Recent statistics show that seniors make up only 8 percent of identity theft victims, but experts warn that older individuals make attractive targets because of their superior credit scores and greater access to liquid capital. Furthermore, seniors might not realize they've been victimized because they're less likely to monitor their credit reports. To protect themselves, seniors should take a proactive approach in securing their identities.
Avoid Carrying Personal Documents
Your social security card, Medicare card and other personal documents belong in a safe at home and not in your wallet. If a thief steals your purse or billfold, he or she can use that data to leverage your identity.
Create a Safe Storage Area
A fireproof safe in the home or a safe deposit box at the bank both serve similar purposes. You should use one, or both, to protect your personal documents and valuables. Additionally, many senior scams involve close friends and family members. Prevent this type of elder abuse by choosing just one or two trusted individuals to have access to your personal information, such as social security numbers and banking data.
Keep Your Computer Updated
If you've already installed anti-virus software and other protections on your computer, you're ahead of the game. However, you should make sure you update those software programs regularly so the programs can identify the latest threats. Senior identity theft often starts with a simple virus, worm or other electronic infection that leeches personal data from the computer.
Prepare for Travel
You should stop your mail before you head out of town. If possible, ask a friend or relative to drive by the house every couple of days to make sure all is well. To avoid unsafe internet connections during vacations, you can travel with your own router and buy a SIM card when you arrive at your destination.
Monitor Your Credit
Many seniors benefit from security freezes on their credit reports. This prevents third parties from accessing credit information and results in a reduced risk of identity theft. Alternatively, you can sign up for a credit-monitoring service or access your own credit report regularly to screen for suspicious activity.
Shred Personal Documents
When you receive prescreened credit offers or bank statements in the mail, shred them rather than tossing them into the garbage. Never dispose of personal documents in public places.
Never Give Information Over the Phone or Internet
If you receive a phone call or email requesting personal information, contact the company – such as your bank or utility provider – directly. Beware of grandparent scams and other schemes through which a criminal poses as a family member.
Change Your Mailing Address
If you have trouble picking up the mail in a timely fashion, you can open a post office box for mail delivery. Ask a friend or relative to pick up your mail so it doesn't sit in a curbside box where thieves can access it. Alternatively, you can install a mailbox with a lock.
Senior identity theft can trash your credit, drain your bank accounts and cause many other hardships. Consider identity theft protection services to give yourself an extra layer of security.