ELDER SAFETY: Identity theft

Elders today are at risk for many forms of financial abuse. One in particular is identity theft. When criminals gain access to your personal information they can cause both immediate and long-term harm. For example, they may run up bills in your name. They may unlawfully use your social security or Medicare number, your credit cards or your medical insurance. You may receive bills for items you didn’t buy, or your bank account may show withdrawals that you did not make. Fortunately, there are ways you can prevent this from happening to you:

Protect your personal information. Pick a secure place in your home to hide important documents. Do not leave these in easy-to-access locations, like a kitchen drawer. Only share this location with a small number of persons you trust. Always shred documents and cut up credit cards before throwing them away. Only give out your social security number when you absolutely must and to trusted sources. If you are unsure in any situation, simply wait and consult with a friend or loved one.

Be cautious online. Never provide personal or banking information by email. Even if you recognize the sender’s name, this can still be a scam. When in doubt, ask a friend for help. When shopping online or using the internet, create unique, hard-to-guess passwords on your accounts and do not share them. Protect your personal computers by using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software.

Be vigilant. Read your monthly statements from your bank and check them for accuracy. Request an annual credit report for free once each year from www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. If you see anything that you don’t recognize, immediately seek assistance to report fraud.

If you suspect identity theft, act quickly. Discuss the matter with the police, your Council on Aging Director, or a representative from Bristol Elder Services. You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-FTC-HELP. Want more? Read “Taking Charge: What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen.” This is provided to your local Council on Aging from our office.

Education is the key to prevention. Protect yourself from elder abuse.