Identity thieves steal your personal information to commit fraud. They can damage your credit status and cost you time and money restoring your good name. To reduce your risk of becoming a victim, follow the tips below:
- Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write it on your checks. Only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary.
- Protect your PIN. Never write a PIN on a credit/debit card or on a slip of paper kept in your wallet.
- Watch out for “shoulder surfers”. Use your free hand to shield the keypad when using pay phones and ATMs.
- Collect mail promptly. Ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home for more than a day or two.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
- Keep your receipts. Ask for carbons and incorrect charge slips as well. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.
- Tear up or shred unwanted receipts, credit offers, account statements, expired cards, etc., to prevent dumpster divers getting your personal information.
- Store personal information in a safe place at home and at work. Don’t leave it lying around.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information in the mail, over the phone or online.
- Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
- Check your credit report once a year. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has gotten access to your account information.
How to Report Identity Theft
Your wallet contains some of your most important personal items, from hard-earned money to credit cards and driver’s license. For an identity thief, your wallet offers a treasure trove of personal information. If you suspect or become a victim of identity theft, follow these steps:
- Report it to your financial institution. Call the phone number on your account statement or on the back of your credit or debit card.
- Report the fraud to your local police immediately. Keep a copy of the police report, which will make it easier to prove your case to creditors and retailers.
- Contact the credit-reporting bureaus and ask them to flag your account with a fraud alert, which asks merchants not to grant new credit without your approval.
If your identity has been stolen, you can use an ID Theft affidavit to report the theft to most of the parties involved. All three credit bureaus and many major creditors have agreed to accept the affidavit. You can download the ID theft affidavit or request a copy by calling toll-free 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Seniors and ID Theft
Seniors are vulnerable to identity theft. Here are some common schemes that ID thieves use to steal the identity of seniors.
- Telemarketing. An ID thief may call, making fraudulent offers for products, benefits or medical services. The caller will require you to provide personal information, such as your social security number, birthday, or Medicare ID number.
- Tax ID theft. Phony tax preparers steal your social security number and sell it to scammers. ID thieves may also read obituaries so that they can file a tax return in the deceased person’s name. This can be a problem for a surviving spouse, when he or she tries to file taxes later in the tax season. For more information contact the IRS’ Taxpayer Advocate Service at 1-877-275-8271.
- Medical ID theft. In general, seniors have more contact with medical service providers that can take advantage of access to their insurance information to get medical services in your name or to issue fraudulent billing to you and your health insurer.
- Nursing home and long-term care. Staff at these facilities have access to seniors’ personal information on file, as well as the potential misuse or theft of seniors’ finances (for example check books or bank statements in the senior’s room) . You can report this fraud to the long-term care ombudsman in your state at long-term care ombudsman.
To report ID theft: U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470.