One of the great benefits of moving into an assisted living community such as Bethesda Gardens in Fort Worth, TX, is added security. Seniors who choose to reside in assisted living apartments in our community can rely on the 24-hour presence of caring staff who are ready to respond compassionately to assist with needs. They also get help managing chronic medical conditions and reducing risks such as falls as well as the peace of mind that comes with physical security to reduce the potential for crime.
However, seniors know that physical security and wellness are only two kinds of safety. Unfortunately in this modern world, your personal information is in as much or more danger than your physical body. Whether or not you choose to make a home in an assisted living community, that information can be at risk. Find out about ways you can protect yourself from identity thieves below.
Start by taking extra care with paperwork that has sensitive information on it. Criminals don't need to gain access to documents with every bit of your information. If they get enough data, they can begin to piece together a profile that can help them commit fraud such as taking out credit accounts in your name or accessing government benefits as if they were you.
Some obvious documents to safeguard include your Social Security card, driver's license or other forms of ID and bank statements. But you should also take care with medical records and any other piece of paper that includes your name, address, phone number and other types of identifying or sensitive data.
Store these items in a locked filing cabinet in your assisted living apartment or other residence, and go through them once a quarter to remove items you no longer need. Don't just throw those items in the trash. If possible, use a home shredder to dispose of paperwork securely. You can also look for times when free public shredding is being offered locally.
Many people have moved to electronic accounts for convenience and to reduce how much paper they deal with. Electronic statements and accounts are more secure than paper, but you do need to manage the passwords correctly. Choose strong passwords, which means:
• Not using personal information such as names, birthdates or other easy-to-guess information.
• Making your passwords at least eight characters (12 or more is better).
• Including upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters such as $ or & in your passwords.
• Never using the same password for different accounts.
• Changing your password every 90 to 120 days.
That can be a lot to keep up with. Seniors might want to consider using a password manager such as 1Password. These keep all your passwords organized and managed, and you only have to remember one master password to log into anything.
Seniors can be at higher risk for identity theft because criminals look for people who aren't using their own credit regularly. Because children and older adults statistically don't use their credit as much as people of other ages, there's less chance the credit reports are going to be checked regularly, which means scammers can get away with fraud longer before someone reports an issue.
If you're using your credit or don't want to freeze it, you should definitely keep an eye on your reports. You can get a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com once a year.
But you can also freeze your credit by calling each of the three major credit bureaus. Freezing your credit locks your credit history down, which means no one can check it. That in turn means no one can successfully apply for credit in your name that requires a credit check, reducing the ability for fraudsters to use your name to open accounts and run up debt.
Just remember that you also will not be able to apply for credit that requires a credit check while it's frozen. If you plan on applying for a credit card or another form of credit, unfreeze your credit a few days beforehand. You can then contact the bureaus to refreeze your credit afterwards.
Check your credit card, checking, savings and investment accounts on a regular basis. Just browse statements or account activity to make sure everything came from you and nothing odd is going on. Report unauthorized charges or anything else that seems out of place immediately to your financial institution.
There's no such thing as 100% protection against identity theft. But a few proactive steps can go a long way toward keeping your information as safe as possible. Seniors shouldn't worry so much about this that they can't enjoy an active, vibrant lifestyle. But staying aware of the trends in cybercrimes as well as the activity on your own accounts and credit files is important, so take some time soon to look into these things and make a plan.