October 01, 2020

Seniors Beware of Voting ID Theft Scams

The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 42, Issue 1.)

People over age 65 continue to show up at the polls far more than any other age group. In the 2016 presidential election, for example, 71 percent of Americans over 65 voted.[1]  That amounts to over 33 million votes. A majority of older voters view heading to the polls on election day as a life-long civic duty. But as concerns mount over in-person voting in a pandemic in the presidential election on November 3, many older adults are likely to vote by absentee ballot, some for the first time. 

Most states are making absentee balloting the norm this election year. Eight states, plus Washington, D.C., will mail ballots to 38 million voters, according to The New York Times. Absentee voting is allowed in another 34 states, affecting 120 million voters. In the remaining eight states, comprised of 50 million voters, an excuse is required for absentee voting. In total, at least three quarters of American voters will be eligible to receive a ballot in the mail for the 2020 general election.[2]

The combination of millions of seniors voting absentee, the logistical challenges faced by states attempting to accommodate the tidal wave of absentee ballots, and the undercutting of the U.S. Postal Service to deliver mail on time creates a perfect storm for con artists to target older Americans in schemes to steal their identities and money.

It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up a few scenarios:

  • A fake but official-looking government-issued envelope arrives in the mail, claiming to be an absentee ballot request and instructing the individual to complete a form requiring their Social Security number, date of birth, and even their bank account number. The instructions say a $10 administrative fee will be drawn to cover costs due to the pandemic. Even if a bank account number isn’t requested, the swindler has the means to open credit cards and other accounts in the person’s name, among other crimes.
  • Individuals receive a phone call allegedly from the county election office, or the Republican or Democratic Party, claiming to offer assistance to expedite one’s absentee ballot to ensure it arrives before election day. All that is required is your Social Security number and bank account number so that they can be paid a mere $5 service fee.
  • The above scenarios may even provide an official looking ballot for the individual to complete as part of the special service being provided, so the voter may erroneously believe she has voted.

To prevent these and other similar scenarios, it’s important to warn and educate older voters about the absentee balloting process. While the process varies according to jurisdiction, there are a few “do’s and don’t’s” that need to be broadcast through every means possible.

  • DON’T complete an absentee ballot request or an absentee ballot without confirming that it is legitimate. Call your local election board or confirm its mailing instructions on the election board’s web page.
  • DON’T trust any offer to expedite the processing of an absentee ballot for a fee. There should never be fees associated with voting.
  • DON’T trust any phone solicitation to assist or process your absentee ballot. 
  • DO call your local election board if you need assistance with absentee balloting.
  • DO report any suspicious mail or solicitations regarding absentee balloting to your local election office.
  • DO be sure to exercise your right to vote. Your vote makes a difference.

Here are a few resources:

* To confirm the legitimacy of the absentee ballot mailed to you or to report suspected wrongdoing, contact your local election office or your local Secretary of State Office election division. Find yours through the National Association of Secretaries of State at www.nass.org.

*To report  identity theft perpetrated by mail, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at uspis.gov.

*To report identity theft by phone, contact the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau, Voting in America: A Look at the 2016 Presidential Election, https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2017/05/voting_in_america.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/08/11/us/politics/vote-by-mail-us-states.html