Keeping Your Identity Yours: Protection from Identity Theft

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all set goals for ourselves in the New Year. Some of us call them resolutions, while others, impervious to the term, call them ambitions or objectives.   Whichever ideology you may follow, devising a strategy for our daily life and sticking to it is quite sensible, simply put.

Sadly, what is not sensible (nor comprehendible) is the alarming percentage of us who fall victim to identity theft each year. The Bureau of Justice reported that 17.6 million of Americans experienced identity theft in 2014, making it the number one consumer complaint that same year, reported by the FTC. Florida was the state with by far the most complaints, which isn’t a coincidence considering The Sunshine State has the largest proportion of people 65 years and older.

Alarmingly, the number of identity theft victims in this age group increased to 2.6 million in 2014, up from 2.1 million in 2012. Why are older adults more susceptible to this type of crime? From a generational standpoint, they may be more trusting and less aware of the various types of fraudulent schemes out there in an ever-evolving technologically driven world. Additionally, they may be wary to report it, fearful of the perception of being incapable, helpless or incompetent. Furthermore, changes in the brain over time affect areas that help process risk and subtle danger, as one study by UCLA psychologists found.

Sadly, despite the best efforts of state and federal law enforcement agencies, national consumer protection organizations and nongovernmental organizations, identity theft is a constant problem in our every day life that isn’t going away. Our best bet for not becoming a statistic is to take the necessary steps to ensure our protection, and that of our loved ones.

A few simple steps for preventing theft are:

  • Don’t carry important documentation, such as Social Security and Medicare cards, on you. If you must, block out the last four digits in the event that your wallet is stolen.
  • Monitor financial activity and check credit scores often, and do so for elderly family members as well.
  • Talk to family members about potential scams and sign them up for fraud protection.
  • Shred important documents and keep others in a secure location.
  • Make sure caregivers are trustworthy and be vigilant of changing behavior.

Finally, let us not forget that a new year is a wonderful time for restitution and renewal. If you resolve to improve one area of your life, make safety and happiness your number one priority this year.

Watch for information on The Merion’s Scams and Shams program coming in March.