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Posted: March 14, 2005

Practical Caregiving

Protecting Your Own and Your Elderly's Identity from Theft

In today's world, identity theft is a major concern to every honest person. None of us wants someone else to charge things to our credit card or buy a car in our name. We do our best to pay our bills and hopefully save a little, and we don't want someone stealing our money and credit rating from us.

A few years ago some friends went on vacation in their trailer. A few weeks later, they received a call from a government agency telling them that someone had their credit card information was making several credit cards in the name of my friends. The crooks intended to sell those cards to various people around the United States, but they were caught before the cards could be distributed. The government needed my friends to go to the federal building in their city to verify the information so it could be stopped. The government wouldn't let them give any information over the phone. It turned out that one of the resort areas my friends visited used prisoners as garbage collectors. My friends had thrown away some receipts, and the prisoners searched the garbage and collected their information. Then they were off to the races with a spending spree.

Not too long ago, a young man I know went to his company's website to store information. Something popped up on the screen telling him they needed to verify his information so he could get into the site. He gave them the information and proceeded to the business site. A few days later he received a call from his bank telling him someone was charging things to his account from various parts of the country and sending purchases to other parts of the world.

We read about large companies that say their computers were hacked and customer information was stolen. You and I are their customers, so that means someone has stolen our information. Our Social Security number. Our bank account number. Our birth date. Who we are married to. How many children we have. The list goes on and on. We are all at risk.

As a caregiver we have a double responsibility. First we must protect of our finances, and second we need to protect the finances of our loved ones. How do we protect ourselves and our loved ones? Most people aren?t as lucky as my friends. Sadly, it isn't uncommon to read about an elderly couple who had their life savings stolen.

Quite often a person doesn't know for months or even years that someone has been using their personal information. They may learn about it when they see major charges to their credit card they never made; are turned down for a car loan, credit card, home mortgage; when they are contacted by a collection agency; when a lender tries to repossess a car they didn't know they owned; when they are contacted by police about a crime committed in their name; or many other ways. By that time their credit rating may be so bad that it will take a long time and a lot of effort to get it straightened out.

There are several things we should do to protect ourselves and our loved ones, but first let's look at the various ways our information can be stolen.

  1. Thieves steal from your mailbox, glove compartment, wallet or purse. The information they want may be on a bank statement, credit card statement, credit card offers, new checks or tax information.
  2. They hack into your personal computer or business computers to get your information.
  3. They look through your home trash, the trash of businesses, or they may actually go to a public dump to look for information. They look for straight cut or un-shredded papers.
  4. They listen in on conversations or look over your shoulder in public places. They may be standing in line behind you at a store checkout or at an ATM machine.
  5. They trick you into giving information over the telephone or over the internet. They may pose as a legitimate company, telling you there is a problem with your account, and for you to fix the problem they need to verify your information.
  6. They buy information from someone who has already stolen your information.
  7. They steal it from files in hospitals, banks, schools or businesses you deal with. They may have taken it from dumpsters used by the business. They may work there and steal the information from the records they have access to. They may bribe an employee, con the information from an employee, or hack into the company's computers.
  8. They may steal your credit or debit card numbers by capturing the information in a device when you pay for a meal or something else with a credit card or debit card. They swipe your card for the legitimate purchase and then they swipe it into their own secret device that automatically puts the information into their storage device.
  9. They may fill out a change of address form with your post office to divert your mail to another location where they receive it.
  10. They may break into your home and steal your bills and other information along with other items to sell.
  11. They may be a relative, friend, or someone who is helping you take care of your loved one that has access to your information. They may also know someone who has access to your information and coerce that person into stealing your information for them.

Since this topic is so important to the family caregiver, I didn't want to shorten it and leave anything out. Read my next column for information on how to protect yourself and your loved one from identity theft, and what to do if you think you are a victim of identity theft.

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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