How to Shop Safely Online: A Guide for Seniors

Sara Coleman
Sara Coleman

As consumers head into another busy holiday season filled with plenty of online shopping, it’s a perfect time to remind ourselves of best practices to protect each other from identity theft. While anyone who participates in any online activities may be exposed to potential scams, seniors continue to be especially vulnerable.  Since COVID-19 began, there has been a significant increase in identity theft risk, with the trend expected to continue. But seniors are a particular target, which has resulted in over $3 billion worth of losses due to fraud — including identity theft. 

The good news is there are resources available to help protect consumers, including seniors, from this type of fraud, some of which may already be available without having to pay extra. For example, many existing homeowners policies include basic identity theft coverage in the policy or offer the coverage as an easy add-on option. Options such as this, plus a few added safety precautions, can help make safe online shopping easier during the holiday season and throughout the year. 

Online Identity Theft Targets Seniors

Seniors continue to be prime targets for savvy cybercriminals. These criminals take advantage of the higher likelihood of seniors having increased life savings and not being as familiar with some of the nuances of technology-based scams. There are some online scams seniors are especially susceptible to. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), seniors are more likely to fall victim to:

  • Tech scams. This type of fraudulent activity occurs when a criminal poses as a technical support person and will “fix” an issue identified with the consumer’s computer. They ask for credit card information, email addresses, and possibly passwords to proceed. 
  • Business imposter scams. This occurs when a fraudster poses as a member of a certain business to access sensitive information online. For example, someone may pose as a member of the Medicare team or a doctor’s office and ask for personal details to update your “medical records.”
  • Government imposter scams. Criminals may pose as members of the IRS, demanding someone pay money in back taxes immediately. While this often occurs through phone calls, it can also happen online. The FTC estimates over $61 million in 2019 was lost among seniors (age 60+) from this type of scam alone.

Warning Signs of Online Identity Theft

While some scams may be more obvious than others, you may already be a victim of identity theft and not realize it until after it occurs. Criminals act quickly, so it’s critical to act as soon as you experience a warning sign such as:

  • Unexplained financial activity: Look for unusual activity in your checking or savings accounts, such as unexplained withdrawals or unauthorized charges.
  • Calls from debt collectors: You might receive calls regarding non-payment for purchases you did not make. 
  • A store refuses to take your check: This could be a sign someone has used your information to illegally cash a check or make a purchase. 
  • There are unexplained collections on your credit report. It’s important to regularly monitor your credit report for this reason. 
  • Your health claim is denied. A health insurance company tells you a claim is rejected because you have maxed out your benefit limit. 

Tips to Shop Online Safely 

Seniors and consumers of all ages can use these practices for a safe online shopping experience.

  • Stick with familiar websites. A good practice is to stick with the familiar web pages. You’ll more likely recognize if something looks out of place, such as misspelled words. 
  • Look for the padlock. A secure website will display a padlock next to the https: indication in the web address. If you don’t see this lock, then shop elsewhere. 
  • Avoid oversharing. Never share your Social Security number for online shopping. Only share your credit card information when absolutely necessary for a purchase. 
  • Get creative with passwords. Make your passwords as strong as possible by using unique passwords and changing them as often as possible. If you have trouble remembering, consider using a password manager program to keep track. 
  • Use known networks. If you are using free wi-fi, it’s best to avoid making online purchases over the unsecured network. If you do need to, use a virtual private network (VPN) for added security. 
  • Carefully shop in public. If you use your laptop to do your online shopping, be careful where you sit in a public place. Criminals can look over your shoulder and easily see your information, so it’s smart to sit where someone can’t see your screen. 

Insurance Companies With Identity Theft Coverage 

These insurance companies all offer identity theft coverage, either as part of a standard policy or as an endorsement: 

  • Allstate: Offers up to $1 million in coverage reimbursement for out of pocket expenses related to identity theft.
  • Amica Mutual: Receive up to $15,000 in coverage towards resolving identity theft and access to a resolution specialist.  
  • State Farm: Provides up to $15,000 in reimbursement for identity theft charges and resolution plus access to a case manager. 
  • The Hartford: Provides reimbursement up to specific limits for out of pocket costs related to fraud or identity theft, plus access to Identity Restoration Specialists. 
  • USAA: Homeowners policies automatically include $5,000 in coverage for identity theft, but policyholders have the option to purchase more. 
  • Nationwide: Will reimburse up to $25,000 for covered out-of-pocket expenses and give you access to a resolution specialist for assistance. 

What to do if your Identity Has Been Stolen 

If you realize your identity has been stolen, it suddenly adds a new layer of stress to your finances and life. There are steps you can take to deal with it so you can move on with your life as quickly as possible. Once the steps below are complete, you may also choose to file a police report.

  1. What to do right away. First, call each company where the fraud took place. Whether this is a medical-related company, credit card company, or other business, each company should have a fraud department that can help you freeze your account. You should also immediately change your passwords and PINs to prevent further access. 
  2. What to do next. Next,  place a fraud alert on each of the three credit bureau’s reports (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). These alerts are free and last one year. This forces a business to verify with you anytime credit is issued in your name. 
  3. Report it to the FTC. Once you set up an account and create a report using the FTC form, it will show businesses you are a victim of identity theft. It also provides additional rights to you as you try to resolve the issues from the fraud. 

Identity Theft Homeowners Insurance Rider FAQ 

Do all insurance companies cover identity theft?

Some insurance companies automatically include a small amount of coverage in their standard homeowners insurance policies. However, most do not automatically add this and you need to select a homeowners insurance rider specifically for identity theft. Check with your insurance agent to see if this coverage is available and what it entails.

Does it cost money to add an identity theft rider to my homeowners policy?

Unless coverage is automatically included in your homeowners policy, such as with policies through USAA, then you will have to make a separate purchase. Prices are usually affordable and work out to only a few extra dollars per month for the coverage. 

Does being a victim of identity theft affect my homeowners policy?

Being a victim of identity theft should not impact your coverage, however it could impact your credit score, which in turn could impact premium rates. Since credit scores are used to determine premiums in most states, it’s possible you could pay a higher amount if your credit score decreased because of fraudulent activity.

About the Authors

Sara Coleman is a personal finance freelance writer based in Charlotte, NC. A Journalism Major who studied at the University of Georgia, she enjoys creating approachable content. She’s written for sites such as WorkingMother, BetterYouMag, and SmartMoneyMamas. She loves spending time with her husband and 3 kids, and has a healthy obsession with coffee.