Money Matters

6 Ways to Steer Clear of Identity Theft

Editor’s note: These days, people are more vulnerable than ever to identity theft, and many seniors find themselves faced with it at the most vulnerable time in their lives. A lifetime’s savings can suddenly disappear, leaving you without the money to provide the best possible health care for yourself and your family. Here, experts from the credit agency Experian’s ProtectMyID program offer some smart tips to prevent the nightmare of identity theft.

1. Don’t carry your Medicare card in your wallet: Your nine-digit Social Security number is on the card – and that is all savvy ID thieves need to open new credit card accounts or loans in your name. Instead make a copy of your card and block out the last four digits of your Social Security number so if lost or stolen the full SS# is not revealed.

2. Be wary of requests for information by phone: Seniors are often the target of phone scams. Do not respond to incoming phone calls requesting personal information. If a creditor or organization calls with a legitimate need for your personal information (account numbers, Social Security number, or credit card information), hang up. Verify the phone number by looking it up yourself, and verify the legitimacy of the caller, before returning the call.

3. Secure your information: Leave Social Security numbers, checks, credit cards, Medicare cards (see Tip #1, above), and financial statements in a locked security box at home or other secure location. If ever admitted into the hospital or other care facility, credit cards and personal documents should be locked up or in the hands of someone you trust.

4. Protect your computer: As more seniors are becoming tech savvy, it’s important to protect your computer and internet activity. Consult with a network professional to make sure your computer system is secure. Install antivirus software, anti-spyware, and firewall software to prevent cyber-programs that steal personal information. Use unique passwords for your computer and online accounts, changing them on a regular basis.

5. Make sure your mobile devices are secure: Travel is often one of the perks of retirement. While you’re on the go, consider purchasing a portable router to create your own Wi-Fi hotspot when using laptop, tablet or smart phone. You’ll need a local SIM data card, which is available at most electronic stores or even airport kiosks for travelers. This will help you avoid using public Wi-Fi spots, which are vulnerable to hackers.

6. Check your credit regularly: Many seniors don’t think about checking their credit since they’re likely not in the market to borrow money for a house or car but that shouldn’t stop them from requesting a credit report on a regular basis. Checking at least once a quarter is recommended to make sure there’s been no suspicious activity.

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