About 17.6 million Americans become victims of identity theft each year. Becoming the victim of identity theft can make you feel alone, powerless, and angry. Although not always foolproof, there are some measures that you can take to help Mom avoid having her personal information stolen.
Know the Different Types of Identity Theft
In order to help Mom avoid identity theft, you should know the main types of identity theft that can occur. In many of these cases, the thieves are pretending to be affiliated with a legitimate business. You can look up the phone number for that company and report the attempted scamming to them. The company’s real phone number and email address can be found on their official website or on any bills that they may have sent to Mom.
There are several ways that a thief may try to steal Mom’s personal information, but the three main ways are:
- Phishing - When someone sends you emails that look like they are from a legitimate company, and they request that you respond with your personal information, they are phishing. Businesses will never contact you via email and ask for your personal information. Have Mom delete any emails that she is unsure of and tell her not to respond to them.
- Phone call scamming - These thieves call your home or cell phone and pretend that they are affiliated with a business, like a credit card company or a government agency, or they pretend that you have won a prize for a contest that you never entered. Tell Mom she should always hang up the phone if she is unsure if the person with whom she is speaking is a scammer or not. Tell her never to give out her personal information over the phone.
- Personal theft - Stealing her wallet or purse, searching through her trash for discarded documents that contain personal information, stealing mail out of her mailbox—these are all ways that a thief can physically steal Mom’s information. Sometimes, this type of theft comes from a person who is close to the victim and spends a lot of time with them, like a friend, a caregiver, or a relative.
Keep All of Mom's Sensitive Documents in a Secure Place
Store all of Mom’s documents that contain personal information in a safe and secure place, like a safe deposit box at the bank or a heavy lockbox in her home. Documents like her social security card, Medicaid or Medicare card, birth certificate, and anything else of the sort should all be kept locked away. Do not let Mom carry these types of documents with her unless it is absolutely necessary, particularly if the documents have her social security number on them
Keep Track of Mom's Bank and Credit Card Accounts
Unfortunately, identity theft is not always avoidable, but often times, the faster you catch it, the easier it is to stop it and fix it. Keep a close eye on all of Mom’s accounts and statements. If any of her charges look out of the ordinary, contact her bank or credit card company immediately to dispute the charge. They will flag the card as stolen and close Mom’s account, stopping the thief from completing anymore transactions under her name.
Check Mom's Credit Score Yearly
Just like her bank and credit card accounts, you should also keep a close eye on Mom’s credit score. Any sudden, large charges should affect her score in a noticeable way. You can check your credit report for free once a year.
Shred All Sensitive Documents Before Throwing Them Away
If Mom needs to declutter and throw away any documents that contain personal information, send the documents through a shredder or cut them into small strips before you throw them out. You want to make sure that, should someone go sifting through Mom’s garbage, they will be unable to read any sensitive information, like account or social security numbers. Shredders come in a wide range of prices. You should be able to find one that suits Mom’s needs at any office supply store.
Don't Give Personal Information to Strangers
If Mom ever receives an email or a phone call from someone she doesn’t know who is asking her for personal information, tell her to ignore it. If you want to make sure that the email or phone call was an actual attempt at communication from a company that Mom does business with, call that company directly using the phone number that is listed on their official website or on an official document from them.