Tips to help seniors avoid identity thieves

Published 7:00 pm Wednesday, May 2, 2012

(ARA) – Tommy and Susie aren’t the only ones who love Grandmom and Grandpop. Identity thieves love seniors too.

Identity theft among Americans 50 and older is rising, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. In 2010, more than 3.5 million households headed by people 50 and older experienced identity theft, according to bureau figures.

Identity thieves find seniors attractive targets for a number of reasons, according to the FBI, including for their financial stability. Seniors are more likely to have savings, own a home and have good credit. Fortunately, taking precautions – including monitoring one’s identity and credit through products like – can help seniors reduce their risk of identity theft.

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Two types of identity theft that have targeted seniors in the past are phone scams and medical fraud.

The FBI advises seniors to be wary of telemarketers and phone solicitations, since money lost through a phone call is very difficult to get back. The bureau recommends taking precautions when doing business over the phone, including:

* Asking for written material before committing to any charitable request or special offer. If you receive written material, review it with someone you trust.

* Avoid dealing with companies you don’t know, and research unfamiliar companies through consumer agencies like the Better Business Bureau, state attorney general or National Fraud Information Center.

* Know who you’re talking to. Ask for the person’s full name, business title, phone number, physical address, mailing address and business license number. Verify the information before any transactions take place.

* Don’t pay in advance for services, and be wary of high-pressure tactics that require you to act immediately in order to receive a special price or offer.

Medical fraud is another area of particular risk for seniors, who tend to have more doctor visits, hospital trips and prescriptions, and since Medicare can be confusing and complicated.

It’s important to protect your identity by guarding Medicare and health insurance information, just as you would your bank account number or Social Security number. The FBI offers these tips for avoiding health insurance fraud:

* Never sign blank claim forms or give a medical provider blanket authorization to bill for services.

* Make sure you understand what your medical providers will charge and how much of it you will be expected to pay out of pocket. Review your coverage with your health insurance company so you understand what your financial responsibilities are.

* Don’t do business with anyone selling medical equipment door-to-door or over the phone, or who tell you that you can get services or equipment for free.

* Provide your insurance or Medicare information only to those who have given you a medical service.

* Keep accurate records of all your medical appointments and prescriptions.

Finally, if you’re having trouble keeping track of your medical information, ask for help from a trusted friend or family member. Navigating Medicare, health insurance and health care can be challenging. Getting assistance and staying on top of your medical information are key steps toward protecting your identity, and help minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.