Identify theft is an unfortunate reality of our times, and seniors can be especially vulnerable to this life-altering crime. If you’re a senior yourself or are helping care for an elderly friend or family member, there are a number of things you can do to protect personal information from falling into the hands of the wrong people.
Minimize Mail – Credit card and insurance offers pre-printed with the recipient’s information are a gold mine for identity thieves. Eliminate that possibility all together by opting out of receiving these kinds of offers through the mail. Call 1-888-567-8688 or visit optoutprescreen.com to keep those offers from coming.
Avoid Telemarketers – In addition to being annoying, calls from telemarketers (or outright scammers) can put seniors’ personal information at risk. Never volunteer information such as Social Security numbers or bank account details over the phone. If someone calls claiming to be from a bank or credit card company and asks for account information, hang up and do some research to verify the call is legitimate. Avoid telemarketing calls by registering for the National Do Not Call list at 1-888-382-1222 or visiting donotcall.gov.
Don’t Carry Important Documents – Seniors should not carry important documents such as a Social Security or Medicare card. Make a copy of the Medicare card and use a thick black marker to cross out all but the last four digits of the Social Security number. Keep the original cards stored in a secure place.
Shred Sensitive Documents – Use a cross-cut shredder to shred any documents containing personal information including: name and address, Social Security number, account and pin numbers and banking information. That includes things like unused or canceled checks, receipts and copies of credit reports. Take a look at this guide that explains how long to keep certain documents.
Be Extra Careful Online – Take extra care when shopping or banking online. Use only a secure wi-fi signal and avoid public computers or wi-fi hotspots for these purposes. Ensure the computer has active and up-to-date virus protection installed. Also learn to spot “phishing” emails that attempt to solicit personal information. Remember, a bank, credit union, credit card company or any other legitimate financial institution will never ask you to share personal information, account numbers or a Social Security number via email.
Keep an Eye on Credit – Remember to check your credit report annually and look for anything that appears out of line. Visit annualcreditreport.com to order one free credit report annually from each of the three credit bureaus. If there’s a concern that personal information has been compromised, place a 90-day fraud alert on the credit report with each credit bureau:
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
Then follow these detailed identity theft recovery steps listed on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.