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Identity theft is a growing concern for all consumers—it was the number one complaint received by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2013, according to its Consumer Sentinel Network report, released in 2014—but older Americans are particularly at risk. Seniors are prime targets for fraudsters because they don’t know much about identity theft and fraud, and many are unfamiliar with common Internet safety tips. Many also have substantial assets that fraudsters would love to get their hands on.
According to TrustediD’s June 2014 report, “Identity Theft: Why 50+ Americans Are at Risk,” here’s what you need to know about identity theft to help protect yourself or someone you love:
1. Your medical history can put you at risk. While identity thieves are often after financial information, medical records are also a prime target because they contain sensitive personal information a thief can use to open accounts or to obtain medical care in someone else’s name.
Seniors are particularly vulnerable because they interact more with the health care system. They often carry a Medicare card, which lists their Social Security number. They may also rely on caregivers who have easy access to their medical records, or live in assisted living facilities where their information is readily available to third parties.
It’s not just caregivers who pose a risk to seniors. Health care providers are often targets of data breaches, which could put patients’ sensitive information at risk. According to a September 2013 study by the Ponemon Institute, 94 percent of health care organizations surveyed in 2012 reported they experienced one or more data breaches in the previous two years.
2. Travel can increase the odds of identity theft. Many seniors spend their golden years traveling, putting them at risk of identity theft both at home and abroad. According to the U.S. Travel Association, more than one-third of all leisure travelers are over the age of 55.
Protecting your identity may not be top of mind when you’re traveling, but it should be. Your information could quickly fall into the wrong hands if you’re using public Wi-Fi at your hotel, withdrawing money from ATMs outside of your bank’s network, or leaving sensitive information, such as a driver’s license or passport, in your hotel room.
3. Scammers target consumers in their own homes. Think you’re safe from fraudsters at home? Think again. When you pick up the phone or open an email, you could be putting your personal information at risk.
Seniors are often less familiar with the Internet than their younger counterparts, so they may be more vulnerable to phishing schemes—where online fraudsters create phony emails, text messages, and websites in order to steal personal information—and more apt to download malware that can compromise a computer and put personal information at risk.
Identity thieves also target victims over the phone. According to the FBI, fraudsters may call seniors at home and exploit Medicare to glean personal data. In one such scam, thieves create a false company that claims to offer free transportation for Medicare recipients. The thief then calls a victim to offer the service, asks for the victim’s personal information to enroll, and then disappears with the information, never to be heard from again. Fraudsters may also offer phony medical equipment or other products in exchange for Medicare information.
Some fraudsters also call consumers and claim to be from the National Do Not Call Registry, according to the Better Business Bureau. In this scam, the callers claim to be representatives who need to verify some information, but are actually fraudsters gathering personal information for nefarious purposes.
Take steps to help protect yourself from identity theft
There are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself, according to TrustediD’s report. Remove yourself from mailing lists to reduce junk mail, know how Medicare uses your information, and regularly monitor your credit report for erroneous information or accounts you don’t recognize.
If you do fall victim to identity theft, report the crime to local law enforcement, and file a complaint with the FTC online or by calling 877-438-4338. Contact your credit card companies to close your accounts, and place a fraud alert on your credit file. You can do so by contacting one of the credit reporting agencies (CRAs), which will send your request to the other two CRAs.
Ilyce Glink is the author of over a dozen books, including the bestselling 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and Buy, Close, Move In! Her nationally syndicated column, “Real Estate Matters,” appears in newspapers from coast-to-coast, and her Expert Real Estate Tips YouTube channel has nearly 4 million views. She is the managing editor of the Equifax Finance Blog, publisher of ThinkGlink.com, and owner of digital communications agency Think Glink Media. In addition to her WSB radio show and WGN radio contributions, she is also a frequent guest on National Public Radio. Ilyce is a frequent contributor to Yahoo and CBS News.
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