Seniors and Identity Theft: 5 Ways the Elderly Can Protect Themselves
The current generation of teens and young adults have never known a time when the internet did not exist. They grew up with social media, email, and all kinds of other technology, and they are comfortable with smartphones, tablets, and other digital devices.
For older folks, this comfort level is often much lower. Senior citizens lived most of their lives in the offline world, growing up long before the advent of email, emojis, and instant messaging. As a result, older people can be prime targets for identity thieves and hackers, criminals who take advantage of their lack of knowledge and technical sophistication.
If you want to protect yourself or someone you love from the scourge of identity theft, there are steps you can take right away. Here are five things you can do to protect yourself and the seniors in your life.
1. Educate Yourself
One of the reasons identity thieves target seniors is their relative lack of technical sophistication. Unlike their younger counterparts, senior citizens did not grow up with computers, and the internet is often a recent addition to their lives.
If you want to stay safer online, you need to make up for lost time. You may not be a digital native, but it is never too late to learn about technology. Many public libraries, high schools, and community colleges offer free or low-cost computer classes, so sign up and learn about what you have been missing.
2. Know the Risks
If you do not know the risks, you cannot guard against them, so educate yourself about scams that are going around and how they work. Scams targeting seniors are routinely reported on local newscasts and covered in the newspaper, so watch and read closely.
You can also talk to fellow seniors, and young people as well, about scams that are going around. These scams change all the time, but they often follow similar patterns, like attempts to glean personal information, attempts to gather account numbers and threats of arrest if prompt payment is not made. Recognizing these trends can help keep you safe, but it all starts with education.
3. Avoid Oversharing
It is tempting to bare your soul, especially if you are new to the internet and social media. After all, social media is all about sharing, and many seniors think that more is better.
Unfortunately, sharing too much can open senior citizens up to identity theft. Whether you are setting up your first Facebook account, or tweaking your online profile, be careful about what you reveal. Personal information should be shared sparingly. If you reveal too much, an identity thief is sure to take advantage of your largesse.
4. View Emails with Suspicion
Many identity theft schemes involving senior citizens arrive via email. Identity thieves often assume that seniors are not as savvy, or as careful, about their use of email, and unfortunately, that is sometimes the case.
If you want to protect yourself or a senior you love, start with the inbox. Make sure all spam filters are turned on and view all unsolicited emails with suspicion. Legitimate businesses do not request personal information like account numbers or bank account data via email. If you have any doubts about the authenticity of a message, contact the company directly to verify the request.
5. Keep Close Tabs on Bank and Credit Card Statements
The steps seniors take offline can make a big difference, and that starts with keeping close tabs on bank statements and credit card bills. Scouring these documents with a fine-toothed comb can protect you from theft and ensure your money stays where it belongs.
If you spot anything suspicious, contact the bank or credit card issuer immediately. You only have a limited amount of time to dispute a transaction, and the sooner you act, the better off you will be.
Staying safe online can be a real challenge, especially if you did not grow up in the age of the internet. Seniors, in particular, are at special risk, targeted by identity thieves for their supposed trust and naiveté. If you do not want to be the next victim of these criminals, you need to take a proactive approach to online, and offline, security.