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April 8, 2014

Seniors must be vigilant when it comes to protecting ID info

TIFTON — If you are a senior adult, you have a different lifestyle than that of your younger contemporaries. You don't have kids, you can plan your days around your wants and needs, and you're free to spend the day at the beach if you choose. But not everything about the senior lifestyle is a barrel of laughs, however.

Many seniors deal with major health issues, and therefore have people in and out of their homes. Caregivers and family members are in and out, helping with everyday living needs or just visiting. It's also possible that you're fighting for your independence.

Some of the very differences that set seniors apart are the very same things that make them attractive targets for identity thieves. Add that to the fact that most seniors have spent their lives building up their credit and retirement funds, along with the fact that many seniors are far too trusting, and senior identity theft becomes a problem.

Seniors have more money and higher credit than younger people, but they're also less likely to guard their identity. They're also less likely to report a case of identity theft for fear that their families or caregivers may deem them incapable of handling their own affairs, and try to take control. Identity thieves know this – and they work hard to take advantage of it.

Seniors should be especially vigilant about protecting their identities. Personal information should be guarded closely, and checks, credit cards, Social Security cards, Medicare cards and mail should be watched carefully as well, since ID thieves work off of this information.

These steps can help seniors prevent identity theft:

• Be wary of family, friends or caregivers that start asking for small loans or give you stories of hard times or financial hardships. Some criminals will play on your emotions to gain access to your personal information or your money.

• Keep your personal information locked safely away from visitors in your home. This includes bank statements, credit card statements, Medicare statements and other financial documents.

• Have your mail delivered to a post office box instead of your home. This is particularly important if you cannot pick up your mail every day. If this isn't possible, ask your postman to deliver your mail to your door.

• Shred or burn any documents that contain personal information.

• Opt out of direct mail credit offers by calling the Federal Trade Commission's Opt Out line at 1-888-567-8688.

• Don't carry your Social Security card in your purse or wallet unless you know you'll need it. Keep it locked up otherwise.

• If you use paper checks, don't have them delivered to your home. Instead, pick them up at the bank or have them sent to your post office box.

• Don't have your phone number, Social Security number, driver's license number or date of birth printed on your checks. When ordering checks, use only your first and middle initials, but sign the bank signature card with your full name. This will help alert the bank if there's a problem.

• When paying credit card bills by check, write only the last four digits of the account number on the memo line, if at all.

• Don't sign the back of your credit or debit cards. Instead, write "photo ID required for use."

Be sure to keep a list of your credit card numbers and contact numbers for the card issuers stored in your safe or safety deposit box. That way, if your card is lost or stolen, you can easily access it to contact the card issuer.

By being vigilant and following these tips, you can help prevent an identity thief from taking the shine off your golden years.

To contact editor Angye Morrison, call 382-4321.

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