Q: I am trying to educate my parents about how identity theft can happen, but don’t think they really believe what I am saying. Perhaps they would listen more if the information came from a third party. Can you address the way it happens?

A: I would be glad to. The information will be informative not only to them but also a review for all the readers.

Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your knowledge to commit fraud or crimes.

Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to get their hands on your personal information. The most common ways include dumpster diving, skimming, phishing, changing your address and old-fashioned stealing.

Dumpster diving is exactly what it sounds like — rummaging through your trash for documents that include such information as Social Security numbers, account numbers and birth dates. To eliminate this method, papers that have this type of information should always be cross-shredded before being tossed.

Skimming is accomplished by using a special storage device that skims the magnetic strip of your credit or debit card as it is being processed. The best way to deter this method is to never let your credit or debit cards out of your sight when using them.

Phishing occurs when using the computer. The identity thief, pretending to be a financial company, sends spam or pop-up messages that, if you respond, will get you to reveal certain account numbers. The way to avoid this method of theft is to never respond to this type of message.

Changing your address allows the thief to divert your billing statement to another location. Once they accomplish this they use your information for their pleasure. You never receive a bill and they, of course, don’t pay it. Be aware of when your credit card bill is expected each month. If you don’t receive it contact the credit card company.

Then of course there is just old-fashioned stealing. Thieves steal wallets and purses, bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers and new checks or tax information.

Stealing can be done by strangers breaking into your home or removing mail from your mailbox. It can also be accomplished by people you hire to work in your home and in some cases by someone who is living in your home. Personal records can also be stolen from employers, and some employees who have access to such records can be bribed for information.

You can deter identity theft by safeguarding your personal information. Shred documents, and protect your Social Security and account numbers. Never give out personal information over the phone or on the Internet unless you are certain who you are dealing with. When using the Internet never click on links sent in unsolicited e-mails. Make sure you have anti-virus software to protect your computer and keep it current. Take your outgoing mail to the post office instead of placing it in your mailbox. When you put up the red flag to tell the mail carrier there is outgoing mail you are also telling it to everyone else in the neighborhood.

Your passwords and personal identification numbers should never be your birth date, mother’s maiden name or last four digits of your Social Security number. They should be a combination of numbers, symbols and letters — both upper and lowercase. They should be changed frequently.

Last but not least, keep your personal information in a secure place.

Q: I have been asked to serve as an agent on my cousin’s Advance Directive for Health Care. Before I agree, can you tell me what my responsibilities will be?

A: Your role as agent starts when doctors decide your cousin lacks capacity to make medical decisions and it ends when your cousin regains that capacity.

While you act as agent, your authority encompasses conferring with doctors, asking medical questions and discussing treatment options, requesting second opinions, or changing doctors, as well as consenting to or refusing tests and treatment including surgery.

You might also find it necessary to authorize a transfer to a facility such as a nursing home and refusing or authorizing life-support systems.

Basically you would be making decisions your cousin would be making for herself or himself if that were possible. Your decisions should be limited to what your cousin would want done, not on what you would want done for yourself.

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