Addressing elder identity theft
Identity theft is the illegal use of someone else’s personal information — such as name, Social Security number, driver’s license number or bank or credit card information — to make purchases, borrow money, open a cellphone account or get a credit card. While anyone can fall victim to identity theft, senior citizens can be particularly vulnerable. That’s because more people, such as home health care workers, nurses, family members and other service providers they tend to rely on for assistance, may have access to personal information that can be put to nefarious use.
A number of states, including, most recently, New York, have officially made identity theft a form of elder abuse and are dedicating resources to combat it. But it’s still important to take steps or help seniors close to you take steps to prevent it.
For example, it’s a bad idea to carry your Social Security card. It’s also risky to carry around your Medicare card if it’s an older one with your SSN listed on it. Instead seniors should make a photocopy to carry around, using a permanent marker to black out the first five digits. Similarly, don’t carry your checkbook around — just have the number of checks that you need.
Make sure all personal documents with sensitive information are kept in a safe, secure, locked place and put any such documents — particularly financial documents — through a shredder before throwing them away. Don’t respond to unsolicited emails requesting information, register with the Do Not Call list to deter telemarketers, and monitor and review your credit report on a regular basis.
If you or someone you know does fall victim to identity thieves, be sure to place a fraud alert on all credit reports, close any accounts that you suspect were compromised or fraudulently opened, and file a police report.