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Five Tips for Seniors to Guard Against Identity Theft

September 1, 2017

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America, and it’s on the rise especially for the senior population. Although anyone can be a victim of identity theft, scammers tend to prey on senior citizens who are often more trusting of strangers and may have accumulated more income over the years than the younger population.

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According to reports from the Federal Trade Commission, the percentage of seniors who have reported being victims of identity theft have risen from 30 percent in 2011 to 37 percent in 2013. Limiting use of a personal computer may not help as much as you might think. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, a study released by Javelin Strategy and Research in 2009 reported that most identity thefts were occurring offline, not online. The study also reported that 43 percent of all identity thefts are committed by someone the victim knows.

But seniors – and their caregivers – can take steps to protect themselves and their loved ones from becoming victims of fraud and identity theft.

  1. Understand how identity thieves get your personal information: they steal credit card payments and other outgoing mail from private, curbside mailboxes; they dig through the trash and dumpsters to find cancelled checks, credit card and bank statements, and preapproved credit card offers; they hack into computers to obtain personal records and steal the data; and they divert mail to gather personal and financial data by filing a change of address form in the victim’s name.
  2. Stay safe online: always use a secure website for credit card information – you can check if a site is secure by looking for a padlock symbol in the browser window; use strong passwords that cannot be easily guessed – a random mix of upper and lower-case letters, numbers and keyboard symbols is the best combination; commit all passwords to memory or use a password app – never write them down or carry them with you; avoid anything that is offered in an unsolicited or spam email and think twice before clicking any links in an email, even from someone you know; be wary of websites that offer prizes or giveaways – if it’s too good to be true, it probably is; and use one credit card dedicated for internet purchases only – it can be cancelled if there is any suspicious activity.
  3. Use identity theft protection services: sign up for an identity theft protection service which provides daily monitoring of personal information that is most often seized by identity thieves – AARP offers Identity Theft Protection from Trusted ID that has both individual and family plans. Members receive a discount.
  4. Protect your personal information: never give out your social security number; shred any documents containing personal information such as social security number, bank accounts, address, birth dates, etc.; disclose medical information only to verified physicians and medical professionals; be wary of so-called free medical or legal services that require personal information; never provide personal information or money to anyone who calls you – if you think the company or charity is legitimate, call them back using a phone number you know connects you to that company; never give personal information via email or through a link in an email – instead, go directly to the website of the company if you believe it to be a reputable company; check your credit reports at least once a year.
  5. Make sure your caregivers are trustworthy: over 40 percent of all identity thefts are committed by someone familiar and not by strangers. If you or someone you know needs caregivers in the home, conduct a background search or use a reputable company that performs background checks; make sure documents and other items containing personal and financial information are put away safely, such as a home safe or a safe deposit box at the bank – leaving mail or a checkbook on the kitchen counter increases the risk of fraud or identity theft; and be on the lookout for any kind of suspicious behavior.

If you do become a victim of identity theft, report it right away to the Federal Trade Commission at identitytheft.gov – tell them what happened, get a recovery plan, and put the plan into place. The government website provides efficient checklists and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process.

For additional resources on Elder Fraud and Financial Exploitation, visit stopfraud.gov.

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