Freedom from fraud: Protecting your identity and finances

by Renata Sago

Constance Etude had a close encounter with fraud in 2020, but her instinct saved her. 

“I got a phone call from a woman saying she was a customer service agent for my health insurance provider,” the 65-year-old remembers. “She told me she needed to verify my social security number. It all seemed off. The phone line was statick-y and I didn’t recognize the area code. So I ended the call.” 

A month later, Etude saw a local news segment about a scheme to steal people’s data.

There were just under 2 million reports of imposter scams and identity theft that year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. That’s nearly 40 percent of total reports. Fraud takes place in many ways and for many reasons —from intentional data breaches within companies to family members trying to access credit lines. As we age, it’s important to know how to minimize risk. Consider these strategies:

Using Your Debit Cards Sparingly

Want to dispute a charge from a merchant? There’s no dispute process for debit cards. Charge purchases to a reliable credit card. If you misplace the card, then lock it immediately. 

Establishing a Trustworthy System for Your Online Accounts

Use a secure Internet connection when handling personal account information whenever possible. Use secure sites, too. Change your account passwords and pin numbers regularly. Be careful about sharing important data over the phone. Opt out of information sharing. Use antivirus software when necessary. 

Checking Your Credit Reports Often

Take a look at your credit report with the three national credit monitoring agencies—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—regularly. It’s helpful to know what your credit score is before making a big purchase or refinancing. Look for inaccuracies and missing information. You can currently get a free weekly credit report here. Also, most banks provide monthly FICO scores as a courtesy for being a customer. 

Checking Utility Bills Often

You’ll be able to see charges that aren’t adding up and dispute them immediately.

Keeping Your Personal Information Private When You Have Visitors

Say you’re having your living space renovated, make sure your personal information is stored in a safe place. Also, invest in a shredder to securely get rid of documents that you no longer need. It’s a good practice to trust someone with your personal information in the event of an emergency.  

Listen to Your Intuition 

There may not be a way to avoid a large-scale data breach, but you can at least take precautions. 

If you want to read more about common scams and ways to report them, then start by visiting the Internet Crime Complaint Center and

(Constance Etude’s name has been changed upon request.)

(Happy Aging is a unique series focused on how to help you age well. These stories have been created in cooperation with AARP and Word In Black.)

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