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Sunday May 19, 2019

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

10 Ways to Avoid Identity Theft

What can people do to protect themselves from identity theft? My brother-in-law recently had his identity stolen and I want to make sure it doesn't happen to me.

Each year around 17 million people fall victim to identity theft, which happens when someone gets access to your Social Security number, bank or credit card account number or other identifying information and uses it to steal from you. Here are some free steps you can take to reduce your risks.

Guard your personal information: Never give your Social Security, credit card, checking account or savings account numbers to anyone unless you initiate the contact. Do not carry your Social Security card around in your wallet or purse. You should also avoid carrying around your Medicare card unless you are going to the doctor.

Remove yourself from mailing lists: Put a stop to preapproved credit card offers, which is a gold mine for identity thieves. To do this, visit optoutprescreen.com or call 888-567-8688. You will need to provide your Social Security number and date of birth. You can stop other junk mail at dmachoice.org, and reduce telemarketing calls at donotcall.gov.

Use strong passwords: To safeguard your personal data on your smartphone or tablet don't use a password that is easy to hack, like 1234 or 0000. Make your computer passwords more than eight characters long, with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols like # and %. Tech experts recommend using different passwords on different accounts. If it is hard to remember them, try a password manager service.

Be wary of unknown emails: Never click on links in emails from strangers or those that claim to be from the Social Security Administration, IRS or other government agencies. Also avoid clicking on links in emails that appear to be from your bank, phone or credit card company warning of a "problem." This can result in identity-stealing malware being installed on your computer. To protect your computer from malware, install antivirus software and set up automatic security updates and full weekly scans.

Secure your mail: Empty your home mailbox quickly or buy a locked mailbox to deter thieves. Also, if you are sending a payment in the mail, use a U.S. Postal Service mailbox or go to the post office, rather than mailing the payment from your more vulnerable home mailbox.

Get safer credit cards: If you don't already have one, get an EMV chip card from your credit card provider. These are much more difficult for fraudsters to hack than magnetic strip cards.

Shred unneeded documents: Buy a crosscut paper shredder so you can shred all unneeded records, receipts, statements, preapproved credit offers or other papers you throw out that contain your financial or personal information.

Monitor your accounts: Review your monthly bank and credit card statements carefully, and see if your bank or credit card issuer offers free alerts that will warn you of suspicious activity as soon as it is detected.

Watch your credit: Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. You can receive one free report a year from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), so consider staggering your request so you can get one free copy every four months.

Set up security freezes: If you don't plan to apply for new credit, loans, insurance or utility services, freeze your credit reports so crooks cannot open up new accounts in your name. Rules vary by state, but the $5 to $20 fee is waived if you are 65 or older or show proof of past identity theft. Security freezes are set up at all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published May 4, 2018
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