Identity theft is incredibly frightening to most people. What the identity thief can do is nearly endless. The thief can take all of your money, create credit cards in your name, even take out loans. Even if you are able to catch the problem, you could spend the next several months attempting to get rid of charges or repair your credit.
Many identity thieves target the elderly. Older adults are often seen as socially isolated, inept with technology, and as having memory problems or being easily confused. While these stereotypes are not necessarily true, they do mean that the elderly are more often targeted.
There are some simple ways to protect yourself or your elderly loved ones from identity theft. One easy method is to never simply throw away mail or documents that may contain sensitive information, such as your birthdate, social security number, or bank information. Instead, you should shred these items. If you do not personally own a shredder, you can bring your items to a community shred event, which happen periodically throughout Hardin county.
In addition to always shredding your documents, you should make sure to cut up old credit cards or debit cards into small pieces. Identity thieves can often use this information even if the card is expired or deactivated.
Also, you should always guard your credit or debit card information when in public. This may be difficult to do while you are using the card, but it can be accomplished by being vigilant. If at all possible, do not allow your card out of sight. If the situation necessitates your card being away from you, such as when a restaurant server takes it, pay attention to the amount of time that passes. Credit or debit card information can be stolen quickly, however, so it is important to stay vigilant.
The most important way to protect yourself is to never, ever give out your personal information to someone you do not trust. This does not mean to withhold information from a professional, such as a doctor or bank. However, if the person asking the questions does not seem legitimate, or if you are uncertain, it is best to exercise caution and withhold the information.
One common scheme, and one that is often aimed at seniors, is for an identity thief to request personal information over the phone, often by posing as a government official or financial institution. Many people fall for these scams because the thieves are very skilled at manipulation. They make a situation sound dire, so people are afraid to withhold information. If you receive a call like this, it is important to remember that true officials will not ask for personal information over the phone, so do not give it out.
In addition to following these tips, it may be a good option for you to sign up for identity theft protection. There are many organizations that specialize in this. AARP even has a special service just for seniors.
If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, even if you do not believe the thief received any information, contact your local sheriff's office and the Better Business Bureau to report it. Both organizations maintain an updated list of scams and will be able to assist you.
Checking your credit score each year is also an excellent way to see if any accounts have been opened without your knowledge. Federal law allows you to obtain a free credit report from each of the three credit agencies every 12 months. A good rule of thumb is to request your free report from each agency at different times throughout the year so that you maintain year-round monitoring.