Identity theft. What is it and how do you avoid it?
Identity theft is when someone uses your personal information such as your Social Security number, your credit card number, or your bank information to get credit or make purchases for themselves in your name. Victims of identity theft not only risk losing money but also may face difficulty getting credit or loans.
Many seniors have sound finances and a solid credit history, making them a prime target for thieves. For this reason, many thieves design their schemes to manipulate seniors. Often, they will try to solicit information or money by providing a fabricated story such as one regarding a grandchild in jail requiring bail. These stories use victims’ emotions against them so they are too distracted to question the validity of the stories.
What should you do to protect yourself?
1. Do not give out your personal information such as your Social Security number, credit card number or bank information to anyone you do not know or who is not from a confirmed reputable source.
2. If you are unsure about a person’s claimed identity, do not give them information. Instead, try to look up their company or ask to speak to a supervisor.
3. Do not leave home with your Social Security card unless you know that you will need it.
4. Keep a close watch on your bank statements and credit card bills. Call your bank or credit card company if you notice anything suspicious such as a charge that you do not recognize.
5. Clear your logins if you make online purchases, especially if you are on a public computer. Make sure that a stranger cannot just log straight into your account and buy things.
In addition to these tips, you should know that New Jersey passed one of the strongest identity theft prevention laws in the country. Under this law, consumers can “freeze” their credit reports for free. This locks access to consumers’ credit files. Once the freeze is in place, only the consumer can access their own information with a special code.
When consumers choose to “unfreeze” their account in order to take out a loan or apply for a credit card, they must contact the three credit bureaus in advance and request that their account be unfrozen. Consumers may pay a small fee for “unfreezing” their securities, but this will be less than $5. This law provides an added safeguard against identity theft, allowing New Jersey residents peace of mind over their finances.
If you want more information about the security freeze, contact:
New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs
124 Halsey Street
Newark, NJ 07102
You can order bulk quantities of free Identity Theft Prevention brochures from AARP. Call: 1-866-542-8165