An 89-year-old in Port Townsend receives an email that includes one of her account passwords. The sender demands $2,900 in bitcoins and threatens to notify her friends and family that she’s watching porn online.
Of course she isn’t, she tells the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center. She knows it’s a scam but has no idea how her password was stolen or what to do.
A Seattle woman had her identity compromised after a family friend, hired to house-sit, rifled through financial documents and set up multiple accounts online using the homeowner’s information.
“It took her years to clear this up,” recalled Jean Mathisen, director of the AARP call center from 2006 to 2014. “One of the things that became clear to me was that as older folks, we’re more likely to have people come into our homes and do things for us. We have to really be cautious about leaving information where people can see it.”
Any tidbit can have value to an identity thief, whether it’s nabbed online or on paper, according to Chuck Harwood,
director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Seattle office.
“You might think, How would a random password or username be useful? The crooks get them and use what are called account checkers and brute-force tools—software that constantly tries to gain access to other sites,” Harwood explained.
In AARP Washington’s 2018 survey “Up for Grabs: Taking Charge of Your Digital Identity,” 62 percent of state internet users failed a digital-identity quiz. Some survey recommendations:
A 2016 password-psychology survey by LastPass (an online password-management site)and market research firm Lab42 found that despite the risk of reusing passwords, 61 percent do it. In the “Up for Grabs” survey, 6 in 10 Washingtonians said they think it’s “inevitable” that their personal information will be stolen.
Harwood believes being proactive makes a difference. “The first step is to do something—and do it now.”
Chris Thomas is a writer living in Seattle.
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