If you don’t use credit and never go online, you don’t have to worry about identity theft, right? Many seniors may feel that philosophy applies to them –
and they couldn’t be more wrong.
The very qualities that make some seniors feel safe – a tendency to not use credit much, operating on a cash basis and avoiding technology – make identity
thieves view seniors as very appealing targets, credit experts warn.
“Anyone with a Social Security number needs to be aware of the risk of identity theft,” says Jennifer Leuer, general manager, ProtectMyID.com. “Seniors,
however, should be especially vigilant about identity theft protection, because they are often a preferred target of identity thieves and scammers.”
While identity theft can happen to anyone at any age, seniors may be at greater risk for a number of reasons, including:
Many states display social security numbers on Medicare cards. Even if your card is never lost or stolen, enterprising thieves may be able to snatch
the number when you show your card for a legitimate purpose.
- Seniors often have more to steal than people of other demographics. They tend to carry higher cash reserves and home equity than other age groups.
- Seniors may be less technologically savvy, and may be more likely to respond to scams because they haven’t researched them online.
Seniors may feel less need to closely monitor their credit reports and financial accounts because they tend to use credit less. Identity thieves know
that it may be months – or even years – before senior victims check their credit reports and discover they’ve been defrauded.
Seniors’ personally identifying information may be exposed to more people through extended caregiver networks, nursing homes, doctor’s offices and
other service organizations.
Seniors are more likely to trust official-looking emails and open unsolicited communications and click on links that could lead to malware or phishing
Common forms of senior identity theft include check fraud, credit card fraud, phone or e-mail solicitations, social networking schemes and Social Security
fraud. Fortunately, there are many ways seniors can protect themselves, or adult children can help protect their aging parents, from identity theft.
Never carry your Social Security card with you. If your Medicare card has your Social Security number on it, make a photocopy of the card and black out
everything but the last four digits of your number with a permanent marker. Carry the copy whenever you need to show the card.
- Carry only the checks you will need for a specific use on any day. Leave your checkbook at home in a secure location.
Pick up checks at the bank to avoid having them stolen from your mailbox. Better yet, set up direct deposit with the Social Security Administration and
any retirement accounts that you regularly draw on such as pensions or IRAs.
Don’t mail bills or any documents with identifying information from your home mailbox. Learn to pay bills online, if possible, or mail bills and other
paperwork from a secure mailbox at the post office.
For seniors who live in assisted care facilities, always lock up financial statements and any items, including computers, which contain personal
information. There are too many people with access to rooms in these facilities to leave sensitive information out for anyone to see.
Use an updated cross-cut or diamond-cut shredder to shred all personal and financial records before you throw them away. It’s a good idea to complete a
thorough inventory of all old files – receipts, financial statements, taxes – shred the ones that are no longer needed and secure the ones that are.
Consider using an identity monitoring product that gives you identity theft protection, like ProtectMyID.com. The product monitors your credit report
on a daily basis and alerts you to activity on your credit accounts. And, with one phone call to a specially-trained fraud resolution agent, you can
report all your cards lost or stolen and they’ll contact the credit card companies for you. And if you do become a victim of identity theft, you’ll
have a designated fraud resolution agent by your side through the whole process of resolving the situation. You can learn more at www.ProtectMyID.com.
Know who to call. You can opt out of credit card offers – which thieves may use to steal your identity – by calling (888) 567-8688. If you believe your
Social Security number may have been compromised, call the Social Security Administration fraud line at (800) 269-0271.