Scam Alert: ID Theft Part 2

It is safe to say that there are two types of Americans: those who had their identity stolen and those who will have it stolen (or stolen again). In fact, your identity may have been stolen but the thief has not yet used it or is in the process of selling your information.

Signs of identity theft include but are not limited to: visible mistakes on monthly statements; mistakes on health insurance statements; late arriving bills and statements; bills and collection notices for items and services you did not purchase; calls or letters from debt collectors on debts you do not have; IRS notice that someone used your Social Security number; unexpected rejection of checks, loan applications and job applications.

Different forms of identity have different values and lifespans for thieves. A credit card has a limited period of value. With theft or use, you, and often the card issuer, are aware of the loss and close the account, replacing it with a new account. Laws protect you from any extreme loss; it is the bank or card issuer that losses.

Theft of checking account information, including the name on the check, the account number, and the bank routing number can result in direct losses by withdrawal and fraudulent checks. Discovery of this type of loss may not be noticed until after receipt of the bank statement. There can be substantial loss from the account and full recovery is not always possible. As with credit cards, bank accounts can be closed and new accounts opened but often it is too late to avoid losses.

The most serious threat to your identity occurs with theft of a Social Security or Medicare number. Since your Social Security number, and thus your Medicare number, is permanent, the thief is in no rush to use it. The thief can use it immediately, sell it, or save it for future use. Do not carry either of these forms of identification unless it is absolutely necessary. Keep these cards in a secure location. Check with your medical providers to see if it is absolutely necessary to bring your Medicare Card to an appointment. Remember, if you need emergency medical treatment, you cannot be denied service if you do not have your card with you.

Some ways to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft include the following:

• Request, review credit reports from the three nationwide reporting companies – Equifax – Experian – Transunion. You have a right to a free report from each company annually. Go online to or call 1-877-322-8228 (you may wish to stagger the reports so you receive one every 3-4 months);

• Closely check monthly bank, credit card and account statements as well as medical bills and statements;

• SHRED all outdated and unwanted financial papers – never simply toss them into the trash or recycle bin (a micro shredder is best). Dumpster Divers are adept at retrieving personal information from what is discarded;

• NEVER provide personal or financial information on-line or on the phone unless you originate the communication. Legitimate companies and the government do not conduct business this way;

• Computer passwords should be unique to each account or web site requiring one. Mix up letters (and upper/lower case), numbers, and symbols. Don’t use words or sequences such as PASSWORD, ABCDE, or 12345678;

• When shopping on-line, banking on-line, or transacting any business, check to see that the web site you are using is encrypted (https)

• Install and update computer software including the operating system, web browser, anti-virus and anti-spyware software;

• Do not use public computers or wi-fi networks to transact business or send information.

Once again, identity theft is devastating but not the end of the road. Taking the right steps can reduce loss and provide peace of mind.

AARP is seeking Fraud Fighters! Join the AARP Fraud Watch Network and receive Watchdog Alerts and Tips. It’s Free! Go to Interested in becoming a volunteer? Contact Greenblott at, the New Hampshire AARP Office at (866) 542-8168 or Vermont Office AARP at (866) 227-7451.

Next Topic: Fraud and the Internet. Elliott Greenblott is the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

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