Erin Bui chats about the prevalence of identity theft and their common tricks. She gives us identity theft prevention tips and encourages everyone to become aware.
Identity theft might not sound as frightening to someone who hasn’t experienced it. However, once it happens to you or your loved one, you will usually take a different perspective, when you see the damage and annoyance it causes.
Identity theft could happen to anyone, but I want to focus on seniors in this blog because identity thieves are increasingly targeting the elderly due to the fact that they are socially isolated, lonely, and tend to be more trusting and vulnerable. Also as they age, seniors tend to develop Alzheimer’s, dementia or other memory loss conditions.
It is our responsibility as a society to protect them, so mom, dad, uncle, aunt, family friends, please try to protect your elder loved ones who are vulnerable. I still can not believe that people would do this to seniors and even other individuals just for money. But alas, it is what it is and we must be informed on identity theft tricks.
What is identity theft, you might be wondering?
This is when a scammer takes your personal information, such as your name, address and social security number to apply for credit cards, file taxes fraudulently, or even get medical services under your name. They may be doing this for months before you figure out what’s going on.
Let me inform you on some common identity theft tricks and give you some protection tips:
How do identity thieves get your information?
- Stealing Mail
- Bank and credit card statements, tax information, etc.
- Identity thieves will rummage through the garbage for personal and financial information from documents that people usually toss in the trash
- TIP: Shred all documents with personal information.
- Sending Mail
- Scam mail usually comes in looking like they’re from trusted resources such as victim’s bank, charitable organizations or well known companies.
- However this is a scam letter despite the “official” letterhead, authentic looking logos and supposedly, registered trademarks.
- These scam letters usually have a request for action.
- TIP: Always verify the sender and do NOT share any personal information.
- Calling Victims on the Phone
- Pretending to represent, charities, associations, and the senior’s bank or financial institution.
- TIP: Same as the mail: verify they are indeed from the said organization. Do NOT share personal info.
- “Phishing” Online
- Pretending to be a financial institution or a well known company.
- They will send spam email messages asking a senior to “verify” account information and/or their social security number
- TIP: If they’re calling you, hang up and request to call them back. This will usually throw them off.
- Swiping Credit Cards
- Tiny scanning devices steal your credit card number either from credit card machines or through the “cloud” or wifi/bluetooth.
- These thieves start making copies of your credit cards, then they either go shopping or open up even more credit card or bank accounts when they can.
- TIP: Ensure that wi-fi and bluetooth are off when you’re in public. Pay cash in stores where the card reader may be questionable. Do not save passwords on your phone.
How do I prevent myself from becoming a victim?
- If you are senior, think about a financial power of attorney (see previous blog) when you reach a certain age, and well before your mental facilities are declining.
- If you are a younger person, start helping an elderly family member, such as your parent or grandparent, teach them technology, inform them of dangers and serve as a buffer or protector when it comes to their financial accounts and financial decisions.
- Warn seniors about not giving out any personal information such as your name, address, social security number, bank account, PIN numbers to anyone who calls, even if they claim to be from a legitimate source.
- Remember that the IRS never calls you.
- If someone call from a government agency requesting money, ask for a certified letter on an official letterhead.
- Carry out the identity theft protection tips given in the section above.
If the identity theft has already happened, and they have opened accounts in your name:
- Contact the police right away.
- Call the credit card companies or banks to remove bogus charges.
- Eliminate fraudulent new accounts, one by one.
- File a federal complaint with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).
- Initiate a fraud alert with your credit card company
- Follow up with all the agencies you reached out.
- Contact your local Better Business Bureau:
- Find the closest location and report the crime.
- They will offer support and tips.
Here are some resources and phone numbers:
- National DO NOT CALL REGISTRY
- Will limit phone calls from telemarketers
- 1(888)382-1222 or visit www.donotcall.gov
- Victim of medical identity theft: call the Federal Trade Commission
- Your health insurance company’s fraud department
- Document the experience
- Victim of Medicare fraud
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General
- Provides identity theft prevention tricks
Be aware of all the common identity theft tricks and follow the protection tips above to keep your personal information secure. Stay safe out there!
Erin Bui is the Mangus Finance Circles specialist based in Riverside, CA, focused on helping special needs and senior communities with financial education and awareness.