2004-01-29 / Savvy Senior

YOU ASK THE SENIOR QUESTION

WE FIND THE SAVVY ANSWER
Dear Savvy Senior,
YOU ASK THE SENIOR QUESTION WE FIND THE SAVVY ANSWER Dear Savvy Senior,

WE FIND THE SAVVY ANSWER Dear Savvy Senior,

Not long ago I received a call from a bank inquiring about late payments on "my new Firebird. I told them I didn’t own such a car, and after grill-ing me for a few minutes with more questions, I think they realized before I did what was happening: Someone else, using my name and personal information, purchased this car. After doing more checking, the bank told me I might be a victim of identity theft and told me what to do next. I was able to get the stain removed from my credit record with no real financial cost to me except the time I spent dealing with creditors and banks. I’ve since learned that identity theft is one o the most common crimes and seniors are particularly at risk. An advice on what I can do to protect myself in the future?

Firebird Free

Dear Firebird,

Welcome to the 21st Century a time when thieves don’t have to break into your home or bank to steal your money. They only have to break into your identity by stealing your personal information, such as your social security number, credit card records and bank account information. You’re one of the lucky ones if this crime didn’t cost you any money. Many people lose thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars to identity theft.

Identity Theft Facts

According to the Federal Trade Commission:

• 27 million people have experienced identity theft in the last five years. That’s one in nearly every 10 people in this country.

• Ten million people were victims of this crime last year.

• Those victims last year lost $48 billion to the thieves.

Savvy Tips: If you think you’re a victim of identity theft, call your fin-ancial institutions, immediately and close accounts that have been tamper-ed with and change your personal ID numbers. Then call and report it to the Federal Trade Commission hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT and report it to your local police department.

Seniors Hit Hard

Seniors are especially vulnerable for a couple of reasons. Last year, an official with the Social Security Ad-ministration told the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging that, "Senior Citizens are more likely than most to have significant assets savings, investments, paidup mortgages, and federal entitlement checks." What’s more, Uncle Sam uses Social Security numbers on Medicare, Medicaid and military identification cards, creating more exposure for seniors should they lose these documents. Business Week Online recently called it "Uncle Sam’s Security Breach."

What Can You Do?

Most identity theft starts with the theft of a wallet, purse or your even your mail, so try to keep the ‘Same kind of tight control on your personal and financial information that you keep on your actual money. And:

• Don’t give your identifying numbers or financial information over the telephone or even in person unless you are sure of the other person.

• Tear up all mail solicitations, bank records and other discarded documents. Buy a cheap shredder or just rip them up yourself.

• Call the credit reporting industry at 18885678688 to opt out of future credit card solicitations.

• Make sure your Social Security number is not on any documents that don’t require it, which means in some cases taking it off checks, driver’s li-censes and more. It is still required on Medicare cards.

• Periodically request a copy of your credit report and review it thoroughly for errors. You can get a copy from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax 1-800-685-1111, Experian 1-888-397-3742 or Trans Union 1-800-916-8800.

Savvy Resources

• Identity Theft Resource Center: A nationwide, nonprofit organization that fights against identity theft. Visit www. idtheftcenter. org.

• Federal Trade Commission: Your national resource for identity

theft www. consumer.gov/idtheft.

• 101 Identity Theft: This Web site contains lots of news and information on what to do if identity theft happens to you. www. 101-identitytheft.com.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK, 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org.

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