July 6

10 Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft

By Rick Banas of Gardant Management Solutions

Identity Theft. It can happen anytime, anyplace and to anyone, warned Larry Burton during a recent informational program at Heritage Woods of Watseka.

Larry is a financial associate with Thrivent Financial. Heritage Woods of Watseka is an affordable assisted living community that Gardant manages. The community, which is certified to operate through the Illinois Supportive Living Program, serves adults 65 and older of all incomes.

Those of us attending the program were told that last year, 16.7 million individuals in the United States were victims of identity theft, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars.

One attendee said she became a victim of identity theft after answering a question online. Another talked about having several thousand dollars stolen from her checking account. Yet another said she was the victim of identity theft twice. The first time, small amounts of money were slowly charged to her credit card account, so she didn’t notice right away; no red flags were raised. The second time, $600 in clothing purchases were charged to her account.

An attendee said she received a letter from what appeared to be a company in Chicago purporting to raise funds to send to small town sheriff’s offices. Fortunately, she checked into the company before making a contribution and found it to be a scam.

One common scam is to use stolen personal information to open up a credit card account in your name. The bill, however, is sent to a different address so that you have no idea what is going on. You never receive a statement or a bill.

To get your personal information, the scammer often poses as someone you can trust over the phone or in an e-mail. They may identify themselves as being from a company you do business with and ask you to verify information because they have had a glitch in their system.

  1. Protect Your Social Security Number

Do not carry your Social Security Card with you. Keep it in a safe location. The same is true for any other cards or documents that have your Social Security number. Unless you are the one who initiated the call, do not give out your Social Security number or any other personal information such as your date of birth or credit card numbers. Never give any personal information to someone who calls or e-mails you.

  1. Do Not Answer or Hang Up

If you get a phone call from a number you do not recognize, don’t answer. If you do happen to answer, hang up the phone. Do not give out or verify any personal information to someone who calls you.

  1. Shred Your Records

Use a cross-cut shredder to destroy personal documents and bank account and credit card statements.

  1. Secure Your Sensitive Materials

Store your sensitive materials in a safe place such as fireproof safe or locked cabinet.

  1. Protect Your Passwords

Never carry your passwords in your wallet or store them on your cell phone. Be sure that your passwords are strong. One way to create strong passwords is to use unusual characters or spellings. Do not use your name, initials, middle name or nickname, date of birth or names of children or pets.

  1. Protect Your Computer

Install a firewall on your computer and be sure to keep it up to date.

  1. Think Before You Click

If you get an e-mail asking you to provide or verify any personal information, it likely is from a scammer even if it appears to be from a person or company you know. Call the person or the company to verify that the e-mail is legitimate.

  1. Doing Business Online

Research any company or vendor before you make a purchase. Always use a credit card rather than a debit card if given the choice. Verify that the website address for the company or vendor has an “s” after “http” and before the “www”. For example “https://www” rather than “http://www”. The “s” provides the indication that you are using a secure website.

  1. Check Your Account Statements and Credit Reports Regularly

Be sure to thoroughly check your bank, credit card, utility, investment, insurance and Medicare statements and immediately report any unusual charges or activity. Three credit bureaus offer the opportunity to obtain a free credit report once a year. It is recommended that stagger your requests so you are ordering one every four months.

The credit bureaus are as follows:

Equifax

800-525-6282

www.equifax.com

P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GO 30374-0241

 

Experian

888-397-3742

www.experian.com

P.O. Box 9554, Allen TX 75013

 

Trans Union

800-680-7289

www.transunion.com

  1. Sign Up for Alerts

Talk with your financial institutions about the fraud protection and alert services that are available for your accounts.

 

New Medicare Cards

When it comes to Medicare, the federal government is in the process of issuing new Medicare cards. The purpose is to help protect those of us on Medicare from fraud and scams by issuing us cards that no longer use our Social Security number as our Medicare number.

Rather, they will be issuing us a number that is different than our Social Security number and will only apply to Medicare.

The new cards are to be mailed between April 2018 and April 2019, so not everyone will be getting their cards at the same time. You may be getting your new card before or after a family member, friend or neighbor.

Keep a couple of things in mind:

Nothing is changing in regard to your Medicare coverage. The only difference is that you will have a new Medicare number.

You do not need to verify any information to get your new card, so beware of anyone calling or e-mailing you to request or verify personal information.

All we need to do is to make sure that Medicare has your up-to-date mailing address. If you need to update your address, you can call 1-800-772-1213 or click here.

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