Identity Theft - Fraud
Protecting yourself from identity thieves
Identity theft is the fraudulent use of your identity to get cash, credit or merchandise. Identity theft is the fastest growing financial crime in America and costs people, banks, and other businesses hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Identity thieves target anyone they can but older people make up a very large percent of their victims.
Seniors typically have more cash reserves and often a higher disposable income. Additionally, seniors are also somewhat less aware of the technical tools that the thieves employ to create such things as computer generated forged documents. Seniors who have physical and bio-chemical changes often tend to think a bit slower too and tend to be a bit more trusting.
Identity thieves also know that most seniors don't check their credit very often. Most seniors have their credit firmly established and owe very little if any money to anyone. In most cases, seniors don't know they are the victim of identity theft until they start receiving threatening phone calls from creditors or their credit card company cancels their credit card because of declining credit rating.
According to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), identity theft targeting people over the age of 60 jumped from 1,800 cases in 2000 to almost 6,000 the following year. Most of those cases involved the use of Social Security numbers.
One recently convicted identity thief said almost all of his victims were seniors for the above reasons, and also because those in retirement communities and homes are easier targets.
Protecting your identity and credit
- Do not give your Social Security number, mother's maiden name or account numbers to strangers who contact you, especially by phone, Internet or mail.
Identity thieves sometimes pose as business, bank or government representatives to get you to reveal personal information. Legitimate financial or government organizations that do business with you already have this information and will not ask for it by calling you.
- Pay attention to what time of month your bills arrive. If they don't arrive on time, call the creditor to make sure an identity thief hasn't changed your billing address to keep you from discovering phony charges.
- Guard your mail from theft. Don't leave outgoing mail in your mailbox. Take it to a collection box or your local post office. Promptly remove mail after it has been delivered. If you are planning to be away from home, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold.
- Put passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security Number, your phone number or an easy series of numbers such as 1234. A good suggestion here is to use the last 4 digits of a friend's phone number of their address. You obviously need to have this be a number that you can remember when you don't use it often.
- Don't carry your Social Security card. Leave it in a secure place like a lock box at a bank. Give the number out only when necessary. Use other types of ID when possible.
- Don't carry credit cards or ID cards you don't need. Many people carry multiple credit cards but only use one or two
- Tear or shred charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, bank checks and statements, expired charge cards, credit offers and any tax or bank related documents that you throw away.
Investing in a paper shredder may sound like it is something that only big business would do. But you can get a decent personal shredder for about $40 brand new or go to an auction site like Ebay.com and get very basic for about $10-15. While this may end up being a waste, if you do become a victim because someone went through your trash, you can spend far more than this amount in phone calls alone, just trying to straighten up the mess.
- Don't put your trash out until the day that they pick it up. People that put their trash out on the street a day or two in advance are inviting anyone that walks down the street to rip open a few top bags just to see what is there.
- If you want to inspect your credit report, order a copy from each of the three major consumer reporting agencies. Make sure it is accurate. The law allows credit bureaus to charge up to $8.50 for a copy of your report. You can request a free copy if you've been turned down for a credit application and the denial of credit was based on the information from the reporting agency.
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