By Betty Berry, Tuesday, May 25, 2010  Q: I am trying to educate my parents about identity theft, but I don’t think they believe what I’m saying. Perhaps they would listen more if it came from a third party. Can you address how identify theft happens?

A: I would be glad to. 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 are Dumpster diving, skimming, phishing, changing your address, and just plain stealing.

Dumpster diving is exactly what it sounds like: rummaging through your trash looking for documents that include information such as Social Security numbers, account numbers and birth dates. Always cross-shred documents with this information.

Skimming involves using a special storage device to skim the magnetic strip of your credit or debit card as it is being processed. Never let your credit or debit cards out of sight when using them.

Phishing occurs during computer use. The identity thief, pretending to be a financial company, sends spam or pop-up messages that ask you to reveal account numbers or other information. Never respond.

A thief who changes your address can divert your billing statement — with account numbers and other information — to another location. You never receive a bill and the thief, of course, doesn’t pay it. Know when your bills are expected each month; if you don’t receive them, contact the credit card companies.

More familiar forms of stealing have not gone away. Wallets, purses, bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks or tax information can be stolen by strangers breaking into your home or removing mail from your mailbox. These items can also be stolen by people you hire to work in your home or by someone who lives with you. Personal records can also be stolen from employers.

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 clearly know the other party. On the Internet, never click on links sent in unsolicited e-mails. Make sure you have current anti-virus software to protect your computer. Change passwords and PIN numbers frequently, and make them a combination of numbers, symbols and letters — never your birth date, mother’s maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Keep your personal information in a secure place.


Brain Fitness Program, Mondays from June 7 through July 6, Senior Concerns Day Center, 401 Hodencamp Road, Thousand Oaks. For information and reservations, call Susan at 497-0189.

— Betty Berry is a senior advocate for Senior Concerns. The advocates are at the Goebel Senior Adult Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362; or call 495-6250 or e-mail (please include your telephone number).


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