Identity Thieves Target Seniors
Identity thieves prey on at least 9 million Americans every year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. A major portion of those attacks are directed toward seniors, who are often seen as an easy mark, putting them and their retirement living arrangements at risk.
For those who do not understand exactly what identity theft really is, from the FTC website:
‘Identity theft occurs when someone else uses your personally identifying information such as your name, Social Security number or credit card number without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.’
That description sounds cold and one of those things that only happen to someone else. So we will try to personalize the information and help explain the tricks that identity thieves might use against seniors. Retirement living today seems more complicated than it used to be. Activities that we once thought of as harmless (or didn’t think about at all) are among the greatest tools in the identity thieves’ arsenal; simple activities such as throwing away papers that have account numbers printed on them or giving your pin number to a sales clerk to push the buttons for you at the check-out counter.
The first thing that all seniors need to be reminded of is that if your purse or wallet is lost or stolen you should report this loss immediately to the police department. Even if it turns out that you have just misplaced it and find it later, this is a vital step that should not be ignored. You should make a list of what was in your purse or wallet, specifically what identifying cards you were carrying. Items such as your ID, voter registration card, Social Security card and certainly any credit cards are essential to report.
Even benign sounding cards like a video rental card, retirement village cards or even a business card may carry identifying information that thieves might possibly be able to use. After you have contacted the police, you should inform the company or organization that issued you the card. There is a wealth of information in the little metal strip of these cards.
As it is with most things, the best defense against identity thieves is a good offense. Knowing what information identity thieves are looking for and what methods they use to get that information is the best way to avoid putting yourself at risk.
Since these ‘tricks of their trade’ affect our seniors, here, we will highlight for you the methods that identity thieves use to gather information and what you can do about it.
Medical Identity Theft
Medical identity theft is on the rise and the threat to seniors is huge. Not only does this type of theft involve your finances but it could cost you your life. In 2009, according to a report by Experian, over 1.4 million Americans were victims of medical identity theft. Thieves get your information by gaining access to your medical records. This could potentially get them access to not only your doctor and your health information but dentists, eye doctors and even your prescription info.
Many retired seniors are dependent on prescription medicines and their health could be adversely affected if their prescriptions were interfered with by thieves. Now if those thieves had any procedures done using your identity, those records including medications given, would become part of your permanent medical record which could create real risk factors in an emergency room situation. Medical identity theft can alter your medical records such as: blood types, sensitivity to certain medications, inaccurate test results, allergies or previous procedures can put you, the patient at high risk.
Insurance companies also keep your medical records and can deny claims or coverage due to conditions listed from thieves that you don’t really have or that your benefit limit has been reached.
Avoiding medical identity theft may not always be easy but a good start is to always read your medical bills. If you do not understand any portion of the bill call the medical office for clarification. So many times medical bills are printed in what looks like a foreign language to most of us but don’t let that put you off. Know what you are being charged for even if your insurance or Medicare is ultimately paying the bill. The fastest and easiest way to catch a medical identity thief is to see an unknown procedure show up on a medical bill. Your retirement living less concerned is certainly worth a few moments of checking your monthly medical bills.
Stop Just Throwing Away your Trash
Perhaps the most common form of identity theft occurs in your trash barrel. How many of us just toss out those credit card offers without opening the envelope? Is your name on it? Is your address printed on it? Those living in retirement villages are targeted simply for the amount of mail solicitations they receive. Every year, each one of us throws away almost 175 pounds of paper and far too much of that paper contains personal information that identity thieves can and will use to steal your identity.
Old bank statements, even those from a decade ago, are a favorite. We tend to think of them as unimportant, but not to a thief. Your name and address are printed right on them as well as your account info. Some statements even list all your accounts and their balances. Paid bills, especially credit cards bills, are another hot item for thieves.
The obvious answer to avoid theft from your mail and your bills is to get a shredder, a good one with diamond cut capability. Use it regularly for all of your paper and mail trash.
The People You Know
This stat bothered me and I had to check it to make sure. But sure enough, nearly half of all identity theft crimes are committed by friends or family of the victim. It is where we feel most at home or comfortable that we let our guard down, places like shared living quarters, office cubicles or small social gatherings.
This type of theft is also one of the most underreported as well, particularly by those in the retirement living communities. Very often we forget, forgive or typically overlook the added amount on our charge card statement. Many seniors are vulnerable to this type of theft as they are led to believe that perhaps they just don’t remember that transaction.
Online Shopping, Banking and Networking
Although the word is getting out about on-line shopping and clear steps have been taken to secure this avenue of purchasing, the internet is still a favorite among identity thieves. Guarding your account information is essential. On-line banking at a secure banking site is fast and easy and for the most part very secure.
Social networks are all the rage and for seniors, it is a great way to stay connected to family members who may live far away. The more information you put on the site about yourself is just more information that an identity thief can use against you. Your hometown, your age, employer, your personal favorites and even key details about your retirement lifestyle are potential gold mines for the hard core identity thief. Be careful about what you randomly tell the world about yourself.
While these on-line sites are as secure as they can make them, it doesn’t take an extreme hacker to gain information. The FTC warns that thieves use ‘pretexting’ to steal your identity. Pretexting is defined as the practice of deceiving individuals into surrendering personal information for fraudulent purposes.
As an example, a thief looks at your profile page and learns a little about you. If he has your mail, he may know even more. A thief may call, stating that he is from a company that you do business with and one that you trust. He may say he is missing your birthdate, ask about a recent death in the family or requires other pertinent information to update their files. In this way he can gain additional information about you.
What is most important for all of us to remember is that we should never give out personal and private information to anyone who calls claiming to be from a company. Reputable businesses do not ask for this type of information by calling you. They will always ask you to call them at their well-known and published business phone number to ensure safeguards are in place to protect themselves and you.
This particular identity theft trick is a very lucrative scheme. It is done by professionals and normally cannot be detected by the average person. Skimming can take place just about anywhere you use a credit or debit card, at the gas pump, the ATM, shopping and dining out. The FTC describes skimming as the process of capturing information from your credit/debit card illegally.
Skimming is done by installing special equipment in credit card readers. This skimmer does not interfere with the sale but simply makes and holds a copy of all of the transactions made for the thieves to download later. Skimming is a big problem that costs consumers and banks billions of dollars every year.
Most skimming equipment is undetectable. However, if the ATM or pump card reader looks like it has been damaged, wiggles or has loose parts, if cameras are set at odd angles at the machine you intend to use, if you are asked to swipe your card before putting it into a card reader or if something doesn’t look right about the machine - choose another machine. Always cover your hand as you enter in your PIN number wherever you swipe your card even if you don’t think anyone is watching. A good rule of thumb is to always keep your card within eyesight.