Older Americans trust what they know: Land lines, snail mail, visiting a sturdy, brick-and-mortar bank. But all three are targets of opportunity for thieves. And when it comes to ripping you off, they know every trick in the book.
Take the bank. “Going to the bank is not as safe as you think,” warns Liz Loewy, co-founder and chief operating officer of EverSafe, a Bethesda, Md.-based firm that monitors bank and investment accounts, credit cards and credit data for clients.
How could a simple visit to your good old neighborhood bank result in you getting taken to the cleaners? You might throw away, even after tearing up, a deposit slip with your name. Or a receipt spit out by an ATM showing much you have in your account. Loewy says crooks fish this stuff out of the trash, giving them the first pieces of a puzzle they can put together to learn more about you. Combine that with the fact that seniors often have old fashioned land lines, which means phone numbers and addresses are also accessible via any number of public search engines. All this info adds to your financial vulnerability, increasing the chances of you being victimized.
If you insist on going to a physical bank, be very careful and don’t leave any breadcrumbs, Loewy says.“It’s a place where people look for senior citizens who appear to be vulnerable.” She says crooks have been known to follow such people home, assault and rob them. “We feel online banking is much safer,” she emphasizes.
EverSafe’s other co-founder, and chief executive officer, Howard Tischler, tells the story of one client who observed on his home security system, that someone who knew where he lived was stealing his mail. Most mail you get these days is junk, but older people often continue to get things like statements from banks and asset management firms, insurance documents and the like—all of which are useful to crooks.
One thing they could be looking for, for example, are convenience checks issued by banks, that allow you to borrow against a credit card at, say 0% for a year (with a transaction fee). The checks just sit in the mailbox waiting to be pilfered. It’s a huge risk.
Some people rent a post office box to avoid using their home address. Another way of not inadvertently giving thieves information about you is by cleaning up your identity online. Tischler explains how.
“A lot of people don’t know that credit bureaus are allowed to sell your information to people for marketing purposes. So a lot of those convenience checks that you’re talking about—those often originate at credit bureaus. But you have the right, as a consumer, to “opt out” of those marketing lists.”
The problem here is that there are hundreds of marketing firms that have your personal information. It was sold without your knowledge, and it’s perfectly legal. So what to do?
“We recommend that you opt of the most popular ones, as well as services where you can buy personal information as an individual. And we recommend that people opt out of those services as well,” he says. Given that there are hundreds of such sites, Tischler mentions the 90/10 rule: 90% of your online exposure could be erased by focusing on just a few big sites.
Here are some of them:
I recommend that you visit each of these, enter your info and see what comes up. You’ll be amazed at what information is publicly available to anyone. At the bottom of each site is an “opt-out” link that takes you through the process of erasing your identity. It only takes a few minutes.
The old adage is true: An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure any day.