

Atlanta GA 30374-0241

1-888-766-0008

• Experian

www.experian.com

P.O. Box 9532

Allen TX 75013

1-888-397-3742

• Transunion

www.transunion.com

Fraud Victim Assistance Division

P.O. Box 6790

Fullerton CA 92834-6790

1-800-680-7289

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