Protecting your nest egg from virtual crows

Published 6:00 pm Monday, March 5, 2012

(ARA) – Calling your retirement savings a “nest egg” is meaningful on many levels. Just as birds labor hard and long to create a secure roost, you and your mate work hard to provide for yourselves during your golden years. And just as crows and other invaders can come along to rob a bird’s nest, your nest egg can be at risk from predators like identity thieves and scammers.

One out of every five people older than 65 – 7.3 million Americans – has been the victim of a financial swindle, according to a survey sponsored by the Investor Protection Trust. Identity theft statistics are also alarming: In 2010, more than 1 million people older than 65 were targeted by identity thieves, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Factor in everyone older than 50, and that number soars to more than 3.5 million.

“Unfortunately, it’s not enough to have saved wisely for retirement,” says Ken Chaplin, senior vice president of marketing for Experian’s ProtectMyID. “Statistics show that seniors are favorite targets for identity thieves, con artists and scammers. Protecting your nest egg from being raided by crooks is every bit as important as ensuring your investments continue to pay off.”

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According to the FBI, seniors may be targeted because:

* They are less likely to be technically savvy about online predators.

* They tend to be more polite and trusting, and may be less likely to recognize a phone scam.

* They may be unaware who to report a crime to if they’ve been defrauded.

* They often have large nest eggs to protect.

Fortunately, you can take steps to protect your nest egg.

Avoiding phone scams

First, always know who you’re giving your money to. Never invest with someone who “cold calls” you on the phone claiming to have a great investment opportunity. Be especially wary of “companies” that have no physical address and operate out of a P.O. box or website. And remember, be suspicious if an investment promises amazing returns. If something sounds too good to be true, it often isn’t true at all.

Never give your bank account, Social Security Number or credit card number to someone who calls claiming to be a bill collector. The law requires bill collectors to provide you with documentation of a debt. Request documentation and thoroughly check out any claims that you owe money.

If you have any doubts about a phone call you’ve received, talk to friends or family members who know something about investing. Never trust a stranger you’ve just met on the phone more than the people in your life whom you know care about you.

Guarding against identity theft

In addition to being aware of investment scams, you also need to take steps to prevent identity theft.

“Seniors tend to use credit less, have more available credit and are less likely to check their credit report online,” Chaplin says. “All those factors make them an appealing target for identity thieves.”

The Federal Trade Commission recommends that everyone monitor their credit report regularly to detect signs of identity theft quickly. Services like ProtectyMyID monitor your credit report on a daily basis to help you detect, protect against and resolve instances of identity theft.

In addition to monitoring your credit, you can help protect your identity with these measures:

* Safeguard your Social Security and Medicare cards. Never carry your Social Security card with you. Store it in a safe, locked location. Be wary of who you give the number to. If a merchant or health care provider wants it, ask why they need it and if they will accept an alternate form of identification.

* Never leave out-going mail in your mailbox. If you can’t get to the post office to mail it, leave a note asking your postal carrier if he or she would be able to come to your door to pick-up your outgoing mail.

* If you use paper checks, never have new checks delivered by mail to your home. Instead, have them sent to your bank, where you can pick them up. And never have your checks imprinted with your home phone number, Social Security number, driver’s license number or birth date.

* Arrange to have all income checks – Social Security, interest dividends, pension payments, 401k withdrawals, etc. – deposited directly into your bank account. Never have a check mailed to your home, where it could be stolen from your mailbox.