Seniors are frequent targets of scammers. Thousands of older Americans have lost their life savings to con artists. Victims are often astonished at how the crooks gathered so much personal data about them. The bad guys work full-time at devising new ways to steal your money right from under your nose. To help you know how to keep your personal information from scammers, here are the top six ways they get their hands on your details.
- You throw out your mail without shredding it. Any mail you get that has your name and address on it (which is nearly everything that lands in your mailbox), any account numbers, or other personal data should not go into the trash in readable form. You can buy a shredder for $30 or less. You do not need an industrial-grade machine – just something that chops up the paper sufficiently.
Con artists are particularly fond of getting credit card offers out of the trash. They fill out a credit card in your name, but have it sent to the crook’s address. Those paper checks that your credit card company sends you with balance transfer offers, are pure gold to scammers. Shred them.
- You post personal information on Facebook or other social media. Never post any personal details about yourself or your family on a public setting on Facebook. Better yet, do not post personal information at all on social media, regardless of the privacy setting. People are dumbfounded at how a con artist knew the names and ages of their grandchildren, the kind of pets they have and where they went on vacation. However, they posted it for the world to see on Facebook.
- You fill out surveys. You cannot stay in a hotel or go out to eat, without someone wanting you to fill out a questionnaire about your experience. I’ll bet you did not know that many companies sell their survey data. Crooks can buy data to find out whether you own your home, how much annual income you get, the kind of car you drive and other survey details.
- You send in warranty registration cards. It is rarely necessary to send in a warranty registration card to protect your rights in case a product fails. The registration cards are often a ruse to get personal information from you, like your total household income and your age. Companies sell that information, and you have no way of knowing who buys your personal data.
- You enter contests. Companies reap massive benefits when they run contests. They cannot just give away prizes and money, without getting something in return. Many contests are a front for marketers to collect information about you and sell it on to others. At the very least, you could get pestering phone calls from telemarketers. However, if you are unlucky and a con artist buys your data, you could become a victim of identity theft or some other scam.
- There has been a death in your family recently. Traditional obituaries provide a wealth of information for crooks, as they can construct a family tree from the information in most obits. Be extremely cautious about revealing relationships or other information about the family in an obituary. You can write a respectable piece, without feeding the con artists.
AARP. “How Do Scammers Know So Much About Me?” (accessed January 25, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/identity-mistakes.html