The call came while I was cooking dinner the other night – an elderly client had received a phone call from a woman purporting to be calling on behalf of Medicare. It was late in the afternoon when she was tired and before realizing it was a scam, she had given her personal bank account information to the woman on the phone.  Identity thieves have been targeting senior citizens and tricking them into giving out personal information by threatening they will lose Medicare benefits if they don’t give the information.

Identity theft happens when someone steals personal information and uses it without permission. Thieves can run up credit accounts, get new credit cards, medical treatment or a job – all in someone else’s name. Identity thieves cause a lot of damage – and they don’t just target the elderly.

Here are a few suggestions to help reduce the risk of identity theft or limit the damage when it occurs:

  • Do not to provide personal information to anyone who calls.  If the call is legitimate, you can return the call after your have had time to verify the identity and purpose of the call.
  • Request copies of credit reports from each of the credit reporting companies – everyone has the right to a free credit report every 12 months and can access these reports at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.
  • Check home computers to make sure that anti-virus and anti-spyware software is up-to-date and a firewall has been installed.
  • Keep personal and financial papers secure and shred them before discarding them.
  • Monitor financial accounts on a routine basis – look at transaction each month to be sure that they are authorized and contact the financial institution(s) immediately if you discover a problem. Using a system like the one we have at Lumina Financial can help.

If, despite your best efforts, information does become compromised, act fast to limit the damage:  Call one of the credit reporting companies to place an initial fraud alert which is good for 90 days and contact all banking and credit account companies to report the identity theft.  Consider  placing a security “freeze” on credit records to prohibit anyone from opening new accounts using your name and Social Security number.  This is an especially good idea for elderly people who are less likely to open new accounts.

Identity theft can happen at any time and any place – the thieves may appear in person, online, or over the phone. Lumina Financial Consultants can provide you with resources to help you and your loved ones keep your information secure.