The last thing you want to deal with at any age is identity theft. Yet, for older Americans, this is a growing problem. There are many reasons why this demographic group is targeted and just as many ways for seniors to protect themselves.
Senior citizens make ideal targets for identity theft for several reasons. Senior citizens tend to have greater cash reserves and disposable income than their younger counterparts. They also tend to have better credit. With major purchases such as a house often in the past, seniors are less likely to check their credit ratings. They are also less likely to engage in identity theft prevention measures. Senior citizens who use the Internet may be particularly vulnerable as they are often not as savvy with computers as the younger generation. It is also believed that senior citizen identity theft is underreported because many seniors are unaware the theft has occurred or are ashamed to report it.
Despite these vulnerabilities, there are many steps that you can take to protect yourself from identity theft. Monitor your credit reports annually by requesting a free report from www.annualcreditreport.com, the official site for obtaining the free yearly report guaranteed by law. On a monthly basis monitor your bank statements and credit card statements. Check for purchases you never made and other discrepancies.
Protect your personal information. Shred documents containing your social security number, credit card number or other sensitive information. Be careful with Medicare cards, which include your social security number. It is best to carry the original only when visiting a health care provider for the first time. Otherwise, it is a good idea to only carry a photocopy with social security information blacked out – at least the last four digits.Finally, it is important to protect yourself online. Only give out your personal information on secure websites (they will start with “https” and a padlock symbol will display on your web browser). Avoid opening emails from strangers and never click on a link in an email you were not expecting, even if the email seems to be from the IRS, your bank or Paypal. Keep your virus protection software up to date and use complex passwords with letters, numbers and symbols when possible. All of these steps will help you to avoid becoming the next senior victim of identity theft.