In today's information-based world, identity theft takes many forms. From mailbox raiding and dumpster diving to skimming, medical benefits fraud, social network hacking, corporate data breaches, student identity theft — there's nearly no end to the number of ways a thief can steal your identity.
Today's identity thieves are smarter, faster and more dangerous than ever, stealing valuable, private information and leaving victims exposed and mentally and emotionally vulnerable.
The modern identity thief does not discriminate, targeting small children and seniors alike, and destroying finances and reputations along the way. Parents who worry about their children's physical safety, their futures, education and their character, now need to also worry about their children's personal information to protect them from identity fraud. Seniors who have more free time and have spent their entire working lives building up retirement funds are particularly vulnerable to telemarketer scams and other crimes of deception.
Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, topping the FTC's list of consumer complaints for 14 years running. Last year alone, there were 13.1 million victims — with one victim every two seconds. There's no question that identity thieves are eager find their next victim, targeting anyone and everyone for a weak link. Some groups of people are just easier targets for criminals to steal from — particularly children and seniors.
A minor's identity is so valuable — specifically the child's Social Security number — because there is no process to double check the information. As young as a few months old until the teenage years, children make prime targets because they have no credit history — and no credit reports. A savvy identity thief recognizes the potential of a clean slate that can be molded and manipulated for years to come. Minors are attractive targets because these thefts typically go undetected for years. These crimes have lasting repercussions, especially when the victim tries to open a new checking account, apply for a student loan or their very first credit card. Factor in the lack of safeguards within the Social Security system, and an increasingly tech-saturated youth culture, and the fraud is even greater.
Many identity crimes, crimes of deception and financial crimes are aimed at the senior population for one reason: Criminals believe that seniors have more money to steal. Senior citizens are more likely to be targeted by a telemarketer scam than people in other age groups. Additionally, many seniors are less inclined to check their credit reports and typically have fewer people to help them keep an eye on things — leading to a lower probability of detection. Another advantage for criminals: Seniors are at a point in life where they are more stable in their financial transactions and less likely to be opening new lines of credit. The first time a senior may become aware that he is a victim of identity theft is when he receives a phone call from a collection agency, or when he changes insurance policies and a credit check is required.
No matter what your age, it is important to safeguard your information. Whether you're a single adult, a parent with an adolescent child or a senior — follow these seven useful tips to be proactive in guarding your identity.
- Be Smart Online. If you shop online, make sure to do the following: conduct independent research before you buy from a seller; look for signs that the site is encrypted or secure; only complete the required fields in an online form; use safe payment options (credit card versus a debit card), and turn your computer off when you're finished shopping. These simple steps can help shield you against online predators.
If you do have a child or elder family member you're concerned about, I strongly encourage you to have a talk with them to reiterate these warnings and make them aware of the dangers.
Identity theft is a common and frustrating crime that's easier to prevent than solve. No one is immune. Victims suffer financially and devote countless hours to retrieving stolen funds, restoring damaged credit, and detangling the mess that's left behind. The good news is that you can reduce your risk of being a target by taking preventative action now.