In New York, Identity Theft Is Elder Abuse

Erin Riker, Esq. – Technology-Based Legal Services Attorney

New York has recently enacted legislation that legally classifies identity theft against an older adult as elder abuse. Although identity theft has always been illegal, this legislation gives the Office for the Aging and non-governmental agencies additional authority to provide services for seniors who are victims of identity theft.

By amending NYS Executive Law to list identity theft specifically among the actions classified as elder abuse, New York will also begin providing educational information to the Office of the Aging and law enforcement agencies on identity theft. This will assist these agencies in identifying identity theft and providing the appropriate response, including support services wherever necessary.

Identity theft occurs when an individual accesses another’s personally identifying information, such as Social Security numbers, DMV information, or Medicare and Medicaid account information, in order to make financial transactions in that individual’s name without their permission. This could include gaining access to another person’s bank accounts, opening up fraudulent credit cards, taking out fraudulent auto loans, or obtaining insurance policies in another person’s name. While seniors aren’t the only victims of identity theft, they are much more susceptible to it and can face much greater consequences. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated seniors’ vulnerability to identity theft scams because of the isolation, fear, and confusion caused by this years-long crisis. Since many seniors require assistance with financial matters, more people have access to their personal information which creates additional opportunities for that information to be stolen. Additionally, seniors may be less able to withstand the financial consequences of identity theft if they are no longer employed and rely on retirement or government benefits. Identity theft can also make it more difficult to apply for government benefits such as Medicaid, which many seniors need to pay for nursing home care.

This legislation will make it easier for government agencies, law enforcement agencies, and non-profit organizations to assist seniors who are victims of identity theft. By providing additional education materials and authorizing more elder abuse-related support services, this will assist more seniors in being able to put their financial lives back together after having their identity stolen.

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