10 Tips to Avoid Identity Theft
According to the Bureau of Justice, over 3 million elderly Americans have their identity stolen by predators each year. Unfortunately, as long as there have been identity thieves, seniors have always been their preferred target. The elderly are often socially isolated, tend to be trusting and vulnerable, lonely, and may have early dementia or memory loss.
Additionally, many elderly do not check their credit reports on a regular basis, if at all, making early detection problematic.
The first time a senior or their care-provider may become aware that their identity has been stolen may be when bill collectors begin calling on charges that the predator made in their name.
Protect yourself and your elderly loved ones with these 10 tips to help avoid becoming a victim of identity theft:
1. Watch for shoulder-surfers.
When entering a PIN number or a credit card number in an ATM machine, at a phone booth, or even on a computer at work, be aware of who is nearby and make sure nobody is peering over your shoulder to make a note of the keys you’re pressing.
2. Require photo ID verification.
Rather than signing the backs of your credit cards, you can write “See Photo ID”. In many cases, store clerks don’t even look at the signature block on the credit card, and a thief could just as easily use your credit card to make online or telephone purchases which don’t require signature verification, but for those rare cases where they do actually verify the signature, you may get some added security by directing them to also make sure you match the picture on the photo ID.
3. 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 and credit card statements, old credit card or ATM receipts, medical statements or even junk-mail solicitations for credit cards and mortgages, you may be leaving too much information laying about. Buy a personal shredder and shred all papers with PII on them before disposing of them.
4. Destroy digital data.
When you sell, trade or otherwise dispose of a computer system, or a hard drive, or even a recordable CD, DVD or backup tape, you need to take extra steps to ensure the data is completely, utterly and irrevocably destroyed. Simply deleting the data or reformatting the hard drive is nowhere near enough. Anyone with a little tech skill can undelete files or recover data from a formatted drive. For CD, DVD or tape media you should physically destroy it by breaking or shattering it before disposing of it. There are shredders designed specifically to shred CD / DVD media.
5. Be diligent about checking statements.
This actually has two benefits. First, if you are diligent about checking your bank and credit statements each month, you will be aware if one of them doesn’t arrive and that can alert you that perhaps someone stole it from your mailbox or while it was 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 suspicious activity.
6. Pay your bills at the post office.
Never leave your paid bills in your mailbox to be sent out. A thief who raids your mailbox would be able to acquire a slew of critical information in one envelope- your name, address, credit account number, your bank information including the routing number and account number from the bottom of the check, and a copy of your signature from your check for forgery purposes just for starters. Drop your bills at the post office or at least in an official U.S. Postal Service drop box to ensure that doesn’t open.
7. Limit the information on your checks.
It may be convenient to have your drivers license number or social security number imprinted on your personal checks to save some time when you write one, but if it falls into the wrong hands it reveals too much information. In fact, some recommend that you only include your first initial in the name space of your check, such as “R. Lewis” rather than writing out “Robert Lewis” so that if someone did get one of your checks they would not know your full name.
8. Analyze your credit report annually.
You should review your credit report each year 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.
If you don’t need to establish new credit, consider freezing your credit. A credit freeze reduces the risk of identity theft by preventing crooks from opening new credit card accounts in your name.Learn How To Freeze Your Credit
9. Protect your Social Security number.
Knowing your full name, address and full Social Security Number, or even the last 4 digits in many cases, can let a thief assume your identity. You should never use your Social Security Number as any part of a username or password that you establish and you should never divulge it to telephone solicitors or in response to spam or phishing scam emails either.
10. Be Leary of Unfamiliar Online Companies.