What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs 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 may also face difficulty getting credit or loans.
Many older adults have sound finances and a solid credit history, making them a prime target for thieves. For this reason, thieves may design their schemes to manipulate older adults. 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?
- 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.
- If you are unsure about a person’s claimed identity, do not give them any information.
- Do not leave home with your Social Security card unless you know that you will need it.
- 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.
- Clear your login information if you make online purchases, especially if you are on a public computer.
Turn on the Freeze and leave would-be thieves out in the cold!
In Maine, one of the strongest identity theft prevention tools is called the “security freeze.” You can “freeze” your credit reports for free. Why does this work? Because without access to your credit report, identity thieves cannot open new accounts in your name. This is truly the most effective way to protect yourself from identity theft. Turning on the freeze means that only you, as the consumer, can access your personal information. If you choose to “unfreeze” your account in order to take out a loan or apply for a credit card, you must contact the three credit bureaus in advance and request that your account be unfrozen. Consumers may pay a small fee for “unfreezing” their securities, but turning on the freeze is free.
The Maine Office of Securities has an excellent website that can take you through the process of turning on the freeze and leaving would-be thieves out in the cold.
The Maine Office of Securities can certainly help with any fraud or identity theft questions. Their office has many materials available and they are more than happy to answer your questions in their efforts to stop fraud in its tracks. Call the Maine Office of Securities toll-free at 1-877-624-8551 (toll free in Maine) or 207-624-8551.