Identity theft is a growing problem in the U.S. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there were 371,061 cases of identity theft reported in 2017. The most common type of identity theft was credit card fraud, making up about one-third of the identity theft cases with 133,015 cases reported in the U.S.
The elderly are frequently victims of these crimes. They are often viewed as the perfect victims because they usually have substantial money saved for retirement and good credit scores. In addition, some aging Americans may not have as much internet savvy, so they could fall victim to online scams. Here are some ways you can help protect your parents from identity theft scams.
Get your parents a shredder
Some thieves dumpster dive at senior centers or apartment buildings, hoping to find seniors' financial information. Simply buying your parents a paper shredder can help protect sensitive information from getting into the wrong person's hands.
Tell them to ditch their unlocked mailbox for bills
An unlocked mailbox in front of a home is an easy target for thieves. You could offer to help your parents set up online bill payments. If your parents prefer sending payments through the mail, suggest they drop the payments off at the post office or a post office box. You could also offer to drop off payments for them.
Suggest they lighten their wallets
It is generally not a good idea to for anyone to carry around a social security card. A social security number combined with a driver's license gives a potential thief the ability to open accounts in your name and gives access to much of your personal information. For day-to-day use, most people only need a license, a debit card, a credit card and a health insurance card. The more cards your parents carry every day, the more accounts that are vulnerable if their wallet or purse is stolen. Suggest that your parents remove the non-essential cards from their wallets.
Consider online credit monitoring
There are a variety of companies that will monitor credit accounts against identity theft. You could suggest that your parents sign up for one of these services. You could also set up a fraud alert on your parents' credit reports. According to the FTC, the alert requires that a company verify your identity before it issues credit in your name. You set up a fraud alert by contacting one of the three credit agencies, and the alert is good for one year. However, you can renew a fraud alert after it expires.
Help them opt out of unnecessary emails
Identity theft can occur from a phishing attack. The identity thief sends an email pretending to be someone else, like a bank or government agency, and then asks the recipient to provide personal information like account numbers or a social security number. Some phishing attacks seem pretty legitimate. Help protect your parents from these attacks by helping them opt out of unsolicited emails. Using optoutprescreen.com unsubscribes a person from most offers for credit cards or insurance.
Help your parents protect themselves by suggesting they invest in a paper shredder, stop leaving bills in their mailbox and lightening their wallets. Setting up fraud alerts and opting out of unwanted emails can add another layer of protection.