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AARP warns against identity theft scams

According to a new report from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), there are 10 things Americans do that put them at increased risk for identity theft.

The AARP’s Fraud Watch Network surveyed 2,250 Americans ages 18 and older and showed common mistakes people make that put them at risk for having their identity stolen or their financial accounts compromised.

AARP fraud expert Doug Shadel listed 10 tips on how to protect yourself from identity theft: 1) Lock your mailbox: 59 percent of Americans don’t use a locking mailbox; 2) Set up online accounts: 42 percent of Americans over age 50 don’t have online access to all of their bank or credit accounts; 3) Don’t leave wallets, computers or purses in your car: 24 percent of Americans 50 and older do; 4) Micro-shred documents: More than 21 percent of Americans never shred documents with personal information. Make sure to get a “micro-cut shredder.” Shredders that cut paper into long strips are easy for scammers to recreate; 5) Set passwords on electronic devices: Only 26 percent of people use distinctly different passwords on their online accounts, and 44 percent of smartphone owners age 50 and up don’t have a pass-code on their smartphones; 6) Close inactive credit card accounts; 7) Don’t carry your Social Security card; 8) Regularly monitor your accounts for suspicious activity; 9) Register with the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion): Just 17 percent of Americans check their credit regularly with one of the credit bureaus. 10) Put fraud alerts or credit freezes on your accounts.

The survey shows that consumers continue to put themselves at risk of identity theft by ignoring these simple protection tips, but the report — along with recent interviews with convicted identity thieves — reveal Americans are falling even further behind in the fight to protect their identities as scam artists go digital.

According to consumer protection experts, Americans are not prepared for new high-tech attacks. About 45 percent of Americans admit to using the same password on two or more of their bank accounts. Almost half — 49 percent — of Americans have not changed the password on their online bank account in the past six months.

The danger of leaving these online doors open to identity thieves was amplified during recent AARP interviews with a convicted identity thief. These thefts included a mix of the usual approaches such as sifting through stolen mail along with other more high-tech advances that allow a thief to digitally erase victims’ lives while assuming their good names and credit.

“Nowadays, it’s all about technology, and if you know what you’re doing with it, it’s easy for me to take over your life,” said one thief who was interviewed.

“It’s chilling to hear how the thief so nonchalantly and easily ripped apart the credit and lives of her victims,” said Shadel. “With just a few simple pieces of information like a credit card number and password, she was able to digitally erase and assume the lives without her victims’ even realizing it. Her story and those of con-artists like her should be a wake-up call for consumers.”

The Fraud Watch Network offers alerts and help for those who have been victimized and tips from identity theft prevention experts.

The public can sign up free of charge at aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or by calling 877-908-3360.


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