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May 2, 2006 > Learn How to Protect Yourself Against Identify Theft

Learn How to Protect Yourself Against Identify Theft


Every year, nearly 44,000 Californians fall victim to the crime of identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which tracks these statistics, reports identity theft happens when a person commits fraud by using someone’s personal information without their permission.

"Elderly people are major targets for identity thieves," says Salony Mehrok, staff attorney with Legal Assistance for Seniors in Oakland, a non-profit agency that helps people age 60 and older with legal issues. "Seniors are more likely to be reached at home, and they tend to answer their phones more, listen to callers and believe the person they are speaking with is being honest. This makes them more vulnerable."

On Tuesday, May 16, from 10 a.m. to noon, Mehrok and Detective Brian Ancona from the Fremont Police Department will lead a free Health and Wellness seminar that will discuss ways for seniors to better protect themselves from identity theft and not become a victim of consumer fraud. Sponsored by Washington Senior Care, the presentation will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium inside the Washington West building located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.


No matter what your age, it’s important you take steps to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft. You can’t protect yourself completely, but you can lower your risk if you are victimized, the FTC advises. Today, with advances in technology, scams used to steal someone’s identity have become more advanced and more costly to unravel.

"Don’t wait until identity theft happens to you," adds Mehrok. "Then, it’s more difficult to reverse the situation."

The FTC reports more than 25 percent of all identity thefts in California involve credit card fraud. So, it’s important to protect your purse or wallet, as well as the mail you send and receive.

Detective Ancona, who is assigned to the Fremont Police Department’s financial crimes division, advises that it’s a good idea to have a locking mailbox and to shred all bank statements and credit card applications you are throwing away.

Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Instead, keep it in a safe place at home. Also, check to see whether you Social Security number is displayed on any of your health insurance cards, such as Medicare or Medi-Cal. This number was often used in the past, but companies are now changing this practice.

If you are the victim of identity theft, it is very important that you file a police report immediately, in addition to notifying your credit card companies, bank and the Social Security Administration, if your number is on any of the stolen items.

"By filing a police report, you are establishing a record to prove your case in the event the debt collector tries to hold you liable for the unauthorized debt," explains Mehrok. "The report also initiates a statute of the California Civil Code mandating creditors to cease collection activity and conduct an investigation upon notice from the debtor about the fraudulent debt."

Your credit report is a good indicator of your credit history. Twice a year, you should review it to make sure there have been no errors or fraudulent activity. The law now enables everyone to obtain one free copy of their credit report each year. At the seminar on May 16, Mehrok and Ancona will discuss how to obtain a copy of your credit report, as well as how to register for the National Do Not Call registry, how to make sure your home remodeling contractor is reputable and examples of some common identity theft scams.

In addition to sponsoring regular Health & Wellness seminars, the Washington Hospital Healthcare System offers Washington Senior Care that includes insurance counseling and help with transportation, Meals on Wheels and assisted living needs. To contact Washington Senior Care, call (800) 993-8995.

The Identity Theft and Fraud Protection for Seniors seminar will take place on Tuesday, May 16, from 10 a.m. to noon in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue. To register, please call (800) 963-7070.

For more information about the upcoming seminar or other classes offered at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com, click on "For Our Community" and select "Health Classes & Support Groups" from the drop-down menu.

You can test your knowledge and learn more information about Identity Theft by visiting the FTC’s Web site at www.consumer.gov.

 
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