The call came while I was cooking dinner the other night – my mother had received a phone call from a woman purporting to be calling on behalf of Medicare. It was late in the afternoon when Mom was tired and before she realized it was a scam, Mom had given her personal bank account information to the woman on the phone. Identity thieves have been targeting senior citizens and tricking them into giving out personal information by threatening they will lose Medicare benefits if they don’t give the information.

Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without permission. Thieves can run up your credit accounts, get new credit cards, medical treatment or a job – all in your name. Identity thieves cause a lot of damage – and they don’t just target the elderly.

There are several activities which, when made part of your regular routine, can help you reduce the risk of identity theft or the damage when it occurs:

  1. Monitor all your accounts on a routine basis – look at transactions each month to be sure that they are authorized and contact your financial institution immediately if you discover a problem.

  2. Read your credit reports from each of the credit reporting companies each year – you have a right to a free credit report every 12 months and can access these reports at

  3.  Remember to keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software up-to-date and if you haven’t done so already, add a firewall to your home network.

  4. Keep your personal and financial papers secure and shred them before discarding them.

These are just a few suggestions – for more information, check-out the resources provided by the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or the Consumer Federation of America.

If, despite your best efforts, your information does become compromised, act fast to limit the damage:

  1. Flag your credit reports by calling one of the credit reporting companies, and ask for a fraud alert on your credit report. The company you call must contact the other two so they can put fraud alerts on your files. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days.

  2. Contact your bank’s fraud department to secure your personal accounts and ask for further guidance on securing personal information.

  3. Consider placing a “freeze” on your credit – the freeze should prohibit anyone from opening accounts using your name and Social Security number.

Identity theft can happen at any time and any place – the thieves may appear in person, online, or over the phone. Take precautions to secure your data and help your loved ones do the same.

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