Did you know that Identity Theft is a big threat to everybody; particularly to our senior population? Here are important tips and warning signs on how to avoid Identity Theft.
First of all. Keep only essential documents in your purse or wallet like your driver’s license, credit, debit and ATM cards. Memorize your Social Security card number and never carry it with you. A thief who steals your Social Security number can use it to get other personal information from you. Don’t keep a list of personal identification numbers or PINs in your purse or wallet, and never write your PIN on the card. Exercise caution by not routinely carrying documents with you, such as your passport or birth certificate. Keep these important documents in a safe deposit box or at home in a locked file cabinet. If you experience a burglary, jewelry and electronics aren’t the only valuables thieves might take. Personal documents can be worth much more.
Limit the information on your checks. Don’t have your driver’s license number or social security number imprinted on your personal checks to save time when you write one. It saves time and convenient — but it’s not smart. If those numbers fall into the wrong hands, you’re providing too much information to those who want to do you harm. Leave that information off of your personal checks, money orders, and cashier’s checks.
Watch those Peeping Toms. When entering your credit card or PIN number in an ATM machine, at a phone booth, on a computer, or while checking out at the cash register of a store, be aware of who is nearby and make sure no one is looking over your shoulder and watching what keys you are pressing. Keep your card hidden from the view of others.
Be careful when checking your statements. There are two benefits here. First, if you are careful about checking your bank and credit statements each month, you will be aware if one of them doesn’t arrive on time in the mail. That can alert you that perhaps someone stole it from your mailbox or while in transit. Second, you can ensure that the charges, purchases or other entries on the statement are legitimate and match up with your records so that you can quickly identify and address any questionable activity.
Receive your banking and credit statements online. For many, this is a worry-free and safer way to monitor banking and credit statements. You only need a computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone to sign up. If you don’t have one, just contact your financial institution for assistance.
Watch your mailbox. The mailbox next to your front door or at the end of your driveway is a thief’s treasure bounty. If you’re going away on vacation or for just a few days, arrange to have a relative, friend or neighbor pick up your mail, or have the post office temporarily stop delivery. If you don’t receive mail for a couple of days, contact your post office. Thieves are likely to file change-of-address forms to have your mail sent to another location, where they can then collect your personal and financial information, and steal your identity.
Shred everything. One of the ways that would be identity thieves acquire information is through dumpster-diving, aka trash-picking. If you are throwing out bills, credit card statements, ATM receipts, medical statements or even junk-mail solicitations from credit cards and mortgages, you may be leaving too much information lying around. Buy a personal shredder and shred this information. If you don’t have a shredder, listen to announcements on the radio and television about organizations that provide free shredding services.
Protect yourself online. Avoid using obvious passwords online, such as your name, immediate family names, birth dates, etc. When getting rid of an old computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone, make sure there’s no information on the hard drive or memory card. If you’re not sure how to do delete such content, call the manufacturer or visit their website. Stay alert for “phishing” emails, in which the sender seeks personal information. Check to make sure that emails from creditors and other companies you have accounts with are legitimate — identity thieves can set up email accounts similar to major firms.
Analyze your credit report annually. This has always been good advice, but it used to cost money, or you had to first be rejected from receiving credit so that you could get a free copy. Now it’s possible to get a free look at your credit report once per year. The big three credit reporting agencies; Equifax: 800-525-6285, Experian: 888-397-3742, and TransUnion: 800-680-7289 joined forces to provide free credit reports to consumers. The website is annualcreditreport.com. You should review it to make sure the information on it is accurate and also make sure that there aren’t any accounts on there that you aren’t aware of or any other suspicious entries or activity. Also, check out CreditKarma. It’s website www.creditkarma.com will provide you with your credit score and more free of charge.
Report Identity Theft. If you’ve been a victim of identity theft; file a complaint with the police in the community where the identity theft took place. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 877-438-4338 or visit https://www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Seniors are more vulnerable to identity theft because it is constantly evolving and computer-based, an area of expertise many seniors typically lack. They need support from the entire community.
For additional information and consultation at no cost, contact Assisted Transition of Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky at 513-246-4127 or visit www.assistedtransitionseniorliving.com.