The Medicare annual enrollment period will begin later this month and just the other day, my mother received a phone call from a woman purporting to be working on behalf of Medicare. The call came late in the afternoon when Mom was tired and before she realized it was a scam of some sort, Mom had given her personal bank account information to the caller.
Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without permission. Thieves can run up your credit accounts, get new credit cards, medical treatment or a job — all in your name. Identity thieves cause a lot of damage — and they don't just target the elderly.
There are several activities which, when made part of your regular routine, can help you reduce the risk of identity theft or the damage when it occurs:
- Don't give your personal information to people who call you on the phone. If it is legitimate, you can call back after you have verified their identity and the purpose for needing the information.
- Monitor all your accounts on a routine basis: Look at transaction each month to be sure they are authorized and contact your financial institution immediately if you discover a problem.
- Read your credit reports from each of the credit reporting companies each year: You have a right to a free credit report every 12 months and can access these reports at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Remember to keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software up-to-date and if you haven't done so already, add a firewall to your home computer network.
- Keep your personal and financial papers secure and shred them before discarding them.
These are just a few suggestions. For more information, check out the resources provided by the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at http://www.consumerfinance.gov, or the Consumer Federation of American at http://idtheftinfo.org.
If, despite your best efforts, your information does become compromised, act fast to limit the damage:
- Flag your credit reports by calling one of the credit reporting companies, and ask for a fraud alert on your credit report. The company you call must contact the other two so they can put fraud alerts on your files. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days.
- Contact your bank’s fraud department to secure your personal accounts and ask for guidance further guidance on securing personal information.
- Consider placing a “freeze” on your credit — the freeze should prohibit anyone from opening accounts using your name and Social Security number. You can remove the freeze when you need to open accounts for yourself.
Identity theft can happen at any time and any place. The thieves may appear in person, online or over the phone. Take precautions to secure your data and help your loved ones do the same.