Identity Theft Prevention Information for Seniors

Gloria Nye, Bollich, Patricia A., Braud, Emily  |  9/26/2008 8:46:23 PM

According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 8 million people were identity theft victims in 2006 and 2007. There is a global black market for stolen names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, computer logons and passwords. The average theft is $4,000 in fraudulent charges, and 16 percent of victims – mostly debit card victims – end up having to pay some or all of the costs of the fraudulent purchases. You might not have any recourse if fraudulent charges are made in your name and you don’t dispute them promptly with your credit card company. Identity theft can take from 80 hours up to a year to clean up, just to clear your name and restore your credit.

There are two common kinds of identity theft:

1) Account takeover -- they steal your account numbers and use them.

2) Application fraud -- they open new accounts in your name.

How do they do it? They steal wallets, steal or open your mail, go through your trash, steal information from where you work or do business, or complete a change of address form to divert your mail.

How do you protect yourself? Do not let your wallet or purse get stolen.

Your Social Security number is the key to credit and banking accounts and the main target of criminals. Be sure your Social Security number is not on your driver’s license, your checks or any other ID. Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet and do not put your Social Security number on your checks. Your checks should only have your name and address printed on them and no other ID information. If you order new checks, do not have them sent to your house. Pick them up at the bank. Never give out your Social Security, credit or debit card number over the phone to anyone who calls you and requests that information. Do not use the last 4 digits of your Social Security number when creating passwords or pin numbers. AARP has suggested you carry a copy (not the original) of your Medicare card in your wallet and cut off the last 4 numbers on the copy.

Do not mail checks from your home mailbox. Put your mail in a locked post office box before the last pickup.

Guard your mail and your trash. Have your mail held at the post office if you will be gone.

Check your credit card statement carefully for charges you did not make. Do not leave credit card receipts behind when you make a purchase. Do not throw pre-approved credit card offers in the trash. Use a shredder.

Get a free copy of your credit report at least once a year and check it carefully for any accounts you did not open. Call 877-322-8228, or order it online. Please note that your credit report is free, but there may be a charge for your credit score.  To review your accounts, you need the free credit report and not the credit score.

Close all accounts that have been compromised and report any thefts or fraud immediately to:

  • Police – get a copy of your report so you can provide it to any creditors.
  • 3 credit bureaus (Equifax, 888-766-0008; Experian, 888-397-3742; TransUnion, 800-680-7289)
  • All the businesses, companies or banks where you had accounts.

To avoid telephone marketing, sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry, (888) 382-1222, or online.

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