Equifax Breach Survival Tips for SeniorsNovember 03, 2017
The recent Equifax breach has put millions of people at risk for identity theft. This includes the risk of losing government medical and retirement benefits, or even your life savings. The retired seniors and disabled who depend on those benefits face the most immediate risk, but anyone dreams of retiring someday should take steps now to protect themselves.
Since the Equifax data breach exposed birth dates together with SSNs, it’s easy for criminals to figure out who is eligible for Social Security benefits and Medicare. If you’re already receiving Social Security benefits, thieves can impersonate you and have the checks sent to a different address. If you’re eligible for benefits but have not yet retired, they could file for your benefits and you would be none the wiser. They can make fake Medicare cards and use them or sell them to people who would get medical care using your identity. (Starting in 2018, Medicare will no longer use SSNs as patient ID numbers, but the changeover will take time.) The information breached at Equifax could also enable thieves to take over financial accounts and abscond with your savings.
Here are six simple things you can do to protect yourself. And if you are assisting or caring for an older family member, these are also things you can do to help them.
- Carefully review benefit statements from Social Security, Medicare, and any other government benefit programs and immediately report any unauthorized activity.
- If you’re not yet collecting Social Security, log into the My Social Security website regularly and check on your benefits. The Social Security Administration says you can set up your personal account even if you’ve already set a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit records.
- Request a copy of your free annual MIB report to track activity on your life, health, disability, and other insurance accounts. The insurance industry compiles this information on you, and insurance companies use it to determine your eligibility, so it’s good idea to make sure it’s accurate regardless of identity theft concerns.
- Set up credit freezes with all the major credit bureaus. Especially for seniors who aren’t usually taking out new loans, a credit freeze is cheap insurance and won’t be an inconvenience.
- Set up alerts on bank and credit card accounts so you’ll know immediately if someone is misusing them. If a senior family member doesn’t use a smartphone or email, set the alerts to go to another family member who can track activity.
- Watch out for scams! With all the financial account data lost in the data breach, thieves may be trying to fool people into giving out passwords for those accounts. According to a recent Washington Post article, the vast majority of those scams are by phone, and seniors are especially easy targets for phone scams because they tend to be too polite to hang up or refuse to give a caller information.
Whether you’re enjoying your golden years or aspire to retire in comfort someday, you’ve worked hard to earn your benefits and savings, so don’t let thieves take them away. A little vigilance and awareness will go a long way.