What every boomer needs to know: The saga continues | VailDaily.com

What every boomer needs to know: The saga continues

Rohn Robbins

Parts I through VI of this series have dealt with: Social Security, “delayed retirement credits,” “representative payees,” Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), reverse mortgages, senior health care issues and health benefits, various aspects of “forward planning” (including wills, living wills, powers of attorney, estate planning, estate taxes, financial planning and inheritance), debt and how to deal with debt, bankruptcy, working past retirement age, elder abuse and scams affecting seniors. Included in the series have been a variety of contact numbers and websites dealing with these matters. The first six parts of the series may be found on line at http://www.vaildaily.com under the “archives” section, drop down, “columnists,” keyword “Robbins.”In this, Part VII of the series, our focus will be, exclusively, on the growing problem of identify theft.If there is a scourge of the 21st Century (that is, beyond the pre-existing scourges of disease, poverty, war and environmental degradation), surely, at least in modernized societies, it must be that of identity theft. While you’ve no doubt heard the term before – and with each telling, have heard the words spoken with increasing shrillness – what, precisely is identify theft? Certainly, it is not your sense of self which is purloined. Well, if not exactly, it might as well be.Identity theft can be defined as the unauthorized use of someone’s personal data (Social Security number, driver’s license or credit cards, for example) for any unlawful purpose. Most times, the unlawful purpose is to obtain illicit credit cards, loans or services or to otherwise pilfer and financially plunder – all in your good name. Millions of Americans are struck each year at an estimated cost in excess of $51 billion annually. And it’s growing.There are a number of ways identify thieves can steal into your life, some of them rather yawningly pedestrian and others, quite imaginative. The means and methods can range from the lowbrow expedient of rummaging through your trash to such sophisticated means as electronically picking your pocket by skimming data from your credit cards without so much as ever touching either you or your cards. Other techniques include “phishing” (that is, using misleading e-mails or fraudulent websites) in an attempt to trick the unsuspecting on the web to divulging personal data or implanting “spyware” which is a kind of software that rummages through your data like a voracious mole rat, collecting useful kernels which can then be used for all sorts of mischief by the Svengali who overlords it.To keep tabs on your credit, you should request a free credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus. The Big Three and their contact information are: Experian http://www.experian.com, 888/397.3742; Trans Union http://www.tuc.com, 800/916.8800; and Equifax http://www.equifax.com, 800/685.1111. You can also order annual free credit reports at http://www.annualcreditreport.com, 877/322.8228. It is also wise to check your various monthly statements (credit cards, bank statements and others) carefully and if you detect any suspicious activity, take action immediately and report it. For some helpful tips, the following Web sites are useful: http://www.ftc.gov (maintained by the Federal Trade Commission), http://www.idtheftcenter.org and http://www.privacyrights.org.If you become a victim of identify theft, call the big three credit agencies and report it, file a police report, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, fill out an ID theft affidavit and send it along with the police report by certified mail to all businesses where a new account was opened and contact the US Post Office. If your Social Security card is stolen, call the Social Security fraud hotline (800/269.0271), and if your driver’s license is stolen, call your local division of motor vehicles.Another question which arises in the context of identify theft is how to keep your Social Security number confidential. While the original intent of issuing Social Security numbers was simply to provide an identifier for Social Security benefits, there has, unquestionably, been a proliferation of businesses asking for your number over the years, for purposes both legitimate and not. These include everything from health providers to cashiers at the grocery store, each wanting to verify that you are who you claim to be and to secure a means of tracking you down in the event your check is made of rubber, or for other reasons. Slowly the laws are reacting to this key privacy issue and, in some states, you cannot be forced to divulge your number to anyone with the exception of governmental agencies or for governmental purposes. Some other key changes have been removing your number as an identifier from any card required to purchase goods or services, including on such things as your health insurance identification/benefits card.If your credit card is stolen, notify the credit card company immediately. If you promptly notify the company and someone runs up your credit card (or uses your debit card), your loss is limited to $50. You should also file a police report.While identity theft and electronic scams of all sorts are a growing problem, with a little diligence you can at least minimize the tremendous problems such an incident can inflict. Wariness, and a little caution, as in so many other circumstances, can constitute the ounce of prevention which can eliminate the often otherwise obligatory pound of cure. A word to the wise.In the next part of this series, we will visit issues pertaining to nursing care, raising grandkids, divorce, remarriage and the loss of loved ones and, space allowing, will end this series with a few comments regarding legal assistance for seniors.Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. Hear him at 7 p.m. Wednesday on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Contact him at 926-4461 or robbins@colorado.net.Vail, Colorado

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