Here are some steps you should take if you suspect credit fraud or identity theft with an elderly relative.
Q: I have the power of attorney for my grandmother who lives in Texas. I, however, live in Atlanta. I’ve input the information I have for her and attempted to access her free credit report and history but I receive error message and can’t view her free credit report from any of the credit reporting bureaus. I went to AnnualCreditReport.com.
I suspect that fraud or identity theft has occurred, most likely by a family member that lives with my grandmother so I have not requested a report by mail. Any suggestions on how I can obtain the report?
Also, I am unsure of where and how to begin to manage the mess of her finances. I could use assistance with establishing short and long term financial goals and a budget. Is there a service that you recommend?
A: You went to the right site to get her free credit report. But you have to have sufficient knowledge of your grandmother’s finances and personal information to obtain a credit report for her. I would suggest you pay her a visit in Texas, sit down with her to go over her finances, and then try to access her free credit report.
While you are sitting together, you’ll be able to talk about her money and find out a little more about what might be going on at home.
If you suspect fraud, you’ll have to get more proof than the simple inability to access her credit report online. You should go over her financial records, review her credit card and bank statements, and make sure no one has put a lien against the property.
If you find fraud, there are important steps you should take to protect her and her assets: You might want to report it to the authorities, which will allow you to obtain a police report and freeze your grandmother’s credit history with the three credit bureaus. (You can file a 90-dayt fraud report with one credit reporting agency which will temporarily freeze her credit history at all of the credit reporting bureaus.) These days elder abuse, including financial fraud, is taken rather seriously by the authorities.
You can also contact the IRS and ask them to assign a PIN number for future electronic filings (fill out Form 14039), file an affidavit with the IRS advising them that she has been a victim of identity theft, change her bank account numbers and credit card numbers, and alert the Social Security department.
On the question of what to do with her finances, we’d suggest that you and she speak with a fee only financial planner. Fee only advisors only charge you for their time and don’t have a financial incentive to sell you a specific investment. You can search for a fee only financial advisor at GarrettPlanningNetwork.com.
If the assets you’re dealing with don’t justify the use of a fee only financial planner, you can get some financial advice at companies like Schwabb investments, Fidelity Investments and the like.
If you’re more of a do-it-yourself kind of person, there are a fair number of books out there to assist people in budgeting and setting financial goals. Ilyce has written a few and they are available at most major bookstores and online book retailers.