Technology and other high-tech advances have improved our lives tremendously, but at the same time, it has left us in a position where our personal information can be compromised, especially for older adults. Identity thieves specifically target seniors because they consider them to be vulnerable and easy targets to extract money from using their tax returns or even medical care.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the highest percentage of consumer complaints in 2012 were about identity theft. Consumers who are 60 or older accounted for 19 percent of all complaints the agency has received on the subject. Compare that to two years earlier when this age group accounted for 13 percent of all ID theft complaints a six percent increase.
There are several reasons why seniors are at higher-risk of ID theft than their younger counterparts. Two of the top reasons according to the FTC include:
- Low-risk Seniors are more likely to have paid off all their loans, have good credit and or less debt than other age groups. With a low risk for creditors, criminals applying for credit using older victims information is more likely to be approved.
- Credit report Many seniors do not check their credit reports as younger groups do when applying for cars, homes, credit cards etc. Without frequently checking a credit report, criminals can easily charge credit cards, take out loans using a seniors identity without he or she even knowing it until the situation becomes dire and complicated to reverse.
Identity theft is clearly on the rise, and there are specific steps you can take to ensure you’re not taken for a ride with your identity:
- Seniors are frequently targeted by phone scammers looking to extract their personal information. Don’t respond to calls asking for your social security, Medicare, credit card numbers, general information or any other type of personal questions that will compromise your identity. If a creditor or organization seemingly needs your personal information, hang up and verify the phone number and legitimacy of the caller before returning the call.
- Make a copy of your Medicare card and block out the last four digits of your Social Security number to carry in your wallet. If your wallet is lost or stolen, no one can get your full Social Security number.
- If you dont have a shredder, purchase one. Shred everything you dont want to keep, such as documents that have account information, Social Security numbers, PINS, or sensitive information including credit card statements or receipts, unused checks, canceled checks, bills, and credit reports. Destroy expired drivers licenses, credit cards and never leave receipts at gas pumps, bank machines, bank counters, or in trash cans.
- Protecting your computer and Internet activity is vital to avoid cyber thieves. Make sure you have a reliable and strong firewall and antivirus software to prevent cyber-programs from stealing your personal information.
- Use unique passwords for your computer including any online accounts you may have and change them frequently. A strong password includes a mix of numbers, symbols, and both upper and lower-case letters. Don’t use your birthday, pets name or anything else that can easily be guessed.
- Be sure to never send personal information through email and don’t respond to emails that request your personal information.
- Check your credit score on a regular basis. You can request a free credit report by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com from each of the credit bureaus, or utilize a credit monitoring service that will do this for you to ensure no suspicious activity occurs.
If your identity is stolen, fill out the FTCs ID Theft Affidavit that most credit card companies and three credit bureaus accept to report the theft. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.