After the recent Target retail system hacking around Christmas time, in which 40,000,000 (yes, 40 million) people had their credit card information stolen, including security codes, I thought it might make sense to cover a little basic information on protecting one’s identity. Our Home Care Assistance Care Managers give this same advice families looking to protect their seniors.
The three things to remember are: Safety, Monitoring, and Speed.
Keep your social security number (SSN) carefully protected. This is your single most important identifying number.
- Don’t carry your SSN in your wallet
- Store it in a safety deposit box
- If it is used on another card, such as an insurance card, don’t keep that card in your wallet either, in case of theft.
- Never email your SSN
- Never give your SSN over the phone
- Put it on forms only when you must, such as in large financial transactions, and employment forms.
A shredder is your new best friend because even documents without your SSN on them can leads thieves to your secrets and identity.
- Shred anything which has personal information on it, such as pre-approved credit card applications, and all kinds of junk mail.
- Product warranty/registration cards should only be filled out for significant purchases.
- Avoid customer surveys as they may be used to gather your data.
Plastic is easily stolen.
- Anytime you use your credit card you are surrendering the information to the system and exposing yourself to the possibility of theft.
- Federal law protects you for any loss over $50 for credit and debit cards, if you report the loss within 2 days; otherwise you could lose up to $500. If you let the losses go unreported for 60 days, you may lose every cent taken illegally.
- Check your account information regularly to spot anything unusual quickly.
Monitor your credit. You can check your credit history for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. Sheila Gordon, a former victim’s advocate at Identity Theft Resource Center, a national nonprofit, recommends checking with the three credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax one at a time, so you can actually examine your credit every 4 months without a fee. She also says to verify credit card numbers, amounts, and personal account data. Errors may indicate identity theft.
As soon as you suspect a problem, dig into it and build your case. Fraudulent charges or incorrect amounts on bills or receipts are red flags. Do this:
- Go to each of the three credit bureaus’ websites and tag your credit card reports with fraud alerts. Reason: Credit card companies and banks will know not to issue new credit in your name without your specific permission.
- File a police report with local law enforcement.
- For any accounts you did not open or any with evidence of tampering: close the account and explain the reason.
- Fill out a fraud affidavit and include a copy of the police report.
- File a compliant with the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov. The FTC will help you reach the resources you need to fully freeze credit, prove fraud has happened, and clear your ruined credit rating, bad driving record, or even a rap sheet, if felonies were committed in your name.
While seniors may be especially vulnerable to all kinds of telephone scams, they also receive lots of mail with spurious offers. Help protect them by removing them from mailing and calling lists. Checkout these resources:
Educate yourself and the seniors in your life about elder fraud. Here’s a good website for the basics: www.stopfraud.gov . Awareness is good part of the battle.
Lee Nyberg serves seniors through her company, Home Care Assistance. Home Care Assistance is North America’s premier provider of in-home senior care. Our mission is to change the way the world ages. We provide older adults with a higher class of care that enables them to live happier, healthier lives at home, even with significant health issues. Our services are distinguished by the caliber of our caregivers, the responsiveness of our staff and our expertise in Live-In care. We embrace a positive, balanced approach to aging centered on the evolving needs of older adults. For more information visit our website: HomeCareAssistanceLincoln.com