What Seniors Need to Know About Online Identity Theft

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Thanks to advances in healthcare, seniors can look forward to living longer and more productive lives than ever before.  But increasingly, something they haven’t bargained for may also be in their future – the prospect of being victimized by identity theft and online fraud.

Americans over the age of 60 are the fastest growing segment of computer and Internet users.  And according to the FBI, they’re also targets of white collar Internet fraud more often than the general population. Seniors are most often victimized by four kinds of Internet crime:  illegal access to computer networks, fraud, vandalism and identity theft.   The FBI says seniors are preferred targets of online crime because they are most likely to have financial assets, including a home and a nest egg, as well as excellent credit.  People raised in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s are also more likely to be polite and trusting, which makes them easier to exploit online.  And relatively speaking, older Americans tend to be less Internet savvy.

Once they retire, many seniors may devote more time to leisure activities and travel to places where they use public Wifi hotspots to stay in touch.  But they may not realize that accessing sensitive information at unsecured hotspots is like shouting it out to anyone who’s nearby.  And it’s one of the quickest ways to get your identity stolen.

Why Seniors Are Prime Targets for Internet Crime

Identity theft among the elderly accounts for as much as 10% of all ID theft cases, according to the Federal Trade Commission. But it’s been called “the silent crime” for several reasons. Older Americans are less likely to report ID theft because they don’t check their credit reports often for signs of fraud; they don’t know where to report online fraud; or simply because they’re ashamed about being a victim.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2010 that three incidents of Internet crime were perpetrated against the elderly for every one incident of violent crime.  In an article entitled “Internet Crime and the Elderly,” New Jersey attorney Jonathan Bick, who’s an expert on Internet law, wrote:  “It’s been argued that one reason white collar criminals engage in Internet targeting of the elderly is because they don’t face enhanced penalties, despite the fact that senior citizens are easier targets than the general population.”

The elderly are protected from physical crimes such as assault in many jurisdictions by enhanced penalties for perpetrators.  But according to Bick, no such protection exists for elderly victims of Internet crime under state or federal law.  He recommends a novel approach to the problem:   Registering seniors’ Internet addresses and enacting tougher penalties for knowingly targeting the elderly via the Internet.  But that’s not likely to happen any time soon.  In the meantime, here’s what seniors can do to stay safe online.

Protect Your Golden  Years from the Silent Crime

∙  Make sure your firewall is turned on and your virus and malware protection is up-to-date.  Run scans frequently.

∙  Protect your home wireless account and all your accounts with long strong passwords composed of  8 to 20 upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Use different passwords for each account and change them at least twice a year.

∙  Don’t click the “remember me” prompt that allows you to automatically log on the next time you visit a website.  Hackers can obtain that information and use it to access your email and financial accounts.

∙  Don’t leave your computer while you’re still logged on.

∙  Don’t respond to emails or click on links and attachments in emails from unknown senders.  Remember, the Social Security Administration, the IRS and financial institutions will never ask you to provide sensitive information online.

∙  Be cautious about revealing personal information on social networking sites that could be used to commit identity theft.  Avoid posting names and photos of family members and information about your travel plans. And never send sensitive information to businesses using social media sites.

∙  Don’t access sensitive information at Wifi hotspots or on any public computer or wireless connection.

∙  Disable file sharing before using Wifi hotspots and other unsecured wireless connections.

∙  Turn off your Wifi connection when you’re not using it.

∙  Check your financial statements regularly and your credit report at least once a year for signs of fraud.

∙  Use a web VPN like PRIVATE WiFi™ to encrypt the data traveling to and from your computer.  Web VPNs protect you from identity theft by making your personal information invisible to hackers.

If you believe you’re the victim of identity theft, contact your financial institutions and file a police report immediately.  Place a freeze on your credit with the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.  Contact the Federal Trade Commission at:www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

If you’re a senior whose identity was stolen, we’d like to hear what happened to you.  Drop us a line and share your story.

 

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Jan Legnitto

Jan Legnitto is an investigative journalist and documentary producer who writes about criminal justice and intelligence issues. Jan is also a frequent contributor to the Private I blogs.