As more people share personal info online, identity thieves are on the hunt. Many of these identity thieves are using new and creative ways to steal personal and private information from senior citizens and older adults. For many senior citizens and for those of us with aging parents, it can seem complicated to navigate the technology do's and don'ts of the 21st century – especially as technology changes each year.
A great deal of information, tools and experts are available to assist seniors in protecting their financial resources. Unfortunately, many individuals are not aware of these tools, or are unsure how to obtain them or best utilize each resource. With proper resources and the necessary tools, individuals can obtain the necessary documents and substantially reduce the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft or a scam. I have compiled the following list of 10 consumer tips and resources to successfully protect oneself in a technology driven society:
1. Know the warning signs. Most scams or fraud schemes use key words or phrases that allow you to distinguish it as a scam, if you are aware of them. The Federal Bureau of Investigation lists several of the characteristics to watch out for with telemarketing fraud, email scams, and other forms of fraud.
2. Create a good password. Make sure you create a strong password for your email account and other online accounts. Use these Password Do's and Don'ts from the AARP, like combining capital and lower case letters and using unrelated words.
3. Properly report lost or stolen credit cards or debit cards. There are certain procedures you should follow to report a lost or stolen credit card that will help minimize the risk of identity theft or financial fraud. This information sheet from the FTC provides tips to keep your cards safe – like never carrying your PIN in your wallet or purse, cutting up old credit cards, and checking your account activity – and also provides steps to take if your card is lost or stolen.
4. Beware of internet scams. Today, many of us pay our bills online or use credit cards when we shop on the Web. Sometimes scams come in the form of unsolicited emails or fake websites that are set up to look like these banking sites or shopping sites. This list from the Better Business Bureau provides information on the top five scams targeting seniors and older adults.
5. Beware of cell phone scams. Scams targeting seniors and older adults are not limited to the internet. Scam artists can use technology to “clone” cell phone information so that the legitimate phone user receives a bill for the cloned phone's calls. It is important to regularly check your cell phone bill to look for erroneous phone calls. Find out more about cell phone scams with this information and tip sheet from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
6. Watch what you post. Social media sites like Facebook offer a great way to keep in touch with children, grandchildren and old friends you may have lost touch with. However, it is important to keep in mind that the information you put on these sites is not limited to those individuals. Unlike writing a personal letter, the information shared on sites like Facebook can be seen by many individuals, including those who are looking to harm seniors through identity theft. Don't post personal contact information, always check your privacy settings, and make sure you routinely change your passwords.
7. Know how to protect yourself from medical identity theft. Identity thieves often use personal and health insurance information to get medical treatment, prescription drugs or surgery. Like traditional identity theft, medical ID theft can affect your finances, but it also can take a toll on your health. Find out how to detect medical identity theft and learn what to do if you think you have been a victim of medical identity theft with this site at the Federal Trade Commission.
8. Watch out for “phishing” emails. Phishing scams are delivered in the form of an email. They often appear as though they have been sent by your bank or credit card company, and they typically request personal information. The text of a “phishing” email might say: “We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below and confirm your identity.” The FTC suggests these eight tips to help you avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam.
9. Monitor your credit report. A credit report includes information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued or arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy. It is important to monitor your report on a regular basis to watch for any suspicious activity. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. To order, visit annualcreditreport.com, call 1-877-322-8228. Beware of imposter credit report sites. Annualcreditreport.com is the only authorized site to fulfill free credit reports.
10. Stay up-to-date on new scams and fraud alerts. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) website offers a list of current scams that have recently been reported. Check this site regularly or sign up to receive email updates of new scams and warnings. http://www.fbi.gov/cyberinvest/escams.htm
Additionally, in the coming weeks, I am hosting two workshops in Virginia’s Fourth District on August 31 and September 1. The workshops are designed to help educate seniors and other citizens on consumer information including proper documentation, identity theft and scams targeting seniors. Experts from the Virginia Attorney General's office and the Bureau of Insurance will be on-hand to discuss how to best protect financial assets and the steps to take in case one suspects they have fallen victim to a scam. Some of the topics we will be covering include:
- Reasons why seniors are targeted for frauds and scams
- Current common frauds and scams, including warning signs
- Steps to prevent identity theft
- Available resources in the event of fraud or scams
You can find more information on these events here: http://forbes.house.gov/ConstituentServices/Events.htm