Identity Theft & Seniors
Targeting Senior Citizens
Over the years, identity thieves are recognizing seniors as extremely lucrative victims for identity fraud.
Here are just a few reasons for reported increases in senior citizen identity theft:
- Sometimes, seniors—especially those in retirement—have larger checking and savings accounts than younger people who are still working to pay off car loans, mortgages, and other major financial obligations (such as college debt).
- Many seniors receive Medicare or Medicaid benefits, which opens the door for identity theft in the medical sector.
- Generally, seniors don't check their credit reports as often as do younger people, mostly because the main reasons for checking—to take out home or auto loans, or to open a new credit card—are no longer relevant to many seniors.
- Some seniors don't stay on top of the latest fraud attempts related to phishing e-mail and websites, or telephone scams, and they might not have many family members to help keep them educated and sort through any problems.
- Many seniors are reluctant to talk about a potential identity theft problem with their family members because they don't want to appear as though they're not capable of managing their own affairs.
Each of these factors makes seniors attractive targets for identity theft.
Ways for Seniors to Avoid ID Theft
Our Identity Theft Checklist outlines the some of the most important identity theft prevention steps anyone can take; however, below are a few senior-specific steps some experts suggest.
Make Copies of Insurance Cards
Ideally, you shouldn't have to always carry your original Medicare, Medicaid, or other health insurance card in your wallet.
Consider making a copy of these cards to carry and keeping the originals at home. Block out the last four digits of your Social Security number so that, in the event your wallet is lost or stolen, thieves won't have access to the bulk of your necessary information.
Many doctor offices keep a copy of your Medicare, Medicaid, or other health insurance card in your file after your first visit—meaning you don't always need to show them at every appointment. However, if your doctor requires your original card or you're visiting a new doctor, be sure to remove the card from your wallet after the appointment and store it in a safe place at home.
Withhold Personal Information on the Phone
Don't automatically provide personal information over the telephone.
Telephone scams are rampant. Be wary if someone calls requesting personal information such as your:
- Social Security number.
- Bank account number.
- Credit card information.
Never provide this information—even if they claim to work for a company with which you do business. Hang up and call the company's customer service number to find out if the call was legit.
Store Important Documents Securely
Consider storing important documents in a home safe; some extremely important documents might be better off in a bank's safety deposit box, if you don't often need them.
Try not to leave the house with important documents related to your personal identity and financial information unless absolutely necessary. Such documents include:
- Any health insurance-related cards.
- Your Social Security card.
- Extra bank checks.
- Credit cards you don't often use.
Whenever you do need to leave the house with these items, immediately return them to their safe place when you get home.
Of course, in the event that you're hospitalized or enter a healthcare facility, it's wise to find a trusted family member you can rely on to retrieve these documents for you.
Destroy Personal & Financial Documents
Certain documents with personally identifying or financial information should be destroyed; others, you might need to keep it safely stored.
For example, credit card statements and receipts, bank statements, tax documents, canceled checks, and even old driver's licenses are goldmines for identity thieves.
Refer to the federal government's Keeping Family/Household Records brochure to help you know what to keep (and how long to keep it or store it) and what to destroy.
Protect Your Computer & Internet Access
We're not all tech-savvy people, but there are simple ways we can protect our computers and Internet activities—sometimes with a little help:
- Use anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall software to fight against hacking programs designed to steal personal information.
- Create unique passwords for every account.
- DON'T use the same password for every account.
- DON'T choose obvious passwords such as a family member's name or your anniversary.
- Follow each account's rules for creating a password, though many suggest using a mix of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Choose hard-to-guess password retrieval questions.
- For example, anyone can figure out where you were born; not everyone knows the name of your first pet.
- Regularly change your passwords.
- Don't send personal or financial information through e-mail.
- If a company you recognize (such as your bank) sends an e-mail requesting this information, call a representative instead of responding to the e-mail.
- Make sure your home wireless network is password protected.
- Your Internet installation service rep can help you with this.
- Consult a computer or software specialist with any questions.
- Various third-party companies specialize in helping you get—and keep—your computer up and running as safely as possible.
Regularly Check Your Credit Report
As we mentioned above, many seniors are less likely to check their credit reports often because they're not in the process of making some of the bigger purchases (i.e. taking out some of the bigger loans) that younger people are just now doing. As a senior citizen, you might not be in the market for a new home, vehicle, or college loan.
However, it's still crucial to regularly check your credit report and look for any inaccuracies.
Per the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies must provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months.
Refer to our guide to Credit Reports to learn more about what's on your report, how to review this information, and how to order your credit report.
Suspecting Identity Theft
Finally, if you ever suspect identity theft—no matter how big or small the clues are—you have federal and state rights to take action.
Visit our section on Identity Theft & Your Rights to learn more about your rights as an identity theft victim, how to document and report fraud, and your responsibilities regarding financial loss.