By SAVVY SENIOR
Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips and resources can you recommend to help seniors guard against identity theft? My next door neighbor, who's 79, recently had her identity stolen, and I want to make sure it doesn't happen to me.
Identity theft continues to be a big problem in the U.S., affecting about nine million people every year -- many of whom are seniors. Identity theft occurs when someone gets access to your Social Security number, bank or credit card account number, or other identifying information and uses it to steal from you. While there's no ironclad protection against ID theft, here are some things you can do to minimize your risks.
Guard your SSN: Treat your SSN like your most prized possession. 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 even if they seem legitimate. Unless you are going to the doctor, don't carry around your Medicare card either, because it 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. Remember that only phony emails will ask for your credit card number or SSN. For more tips to avoid Internet fraud, see onguard online.gov.
Secure your mail: Empty your mailbox quickly, or consider getting a P.O. Box or buy a locked mailbox to deter thieves. Also, 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.
Destroy your trash: Buy a cross-cut paper shredder and shred all records, receipts, statements, preapproved credit offers, mail solicitations or other papers you throw out that has 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 annual creditreport.com or call (877) 322-8228.
Take action: If you ever think your identity's been stolen, immediately contact your creditors and financial institutions to report unauthorized charges or debts, and close any compromised accounts.
Then place fraud alerts and security freezes with the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), and file a report with your local police and with the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or (877) 438-4338.