Many criminals would love to steal your identity. Seniors are often a target in these scams. My mother recently got a call from a person who said he was her oldest grandson. Because we had already discussed this scam, she knew what to do.
She asked, “OK, what’s your name?” The caller hung up. He was hoping she would say, “Joe, is this you?” The response would have been, “Yes, I am Joe.” You just gave the scammer the answer.
That individual would then try to get you to send money and advise you to not tell your parents. Scammers will often try to obtain names from social media.
I had a client call recently who wanted to know how to protect her sister from identity fraud. Her sister received a call from someone who claimed to be a police officer and gave her a badge number. He said she had to provide her Social Security number immediately or he would come out and arrest her. She complied and gave the number.
Later, she was afraid it might be a scam and called her sister. Asked why she gave out the information, she responded, “He gave me his badge number.”
Police will never call on the phone and ask for this information. Neither will the Internal Revenue Service or any bank. Never give out personal information to someone who calls. You may need to give it out if you made the call to prove it is you.
What should you do if you believe you were scammed? Notify your creditors and freeze your credit. The freeze stops anyone else from opening new accounts in your name and you can continue to use your existing credit. You should take action to freeze at all three major credit bureaus. You can do it online or by calling Equifax at 866-349-5191, Experian at 888-397-3742 and TransUnion at 888-900-8872.
You need to do it at all three because not every creditor reports and checks all three.
It is important to check your credit report every year. You can do it every 12 months at the government website, www.annualcreditreport.com. All three reports are available there, and you can review each one for mistakes.
Make sure there are not any accounts open that you do not know about. Check your payment history. If you find any mistakes, you can get them corrected. Do not use any services that want to charge you a fee to fix your report. You cannot have negative information removed if it is true. These companies cannot do much to help your score.
If you do want to increase your credit score, there are things you can do. First, pay your bills on time. Always pay at least the minimum due. Your score is also reflective by what is known as credit utilization. If all of your credit is maxed out, it will reduce your score. If your credit limit is $5,000 and your balance is $4,500, you will have a lower score than if your balance is $1,500.
People with the highest scores usually are utilizing only 30% of their available credit. Opening new accounts will lower your score for a while. If you have accounts you are not using, do not cancel them, just do not use them. This helps your credit utilization score.
Being careful of your identity and managing your credit are important parts of your financial life. Doing a good job will eliminate stress and make life more enjoyable.
Gary Boatman is a Monessen-based certified financial planner and the author of “Your Financial Compass: Safe passage through the turbulent waters of taxes, income planning and market volatility.”
To submit columns on financial planning or investing, email Rick Shrum at firstname.lastname@example.org.