By now, it is fairly common knowledge that identity theft is on the rise. This sinister crime in which individuals obtain enough information about unwitting victims to impersonate them online and create false identities is becoming a danger to senior citizens, especially.
The Office of Justice Programs reported that in 2013, 14 percent of all the complaints received were regarding identity theft.
Similarly, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that in 2012, the ‘mature market’ or those individuals aged 50 and older, account for 36 percent of all identity theft reports filed that year. The report also noted that 49 percent of individuals in that age demographic were the victims of some form of fraud during that year.
These are sobering statistics. In 2009, people 65 and older represented one eighth of the United States population, and with the Baby Boomer generation reaching their retirement age, we know that group has grown in size in the last few years.
The FTC report indicated that the top five states for identity theft were:
So what do people in the ‘mature market’ need to do to protect themselves from identity theft?
Understand Why Seniors Are Targeted
There are a variety of reasons individuals in this age range are targeted, many based largely in stereotypes.
1) Criminals may assume that people who are in their later years are retired and have more saved income than those individuals who are younger. They may also assume that if seniors are still working, it is out of a love of career not from need, and that they have a larger pool of funds to steal.
2) There is also a common misconception that people in this generation are easy marks, that they pay less attention and are more trusting than others.
3) For those who live in assisted living communities or memory care communities, their personal information is available in various formats within the community. It is the community’s duty to keep that information safe and secure. Thieves may see this as an opportunity.
Learn How to Protect Yourself
Much of this is common sense and applies if you are 25 or 65. Pay attention. Be vigilant. If something feels not quite right, it probably isn’t. Past that, consider these tips on how to keep your identity and your money safe.
1) Be careful what you reveal online – and to whom. Even if you are on what you consider to be a trusted platform – Facebook, for instance – don’t reveal too much personal information. That’s not to say you shouldn’t air your dirty laundry. That’s for you to decide. In this case, we’re talking about data. Don’t list your address, phone, birthday, hometown, and the like. Sometimes, this is enough for an identity thief to put together another identity for you online.
2) Be selective in what you carry with you. While it is probably easiest to have all of your pertinent information with you – your Social Security card, Medicare card, driver’s license, credit cards, etc. – if your wallet or handbag were to be stolen, you would lose all of that information at once. Suddenly, the petty thief went from having access to the $20 or so you had in cash to all of the necessary documents to create a new identity. Carry only the absolutely necessary items in your wallet – driver’s license, insurance cards, a small amount of cash and one credit or debit card that can be easily stopped if necessary.
3) Check your credit reports. There are several credit monitoring agencies, and everyone is entitled to one free credit check annually. Use that right and monitor your credit. If there is anything on your report that seems out of place, be sure to notify the monitoring agency.
With a little due diligence, you can protect that identity you worked so hard to build throughout your life. Take some time and prove to the identity thieves that the ‘mature market’ isn’t as easy a mark as they think.