One of modern life’s big fears and worries can be anxiety around what to do if your personal information is lost or stolen. For seniors, it can seem especially daunting trying to figure out what to do, who to call and report things to and how best to manage things in the meantime. You may be hesitant to report missing information in case it is merely lost within your home or you have accidentally misplaced it. If you think there is even the slightest chance that information has been lost or stolen, it is important to address it quickly. This can minimize risk and help you get things back to normal sooner. Here are some basic suggestions for seniors who believe their personal information has been lost or stolen:
If you have lost or misplaced (or think it has been stolen) your drivers’ license or other identification, you should call the agency or office that issued the card. They will walk you through the procedures for getting a replacement. You’ll want to do this as soon as you suspect a problem or cannot locate your identification. They will then “flag” your information and be on the lookout if someone else tries to get a drivers’ license or access your personal information.
If you have lost your wallet or purse, or believe it has been stolen, you’ll need to close all your accounts-call your bank, credit card companies, department stores, and any other financial accounts you may have to let them know that you need to cancel and have new accounts opened or reissued. If you have accounts online that are password protected, you can plan ahead and choose different passwords for each account and try to avoid using very obvious passwords like your birthday, numbers from your social security number, etc. Passwords with a good mix of numbers and letters and lower and uppercase are the hardest to guess at and duplicate.
If your social security card or number has been lost or stolen, you’ll need to call and get a replacement, the local Social Security Administration office can walk you through the process-but you should also report the missing number to the three major consumer credit reporting agencies. They will place what’s called a “fraud alert” on your credit reports to help minimize damage in case there has been (or will be) an identity theft. The three main reporting agencies are: www.equifax.com; www.experian.com; and www.transunion.com. You should only need to contact one of the companies as they are required by law to notify the other two.
If you suspect information has been stolen, you should contact the police and will be asked to fill out a report. You can also file a police report if you suspect there has been an identity theft and someone is using your information falsely. Contact your local police station and they will help you with the process.
Even after doing all these things to minimize risk when you think your personal information has been lost or stolen, seniors will still need to continue monitoring to see if an identity theft has occurred. You can get periodic copies of your credit report and it is advised that you do this for the months following the loss of your items or information. You can look over the report and see if there is any suspicious activity. This way you will be able to react quickly if you notice anything suspicious (by contacting the police and the credit reporting agencies again to advise them of the suspected fraud.)
Instead of waiting to see what happens when you have lost your personal information, or think that it might be stolen-it is important for seniors to act quickly and aggressively to help minimize the risk-both financially and personally.