5 Reasons So Many Seniors Fall Victim to I.D. Theft

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- An alarming 45% of all consumer identity theft complaints last year came from Americans over the age of 50, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Here's how it breaks down by age, according to the FTC:

19 and under: 2%
20 to 29 years old: 15%
30 to 39: 17%
40 to 49: 19%
50 to 59: 20%
60 to 69: 16%
70 and older: 11%

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Equifax notes that by 2015, Americans over the age of 60 will total 112 million people, making the demographic an increasingly ripe target for identity thieves.

"Identity theft is a serious national problem, and its impact can be far-reaching," says Trey Loughran, president of Equifax Personal Solutions, part of the credit service company Equifax. "Older adults who fall victim to identity theft could temporarily lose access to much-needed benefits or lose their hard-earned savings."

"Educating and preparing Americans aged 50 and older to address potential risks is critical to helping prevent fraud," he adds.

Older Americans are especially vulnerable to I.D. theft for a variety of reasons, according to an Equifax report on seniors and fraud:

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  • Older consumers may have caregivers on the premises. That gives unscrupulous caregivers easy access to personal data.
  • Seniors are more likely to use landline telephones than other Americans. I.D. fraud artists know this and target older consumers via the phone.
  • Seniors are the most pervasive users of the health care system, they are more prone to health care security breaches. 
  • Americans 65 and older carry a Medicare card bearing a Social Security number, a wide-open gateway to identity fraud. (I.D. thieves aren't even above stealing the identities of the dead and using their Social Security numbers to commit financial fraud.)
  • Older U.S. adults travel a lot, especially in retirement. Unsecured Wi-Fi access, wide-open ATM usage and resort staff who may take advantage of older travelers are all common dangers when traveling.

To thwart identity theft, older Americans are urged by security experts not to carry a Medicare card in wallets or pocketbooks, not to accept "business" calls from unknown people, to secure their cellphones, laptop and tablet computers, and to be wary of using public Wi-Fi hotspots when traveling, especially overseas.

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