identity protection

Top 3 tips for 50-somethings to avoid identity theft

Digital safe concept | Donald Iain Smith/Blend Images/Getty Images

Donald Iain Smith/Blend Images/Getty Images

If you're in your 50s, you probably have a well-established financial identity and you probably use more medical services than you did when you were younger. Those traits can make you a prime target of identity thieves.

People who are 25-to-64 years old have the highest incidence of identity theft compared with younger and older age groups, according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice. But, generally 50-somethings have more, and more valuable, data to steal than younger generations.

Fraudulent use of your financial identity can cost you time, money and career opportunities.

To protect yourself, you'll have to "make a conscious choice about how much security you're willing to give up for convenience," says Eva Velasquez, CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego.

With that in mind, here are 3 ID-theft tips for 50-somethings:

Secure your documents

People in their 50s often have accumulated decades of old bank statements and tax returns, which can prove a gold mine for identity thieves.

If people you don't know well enter your home, and potentially when you're not present, you should be extra careful to secure your personal information.

Trusted contractors, caregivers or even your teenaged children's friends could be professional burglars or impulsive crime-of-opportunity thieves.

"Keep paper documents in a locked filing cabinet that's too heavy to move out of the house easily," Velasquez says.

Keep your delivered mail locked up or out of sight as well.

Monitor your accounts

Many 50-somethings travel frequently or take extended vacations. When you're away, you should be vigilant about checking your financial accounts.

Shirley Inscoe, senior analyst with Aite Group, a financial sector research and analysis company in Boston, says consumers should sign into their accounts often and look at their activity online rather than wait for monthly statements to arrive via mail.

"If there's anything unusual or that you didn't authorize, let your bank know right away. That can really help the bank avoid having more money moved out of your account and shut it down quickly," Inscoe says.

Use a credit card rather than a debit card to reduce your risk of having your bank accounts compromised and limit your liability if it happens.

"When you tie all of your accounts together, if there's 1 access point that's vulnerable and you're using a debit card, you could potentially allow the thief to access all of your cash," Velasquez says.

Social media might not be a daily habit for you, but if you decide to use it, don't over-share your travel plans or pictures of your trip while you're out of town.

"If you don't have robust privacy settings, you could make yourself a target," Velasquez says.

Say no to medical providers

Doctors, dentists and hospitals routinely collect Social Security and driver's license numbers on patient information forms for bill collection purposes. This, too, can expose your personal data to miscreants.

"We encourage people to leave it blank," Velasquez says. "If they demand that you provide the information or they won't provide you with services, ask what protocols they have to make sure they are a good steward of the information."

If you escort your elderly parents to medical appointments, advise them to follow the same practice.

Medical ID theft can be difficult to detect. If you or receive a collections call or bill for services that you don't recognize or didn't receive, don't ignore it.


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