ID theft continues to be one on the most damaging types of fraud. A 2015 Javelin Strategy & Research report found that 12.7 million Americans were victimized by identity theft in the past year, translating into a total of $16 billion in losses.
While older adults are not the exclusive targets of ID theft, they can be especially susceptible to victimization, and the impact can be devastating. Identity thieves use the information to open new accounts, misuse checking or saving accounts, rent housing, obtain medical care or employment, or to obtain government records such as tax returns. Some thieves even use stolen identities when being charged with crimes.
The FTC offers these tips to protect yourself and elderly relatives:
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact, can identify whom you’re dealing with, and know how your information will be used and secured.
- Guard your mail and trash against theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office instead of in an unsecured mailbox. Remove mail from your mailbox promptly.
- Tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications or offers, insurance forms, physician statements, check and bank statements, and expired charge cards.
- Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Rather, keep it in a secure place and give your SSN only when absolutely necessary.
- If your Medicare card has your SSN listed on it, make a photocopy of the card and use a permanent marker to black out the first five digits of your SSN only on the photocopy. Carry the photocopy of the card wit you and keep your Medicare card in a secure place.
- Limit the identification information and the number of credit and debit cards that you carry.
- Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work and at home.
- Monitor and review your credit report annually.