December 6, 2022
10 Tips to Help Seniors Avoid Identity Theft During the Holidays
It’s the season of giving for most of us, but some Grinches take advantage. Literally, because criminals tend to ramp up their efforts during the holidays. In fact, an AARP Fraud Watch NetworkTM report has found that a majority of consumers have experienced or been targeted by at least one form of fraud that can be tied to the holidays. And seniors are particularly vulnerable. So, in honor of National Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness month in December, which is one of the most common types of fraud, here are tips to help keep you safe.
Understanding Identity Theft
Identity theft occurs when someone obtains, uses, and/or gains access to your personal documents and information without your consent. Unfortunately, personal information is all too easy to find, from your driver’s license to your Medicare card to your mail to any number of places online.
With enough personal information, identity thieves can pretend to be you and commit crimes that include making false applications fo rloans and credit cards, purchasing goods with stolen payment information, withdrawing money from your bank account, or obtaining services in your name. They can also sell your personal information on the internet to other criminals.
One of the reasons it’s so common is that identity theft can take a long time to detect because criminals typically make sure their bills and new account info aren’t sent to your address. This means you may not notice what is happening until substantial damage to your assets and credit has occurred.
What Makes Seniors Vulnerable?
Seniors are highly targeted for identity theft. Not only are you valuable to criminals because many seniors have a high net worth, but you are also seen as vulnerable because of perceptions that include:
- Not being as technologically savvy as younger consumers
- Being seen as more trusting and thus easier to manipulate or take advantage of
- More easily accessible as caretakers may have access to personal information
Regardless of whether these perceptions are true for you ornot, it means you need to stay vigilant to reduce your risk.
Why Does Identity Theft Increase During the Holidays?
Identity theft happens all year long, but you can expect a spike during the holiday season, according to Experian.They know you’re making more purchases during this time, but in addition, identity theft increases because of reasons such as:
- Shoppers are busy and distracted
- Searching for the best deals can lead you to unsafe websites
- Shoppers are tempted to use public Wi-Fi
- More people are using card readers and/or ATMs to shop
- Increased holiday travel can leave homes unattended
Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft
With seniors as a target and the lure of the holiday season, you have a double-whammy in terms of risk right now but these tips can help you avoid identity theft.
- Discuss unsolicited offers, requests for money, or personal information with a friend or family member that you trust, especially if your instinct tells you something is off.
- Always use traceable payment methods; if someone asks you to pay using gift cards or a wire transfer, that’s a red flag.
- Never share your social security number, credit card, bank information, account passwords, or other personal information with strangers or when using public wi-fi. In general, it’s best to give as little personal data as possible, even in legitimate circumstances.
- Secure your personal documents at home as well; you may have extra people in your home over the holidays, from outside help to friends of friends you may not know well.
- Verify charitable donation requests by double-checking the charity’s rating through BBB Wise Giving Alliance or Charity Navigator.
- Be cautious when shopping online, using only familiar and/or trusted websites and make sure the URL starts with HTTPS and/or look for the padlock icon before purchasing.
- Never click on links in emails, social media messages, or text messages that you aren’t 100 percent sure are legitimate.
- Always check for card-skimming devices that may be attached to an ATM or card reader, if anything looks suspicious at all, don’t use it.
- Make sure to check your bank and credit card statements regularly, as well as your credit reports.
- Keep your anti-virus program updated and create strong passwords, which are frequently changed for all your online accounts.