How to Protect Yourself and Loved Ones From Identity Theft
While anyone can become the victim of identity theft, older adults are especially vulnerable to these types of crimes. According to the FBI, our country’s older population loses a heartbreaking $3 billion annually to elder fraud. Identity theft is a real threat, but that doesn’t mean you need to live in fear. There are easy, actionable steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from scammers. Read on to learn why identity thieves prey on older adults and what you can do to prevent these crimes from happening to you.
Why are older adults more vulnerable to identity theft?
Older adults are a favorite target of scammers. Here are five reasons why this may be the case:
1. Older adults usually have more wealth. After decades of saving, folks of retirement age have typically accumulated a sizable nest egg. Older adults also tend to be homeowners, have better credit and equity, and may have access to retirement funds—all qualities that make them a prime target for cyber criminals.
2. Older adults use more medical and government services. Naturally, as we age we spend more time in medical clinics and government offices—two industries highly targeted by scammers.
3. Older adults may have more accommodating dispositions. Heightened risk can also stem from generational politeness. As the FBI points out, earlier generations were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Scam artists exploit these traits, knowing that it’s typically harder for these people to say “no.”
4. Older adults are less likely to report fraud. Scammers also target older adults because their crime is more likely to go uninvestigated. Feelings of embarrassment and shame keep many victims from reporting instances of fraud. Some older adults may fear a loss of independence if family members question their ability to live alone and unsupervised.
How can seniors prevent identity theft?
While identity theft is a very real threat, you are not defenseless against it. To lower your risk of fraud, try adopting the following habits:
Be wary of links. With cyber crooks being able to craft convincing emails that appear as though they’re from your bank, scams can arrive as email attachments or links. To avoid trouble, don’t click on any links in suspicious emails. Be judicious about what you download, and never open email attachments from a stranger.
Shred papers. Don’t make it easy for fraudsters to steal your personal info: shred all papers with sensitive information before disposing of them. This includes bank statements, receipts, healthcare paperwork, and expired credit cards.
Set up direct deposit. If you receive Social Security benefits, use direct deposit to eliminate the risk of lost or stolen checks.
Keep an eye on your accounts. Regularly check your bank account and credit card statements for any peculiar transactions. It’s also wise to review your credit reports annually to make sure there are no unfamiliar accounts in your name. Check out annualcreditreport.com to get your review for free.
Let it ring. If you receive a call from a number you don’t recognize, let it ring. Scammers rarely leave messages, and if it’s something important, the caller will leave a voicemail. Also, don’t be afraid to hang up if someone asks for your personal information (social security number, address, credit card number, date of birth, etc.). Never give out your personal info on the phone.
Safeguard your computer. If you don’t have it already, install antivirus and security software on your computer or laptop. While you’re at it, give your passwords an update, making them complex enough to trip up scammers.
Don’t carry your social security card. Keep your social security card in a safe place at home, not in your wallet.
Be wary of calls or emails from the IRS. Keep in mind that government agencies like the IRS will use mail if they need to get in touch. They won’t call or email you.
Get support. There’s absolutely no shame in asking a trusted friend or family member for a second opinion if something smells fishy. The FBI also urges folks to refrain from acting too quickly in response to a scam. Practiced scammers employ a sense of urgency to frighten victims into action. If a caller sounds threatening, it’s probably a scam.
And always remember: If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Safety is Top of Mind at Provision Living
Please note: This article serves for educational purposes only. If you believe you or your loved one has been a victim of identity theft, please contact your local authorities.