Savvy Living – Identity Theft

Independent LivingIdentity theft continues to be a big problem in the U.S., affecting around nine million people every year, many of whom are seniors. Identity theft occurs when someone gets access to your Social Security number (SSN), bank or credit card account number, or other identifying information and uses your identity for their purposes, often to steal from you or others. While there’s no ironclad protection against ID theft, here are some things you can do to minimize your risks.

Guard your SSN: Never carry your Social Security card around in your wallet or purse, don’t write your SSN on checks (except those you send to the IRS), and never give your SSN, credit card number, checking or savings account numbers to strangers who call, visit, text, or send email messages to you even if they seem legitimate. Don’t carry your Medicare card either unless you’re going to the doctor. Your Medicare card contains your SSN.

Be wary of emails: If you use the Internet, don’t trust emails that claim to be from the Social Security Administration, the IRS or other government agencies. Be leery of emails that look like they’re from your bank, telephone company or credit card company. For more Internet fraud tips including a list of common online scams see onguardonline.gov.

Secure your mail: Empty your mailbox quickly, or consider getting a P.O. Box, or buy a locked mailbox. Don’t leave outgoing mail in your mailbox. To put a stop to prescreened credit-card offers that thieves look to intercept, use the consumer credit reporting industry opt-out service at optoutprescreen.com or call 888-567-8688. They will ask for your SSN and date of birth.

Destroy your trash: Buy a crosscut paper shredder and shred all records, receipts, statements, preapproved credit offers, mail solicitations or other papers you throw out that have your financial or personal information.

Monitor your accounts: Review your monthly bank and credit card statements carefully, and see if your bank or credit card issuer offers free alerts that will warn you of suspicious activity as soon as it’s detected.

Watch your credit: Check your credit report at annualcreditreport. com or call 877-322-8228. You can receive one free report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion)

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of “The Savvy Senior.” The articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics.