In 2016, the identities of 15 million consumers were stolen — that’s about one in 16 U.S. adults, but your risk for identity theft rises the older you get. As with other forms of fraud, older adults are more likely to become victims thanks to their trusting nature.
Identity theft has evolved past simply stealing someone’s Social Security number or ATM card. Now, online elements make these scams more sophisticated than ever. But don’t worry, there are ways older adults can protect against identity theft. Here’s what you need to know.
Identity Theft: What’s Stolen
According to the FBI, criminals can steal the following to commit identity theft:
- Social Security number
- Date of birth
- Medicare number
- Birth certificate
- Passport number
- Bank account and credit card numbers
- Telephone number
- In some cases, death certificates
7 Types of Identity Theft
Older adults are particularly vulnerable to seven kinds of identity theft, according to the FTC.
Medical identity theft: In this scam, a criminal uses your Social Security number to fraudulently bill Medicare or your health insurance company for services you didn’t receive.
Estate identity theft: This happens when a criminal uses personally identifiable information (PII) of a recently deceased person to collect tax returns, Social Security benefits and other benefits. Often, a family member is behind this kind of theft.
Tax fraud: According to the Federal Trade Commission, older adults often are slow to detect this type of theft. Tax fraud happens when a criminal steals your Social Security number or employee ID and uses it to file a tax return.
Phone scams: A criminal uses a phone call to try and award you free prizes, healthcare items or other winnings. The ultimate goal for these calls is for the criminal to get your PII or financial information.
Military identity theft: This kind of fraud is similar to medical identity theft. A criminal gains your personal information to claim military benefits.
Wire transfer fraud: Happens when a criminal uses your personal information or financial account information to transfer money from your accounts. Most of the time, this type of crime goes unreported for at least 30 days, or until you see a bank statement.
Familiar fraud: This kind of fraud can be any of the above, but the perpetrator is often a family member.
How to Protect Against Identity Theft
Thankfully, you can protect yourself against identity theft by doing a few simple things. The AARP recommends you start with the following:
- Lock your mailbox — if yours can’t lock, you can buy one that does for about $40.
- Don’t leave anything valuable — documents, mobile devices, wallet or purse — in your car.
- Shred any sensitive documents before throwing them away. These include bank or credit card statements, any benefit statements or any documents with your Social Security number, address, phone number or other PII.
- If you have a smartphone, protect it with a password.
- Change your computer’s password every three months.
- Only share your Social Security number for obtaining credit, verifying employment and tax reasons. Don’t carry your Medicare card with you unless you’re going to a healthcare appointment.
- If you write checks, use a gel pen instead of a ballpoint pen. Thieves can wash off a ballpoint pen and rewrite a check.
- Don’t give out your personal information online, over the phone or through the mail. If you receive questionable communications from an institution asking for information, always call that institution first before responding.
What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen
If your identity has been stolen, do the following to help minimize the damage:
- Contact the institution and let them know about the theft
- Carefully look over your bank statements and other accounts for unauthorized or strange charges
- File a report with the FTC. To do so, visit: FTCComplaintAssistant.gov or call 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338).
- Let your local police department know
You don’t have to be a victim of identity theft. Keeping your accounts secure with strong passwords, being mindful of sensitive documents and information and not giving out information over the phone or internet can help keep you safe.