Biz Bits: Tips to help seniors avoid identity thieves

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Tip of the Week

Identity theft among Americans 50 and older is rising, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. In 2010, more than 3.5 million households headed by people 50 and older experienced identity theft, according to bureau figures.

Two types of identity theft that have targeted seniors in the past are phone scams and medical fraud.

The FBI advises seniors to be wary of telemarketers and phone solicitations, since money lost through a phone call is very difficult to get back. The bureau recommends taking precautions when doing business over the phone, including:

- Asking for written material before committing to any charitable request or special offer. If you receive written material, review it with someone you trust.

- Avoid dealing with companies you don't know, and research unfamiliar companies through consumer agencies like the Better Business Bureau, state attorney general or National Fraud Information Center.

- Know who you're talking to. Ask for the person's full name, business title, phone number, physical address, mailing address and business license number. Verify the information before any transactions take place.

- Don't pay in advance for services, and be wary of high-pressure tactics that require you to act immediately in order to receive a special price or offer.

It's important to protect your identity by guarding Medicare and health insurance information, just as you would your bank account number or Social Security number. The FBI offers these tips for avoiding health insurance fraud:

- Never sign blank claim forms or give a medical provider blanket authorization to bill for services.

- Make sure you understand what your medical providers will charge and how much of it you will be expected to pay out of pocket. Review your coverage with your health insurance company so you understand what your financial responsibilities are.

- Don't do business with anyone selling medical equipment door-to-door or over the phone, or who tell you that you can get services or equipment for free.

- Provide your insurance or Medicare information only to those who have given you a medical service.

- Keep accurate records of all your medical appointments and prescriptions.


BBB Watch

Memorial Day is a time to honor those who died in service to our country. Sadly, it has also become a key opportunity for scammers to target those who are currently serving or have served their nation, especially elderly veterans. The Better Business Bureau urges military members and supporters to look out for scam deals and disreputable charities.

Scams can include efforts to target service personnel and their families as well as efforts that appear to help via charities. It is imperative to educate service members and consumers on the proper practices when donating money or determining the validity of charities.

"There are charities that claim to be raising money on behalf of military organizations and families when in fact those dollars rarely go to help those in need" said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois. "When you make a donation, always check to see if the group meets BBB charity standards." 

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Number to Know

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