Identity theft is a risk that everyone faces, whether or not they have a well-established credit history. Seniors are uniquely susceptible to this malicious epidemic.
Some seniors are also heavily reliant on the help of caretakers, which gives outsiders the potential opportunity to access personal details like bank account numbers and a social security number. Access to bank account numbers, a social security number, and paper checks all help a thief complete a full scam. When someone steals a senior's identity, they can even open new credit accounts in the senior's name and rack up a great deal of debt without anyone's knowledge.
The implications of identity theft are great, and they may include the loss of saved money, an impact to a person's credit, and a legal battle to fight debt that someone else accrued.
Identity Theft Prevention Practices
Fortunately for seniors, there are measures they can take to help limit their exposure to identity theft. Among the most important steps a senior can take is to be very selective about whom they let into their home and particularly careful about whom they allow to handle financial documents. If caretakers come and go, it may be a good idea to keep vital documents like a social security card at a bank deposit box.
Alternatively, a senior can keep a safe in their own home that only they and another trusted friend or family member know how to access. Keeping people away from bank statements, credit card numbers, and personal identifying information might help prevent identity theft. Carefully reading each credit card statement for unfamiliar charges might also help to detect identity theft early on. Seniors should also consider using a credit card in lieu of paper checks whenever possible. An additional safeguard is writing "Check ID" on the back of every credit card.
How To Secure or Destroy Personal Documents
Personal documents including tax returns, pension statements, passports, and old credit card statements can all reveal the information that a thief needs to steal an identity. Besides putting these documents into a home safe or storing them at the bank, seniors may also choose to get a post office box for receiving statements. This can keep statements safe until they are collected personally, unlike mail that sits in a mailbox for a day or so and could potentially be stolen. One effective way to destroy old statements that are no longer needed is to shred them. You may want to use a micro-cut shredder, which typically costs the same as other shredders, but does a much better job.
Throwing away old statements in the regular trash can lead to identity theft if someone sifts through the garbage once it's on the street for pick up. While almost no one thinks about willingly going through the trash, the rewards for identity thieves for doing so can be immense.
What To Do If You Suspect Identity Theft
If identity theft is suspected, it's vital to take action sooner rather than later. This may prevent even more damage to the credit and financial accounts of the victim. A current credit report will often give a more complete picture about which accounts have been opened. Credit bureaus should also be contacted about the issue so that a new credit account alert can be established, and will let the victim know about any new accounts that may have been recently opened with their social security number. A freeze on all new credit lines may also be established. Law enforcement officials might also be able to help by tracking down who the identity thief is, which will add evidence to the victim's claim that they themselves did not accrue the debt in question. The Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, also asks that identity theft victims fill out an identity theft report to track the incident and to assist law enforcement.