Why Seniors Are Easy Targets for Online Identity Theft

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Thanks to longer life spans and the baby boom, the number of senior citizens in America is growing at a staggering rate.  So is the amount of time that seniors spend online – doing everything from banking and shopping to pursuing leisure activities like exchanging family photos.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, older Americans are especially vulnerable to online identity theft – partly because they grew up in an era before there were personal computers or cybercrime.

One recent victim of online identity theft is retired Florida banker Santiago Iglesias. According to the PBS Nightly Business Report, Iglesias had his Social Security number stolen by a cyberthief who used it to file a fraudulent tax return in another State in his name. The IRS sent the refund check to the thief.  As a result, Iglesias had to work for months to get his credit restored and get his rightful tax refund from the government.

Why are sophisticated seniors like Santiago Iglesias frequent victims of Internet identity theft and identity fraud?  One reason is that they often have substantial assets – homes they own, as well as investments and good credit which they may not regularly check.

Another reason is that seniors tend to be less savvy about the dangers of using the Internet than younger consumers.  So they’re often more trusting when they’re online. That can make seniors more susceptible to Internet scams like phishing.  They may also not be aware that using WiFi hotspots at libraries, public parks, hotels and airports can make them easy prey for hackers.

The FBI says that seniors are less likely to report Internet identity theft because they may not know where to report cybercrimes. Often, seniors may not even realize that they’ve been victimized. The more time that passes after a crime, the more challenging it can become for them to recall details of what took place.

If you’re a senior, here’s what you can do to make sure a cyberthief doesn’t swipe your identity on the Internet.

Safeguard Your Online Identity

  • Make sure your firewall is turned on and your antivirus software is up to date.  Run frequent scans for viruses and malware.
  • Change the default password on your wireless home router.  Make sure your password is a complex combination of letters, numbers and symbols that are difficult for others to guess.
  • Avoid entering sensitive information on websites that do not use https. Look for the padlock symbol.
  • Turn off the auto login option on your laptop to ensure you only log in to a wireless network when you’re ready; and when you do, it’s to one that you choose.
  • Avoid exposing sensitive information such as your logins, passwords and your Social Security number when you’re connected to WiFi hotspots or other unsecured wireless networks.
  • Disable file sharing on your laptop or home computer when you’re not using it.
  • Disable your wireless network when you’re not using it.
  • Store your sensitive personal information on drives and other storage devices that aren’t connected to your computer.  Keep hard copies of Social Security and Medicare cards in secure locations.
  • Monitor your credit and order copies of your free credit report annually to ensure there are no accounts opened in your name that you don’t recognize.
  • Use a secure virtual private network connection like PRIVATE WiFi™ to ensure that the data traveling to and from your computer is invisible to hackers.

If you’ve been the victim of online identity theft, file police report and a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

We’d like to know what happened to you.  Drop us a line and tell us 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.