Courtesy of Travelers Insurance

Identity theft can happen to anyone who’s not prepared and protected. It can affect your taxes, bank accounts, credit status, criminal history and more.[1] For seniors who rely on the convenience of conducting transactions online but may not be tech savvy, it’s important to understand the risks of exposing one’s personal information. Here are some ways to help protect yourself from identity theft.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is when a scammer steals your personal information and uses it for fraudulent purposes.[2] Knowing how to protect your identity begins with understanding the intricacies of identity theft. Identity theft starts with the loss of personal data like usernames, passwords, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, health IDs and banking information. Criminals use personal data to impersonate you in fraudulent transactions and other crimes.[3]

Identity thieves attack the databases of government agencies, businesses and other organizations where personal data is stored. When they get your information, criminals use it to file taxes, apply for credit or get medical services for themselves.[4] These fraudulent activities can damage your credit and reputation, potentially costing you time and money to repair.  

How Can You Prevent Identity Theft Online?

Realizing your vulnerabilities online is an important step in helping to protect yourself and your personal information. When you know how to prevent identity theft online, you can help make your online activities safer. Here are some ways you can help protect yourself from identity theft online:

  • Ask questions before giving out your Social Security number. 

Other than the IRS, your bank, and your employer, there aren’t many organizations that need your Social Security number. If someone asks for it via email or text, do not provide it. Over the phone you should verify that the caller is legitimate and ask why the caller needs it, how they will protect it, and if they could use just the last four digits.[5]

  • Transmit personal information securely.

Do not send financial, health or personal information via the internet or email unless it is going to a trusted source and you initiated the contact. To keep account numbers and Social Security numbers safe, it is best to give them over the phone when needed.

  • Use strong passwords.

Create unique passwords for your accounts and devices to help safeguard your personal information. A strong password has at least 12 characters[6] including uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Avoid words or phrases that are easily guessed.

  • Review your credit report periodically.

Take advantage of your free annual credit report to check for any unusual activity.[7] If you see new accounts or loans that you did not open, investigate immediately and terminate them. This is one way you can help protect against identity theft.

How Can You Prevent Identity Theft on Social Media?

Social media is a popular way to interact with friends and relatives and even to make purchases. Knowing how to prevent identity theft on social media can make your virtual connections safer. Here are some ways to help protect your identity while participating in your online community:

  • Select your audience.

Connect only to people you know on social media apps. When posting, limit your audience to those who may find the information you are sharing relevant. Do not accept friend requests from people you do not know.[8]

  • Use multi-factor authentication.

Many social apps allow you to set up a two-step verification system. You sign in with a password and then the app sends you a code via text or email. This additional layer of security protects your account from unknown users and potential identity thieves.

  • Limit sharing specifics.

It may seem innocent, but posting information about places you’ve lived, your complete birthday and where you work can give criminals the information they need to steal your identity.

  • Disable read receipts.

Read receipts let other people know when you have read their messages, possibly sharing too much information about where you are and what you are doing online.

  • Turn off location settings.

Location settings and activity status can indicate when you are away from home. Limiting the amount of information about your life that strangers can figure out from the internet will help keep you safe.

How Can You Avoid Identity Theft When Shopping Online?

Online shopping is a convenient way to compare items without driving all over town. Unfortunately, when online shopping volumes increase, so do online scams and the potential for identity theft.[9] Here are some tips to keep in mind to help mitigate your risk when shopping online:

  • Shop on secure websites.

Shop only on websites with URLs that begin with https. If the “s” is missing, the website does not have secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption installed, the latest standard in online security.[10]

  • Don’t use public computers or Wi-Fi.

The computers at the public library or in school computer labs are convenient, but they can store your personal information, allowing anyone with access to the network to get your credit card number or anything else you key into the computer. Public Wi-Fi at airports and coffee shops is also not safe for your personal information. Do your online shopping at home.[11]

  • Freeze your credit.

By freezing your credit, you can prevent scammers from opening a new credit account in your name.[12] The freeze will last until you remove it. You can initiate a freeze by contacting each of the three credit bureaus.

  • Use a credit card for online purchases.

A credit card is typically safer than a debit card for online purchases because it has a limit. If your card number is compromised, it can be used only up to your credit limit, and most banks typically will remove the fraudulent charges. With your debit card number, a criminal can potentially have access to all the money in your bank account.[13] As a security precaution, consider getting a credit card with a lower credit limit to use only for online purchases.

  • Review credit card statements.

Always read your credit card statements carefully to be sure they do not include any charges you do not recognize.[14] If there is a fraudulent charge, bring it to the attention of your credit card company immediately.

What Do You Do If Someone Steals Your Identity?

When you realize you have been the victim of any form of identity theft, it is important to act quickly to report the fraud and recover your accounts. Here are the first steps you should take:

  • Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Based on your reported situation, the FTC typically will give you a personalized recovery plan and help you implement it.[15]

  • Implement a fraud alert.

With a fraud alert on your credit report, a business typically would have to verify your identity before issuing new credit in your name. It would alert you if someone were trying to use your credit. A fraud alert can be initiated by calling any one of the three credit bureaus. When one credit bureau receives a fraud alert, it is required to notify the other two.[16]

  • Change your passwords.

When you are notified that your passwords on certain accounts may have been compromised, change them immediately.[17] If you suspect that someone has signed into any of your accounts without your permission, change the passwords to help secure your accounts.

  • File an insurance claim.

If you have identity fraud insurance, you may be covered from expenses related to identity fraud such as lost wages, attorney’s fees, travel expenses, replacement of government issued identification, and more. Contact your insurance agent to find out what your insurance policy covers and for help filing your claim.

Protect Yourself from Identity Theft with Travelers

Identity theft is a serious concern, especially for anyone who uses the internet. Scammers can catch you off guard. Take precautions to protect yourself from identity theft, and if you become a victim, know what to do to report the fraud and recover your accounts. If you don’t have insurance, consider getting identity fraud protection from Travelers.

This content is brought to you by Travelers. AMAC members receive special discounts and competitive rates on auto and home insurance from Travelers.

To learn more about how you can save on Home, Renters and Auto Insurance, check out this special offer for AMAC members from Travelers or call 866-890-1786.