Identity theft is a growing concern for most people, but seniors have increasingly become specific targets for this type of theft. Tax returns and medical statements often turn out to be the source of vulnerability.
There are several reasons why seniors are more likely to become victims of identity theft. One reason is that seniors are more likely to have paid off mortgages and other loans and carry less debt than younger groups, which makes them a lower risk as means of obtaining fraudulent credit.
Another is that seniors typically don’t check credit reports as often as younger people who may be considering a new car or credit card and are concerned with their credit rating. Thus seniors are less likely to spot signs of identity theft, giving the thieves more time to generate profit.
Tips to help seniors avoid identity theft
1. Don’t carry your Medicare card
Leave it at home in a safe place and make a copy with the Social Security number blocked out.
2. Don’t give personal information over the phone
Seniors are the primary targets of phone scammers. Don’t give out or “verify” your sensitive information with callers pretending to represent a creditor or government organization. They should already know this information.
3. Safeguard personal information
Don’t carry sensitive information around in your purse, wallet, or vehicle. Leave any papers with insurance information, social security numbers, bank accounts, etc., at home unless you absolutely need it. Keep your important paperwork in a lockbox in a safe location.
4. Use a shredder
Shred any financial or insurance statements you don’t need to keep, such as bills, receipts, canceled checks, and credit card statements. This includes anything that has PIN numbers or Social Security numbers. If you don’t have a shredder, you can purchase one cheaply at most department or office supply stores. Also be sure to cut up expired licenses and credit or debit cards. Never leave receipts at the store, bank, ATM, or gas station.
5. Protect your digital activity
Take steps to protect your computer and online transactions. Install software such as antivirus, anti-malware, and anti-spyware to prevent malicious programs that steal information from infecting your computer. Choose strong passwords – a mix of letters in both upper and lower cases, digits, and symbols- for all online accounts and change them frequently. Don’t use something easy to guess, such as a pet’s name or your birthday. Never send personal information through email or respond to emails asking you to verify personal information.
6. Be wary when traveling
When out of town, consider bringing along a laptop or tablet, or purchasing a Wi-Fi hotspot, so you can check your accounts for suspicious activity even while away from home. Ask the post office to put a hold on mail, or ask a friend or neighbor to pick it up, as piled-up mail is a sure sign that someone is away.
7. Check your credit
Seniors with no interest in new loans or credit cards don’t worry about their credit score. However, that’s the best way to spot potential identity theft. Obtain a free credit report every few months and look it over for possible fraud, or sign up for a credit monitoring service to alert you if someone applies for credit in your name.
One of the best ways to protect yourself is to enlist the services of a company that provides ongoing identify theft protection (http://www.thesimpledollar.
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