With more than 60 million reported cases of identity theft in the US to date, there is no single demographic that is immune from the threat. In fact, the opposite is true; some age groups or even residents in certain states are more likely than the rest of the population to face identity theft. Unfortunately, the more natural prey you appear to a criminal, the more of a target you become.
January is Braille Literacy Month in honor of Louis Braille’s birthday, so it’s a good time to understand how the threat of identity theft manifests among people with low-vision or vision loss, as well as share some ways to help reduce the risk of becoming a victim. Fortunately, many of the same steps are worthwhile for all consumers, not just a single risk group.
First, the Identity Theft Resource Center partnered with the Braille Institute on a highly informative session explicitly aimed at low-vision and vision-impaired people on how to reduce your risk and overcoming the aftermath of identity theft should it occur.
Also, Empish J Thomas of Vision Aware has shared a very insightful look at her own experiences with identity theft. The account includes key information about issues and obstacles that could make low-vision consumers more of a target for identity theft, as well as ways to overcome those problems. For example, junk mail and carrying extra credit cards could lead to theft without the owner’s knowledge, so Thomas recommends having a core group of trustworthy people who can intervene.
Unfortunately, common identity theft attempts can prove to be even more of a challenge for visually impaired people. Telemarketers and door-to-door salesmen, for example, can turn out not to be who you thought they were; there’s also the crime of opportunity in which the individual might not have set out to steal your data but seizes the chance after discovering your vision issues.
Here are some steps to protect any consumer, but especially those with visual impairments or low vision:
1. Do not take anything at surface value, whether it’s a phone call, letter, or email.
Those can easily be spoofed or falsified, so make it a good habit to never give out your personal data to someone who requests it.
2. Shred all junk mail, health insurance statements, medical and credit card bills, and more.
If you need to rely on a volunteer or trusted friend to help you decide what needs to be shredded, make sure your items are in a safe place until you can seek that help.
3. Install a robust security suite on your computer and mobile devices.
Remember, antivirus isn’t enough anymore, but there are some very affordable products that protect you from a broader range of threats.
4. Request a free copy of your credit report each year.
And be sure to study it carefully for suspicious activity. Take action immediately if something is uncertain or out of place.
5. If you do suspect you’ve been the victim of identity theft, get help immediately.
The ITRC and the Federal Trade Commission both have avenues for assistance, and specialty organizations like AARP and the Better Business Bureau can also start you in the right direction.
Again, these things and other security steps are good habits for any consumer, so make it a practice to protect yourself at all times.
Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.