Identity theft is a serious problem, especially among seniors in the Seattle, Washington area who can be easy targets. There are ways to protect yourself and measures you can take to ensure you or someone you love is not a victim. Let’s start with the basics…
What is Identity Theft?
According to the 1998 Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act identity theft is when someone“knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.”
Types of Identity Theft
• Financial identity theft
This involves using another’s identity to obtain credit, product or services. Improtant financial information can often be obtained via internet scams or telephone scams.
• Identity cloning
When someone assumed the identity of another person and uses it in daily life.
• Medical identity theft
This is similar to identity cloning, except it is only used to obtain medical care or drugs.
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
In today’s technology driven society, protecting your identity is more important than ever. It happens everyone, some you can avoid by taking the right precautions, and others you can’t do anything about. In recent years hackers have managed to obtain and use tens of thousands of credit card information by finding and exploiting security holes in the credit card companies. This is an example of identity theft that can not be avoided by the consumer.
“Phishing” emails and text messages are one of the most common ways to obtain private identity information. This is where you receive an email or text message that appears to come from a financial institution, such as your bank or PayPal. These often appear urgent, so you follow the link to sign in – but the catch is you’re actually on a fake website and you’ve just given a scammer access to your private information. But, don’t assume identity theft only happens online. Similar scams happen via telephone calls, where it is supposedly the IRS contacting you about a small outstanding balance, and before you know it you’ve handed over your credit card number and all the relevant information. Identity theft can happen anywhere, anytime. Someone could be watching over your shoulder as you fill out a form at your doctor’s office. Another individual could be rummaging through your trash, hoping to find a tossed out credit card offer. There are many ways to fall victim to identity theft, arming yourself with facts and prevention is key to protection. You can NEVER be too careful.
How do I protect myself from Identity Theft?
• Be aware of your surroundings. When filling out forms that include private information, take a seat away from others when possible. Never throw out forms or paperwork that may have your personal information on them, always take these home with you and dispose of them properly.
• Don’t toss out credit card offers or other junk mail that pertains to obtaining credit. In addition, any other private information you have – bills, car registration, insurance documents, bank statements – should always be disposed of properly and NEVER put out with your household trash. These items should be shredded or burned. In addition, limiting the amount of junk mail you receive by “opting out” of mail distribution lists can vastly decrease your risk. Opt out by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT.
• Never follow links to bank accounts, credit accounts, PayPal accounts, etc from an email. Again, “phishing” emails may appear as a completely legitimate email from your bank or credit card company, warning you of unauthorized transactions or other alarming information. ALWAYS access your bank and credit accounts by entering their web address into your web browser, NEVER through a link. Reputable companies will not contact you via email about such important matters.
• Don’t respond to emails offering money in exchange for “helping” an individual transfer money into the country. These are always scams and have proven to be very dangerous.
• Password protect your computer and your wireless internet. Use firewalls and virus protection software.
• Never give personal information to telephone solicitors or door to door solicitors. Do not give out personal information over the phone unless you placed the call yourself.
• Lock your car. Identity theft via “glove compartment” information is on the rise. Keeping your car locked can ensure you are not an easy target.
• Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. Purge expired credit cards, insurance cards, and ID’s regularly. Keep these items at home in a safe place.
If you do not have a locking mailbox, do not mail payments using your mailbox. Always take the mail directly to the post office.
What do I do if think I’ve been targeted?
Contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-IDTHEFT or www.ftc.gov
Janis Layman is a Reverse Mortgage Specialist serving the Seattle, Lynnwood, Edmonds, and Shoreline areas of Washington. Contact Janis and learn if reverse mortgage is right for you.