Identity theft was the No. 1 category among the 2 million fraud complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission in 2013.
About 14 percent of fraud complaints were identity theft, and of those, 37 percent were made by people older than age 50. Do we look like victims just because we've got a few wrinkles and we're old enough to take retirement? Trusted ID, a credit protection firm owned by credit reporting company Equifax, says these are the things that make us vulnerable:
- Many older adults rely on caregivers who have easy access to personal information.
- Telephone scams are a growing menace and people older than 50 are accustomed to shopping over the phone.
- Older Americans use our health care system frequently and these providers don't always protect our data. A survey revealed that 94 percent of health care organizations reported one or more data breaches in the last two years and 52 percent reported one or more incidents of medical identity theft.
- People older than 50 have more money than people in other age groups and that makes them an attractive target.
What thieves look for
Overall, nearly 41 percent of the identity theft complaints were related to theft of government documents or benefits. That includes theft of a Social Security or Medicare card or a driver's license. But the most common theft -- 35 percent of government-related identity theft -- involves someone fraudulently filing your taxes and claiming a refund. The FTC spokesperson says that kind of theft is a big mess to unwind because it requires working with the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Trade Commission to file reams of paperwork.
Other common forms of identity theft are:
- Credit card fraud -- 17 percent
- Phone or utilities fraud -- 14.5 percent
- Bank fraud -- 8.8 percent
- Loan fraud -- 4 percent
- Employment-related fraud -- 3 percent
Obviously, being a victim of identity theft isn't going to make your retirement planning any simpler, so the best thing to do is to just avoid being a victim. Here are three of the most effective tools:
Put a freeze on your credit report. This restricts access to your credit report and makes it hard for thieves to open accounts in your name. Contact these credit reporting companies:
Remove yourself from junk mailing lists. You can go online to OptOutPrescreen.com, jointly operated by all three of the credit reporting companies, or call (888) 567-8688. Your Social Security number may be needed to complete the process.
Don't carry your Social Security or your Medicare card with you. Because they have your Social Security number on them, Experian calls these cards "a golden ticket for identity thieves."
Sometimes you can't avoid being a victim, but you don't have to make it easy.
Here's another kind of fraud to avoid: CD rates that are too good to be true.