Identity occurs when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission for some sort of financial gain. It’s a serious crime and on the rise. Although, anyone can become a victim of identity theft, older people are often viewed as prime targets. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft has been the number one complaint for more than five years in a row. Even more notable is the shift in who is filing the complaints — from young adults in their early-to-late 20s to older adults ages 50 years and older.
Why are seniors prime targets for identity theft?
There are a couple of reasons older adults fall victim to identity theft. Frankly, older adults are expected to have more money, less debt and a well established credit history as compared to their younger counterparts. Other contributing factors — they share their personal identifying information more often by going to the doctor or living in senior / retirement communities. As well, older adults are often thought to be more naive or less likely to report due to embarrassment or fear of losing their independence.
How do identity thieves steal personal identifying information?
- Dumpster Diving. They rummage through your trash in search of anything that has your personal information printed on it.
- Skimming. They capture and store information from the magnetic strip on your credit card with a “skimmer” — a small device placed at otherwise legitimate transaction sites.
- Phishing. They impersonate legitimate financial institutions and send fraudulent emails asking you to update your personal information. It’s an online con – be wary of pop-ups and unsolicited emails.
- Change your address. They change your address to reroute billing / account information.
- Pretexting. They do their research to obtain a small piece of your personal information — name, telephone number, mailing address — then call you to bait you into revealing more sensitive personal information — social security number, bank account information or credit card number.
What do they do with your personal information once they have it?
- Go on a spending spree.
- Drain your bank accounts, transfer money or steal your assets.
- Apply for government documents — state ID, driver’s license or social security card.
- Open new accounts — bank, mobile phone or utility.
- Apply for a loan.
- Buy a house or car.
- File a fraudulent tax return.
- Get a job, rent a house or medical services.
- Commit a crime and give your name and personal information when arrested.
How can I tell if my identity has been stolen?
- Unexplained withdrawals from your bank account.
- Calls from debt collectors about debts that you didn’t accrue.
- Merchants don’t accept your checks
- The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return has been filed in your name.
- You are arrested for a crime you didn’t commit.
- You are billed for medical services that you didn’t use.
What can you do to protect yourself from identity theft?
There’s a great deal you can do to protect yourself from falling victim to identity theft. Awareness and prevention are the best defense. Here are a few simple tips to help you keep your identity safe.
- Don’t carry your Social Security or Medicare cards in your purse or wallet. Keep them safe and secure at home.
- Shred everything with personal identifiable information — receipts, bills, mail, bank statements, etc. — before you trash it.
- Don’t give personal identifiable information to anyone over the phone or online.
- Don’t carry your checkbook.
- Only share your medical information with certified medical professionals.
- Keep your medical records safe and secure.
- Check your credit report at least once a year.
- Protect your personal computer with anti-virus software.
- Make sure your caregivers and family members involved in you care are trustworthy.