By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph. D., Ask Dr. Marion

QUESTION: I'm enjoying my life as a 77 year-old retiree, but I've been hearing a lot about new scams that are targeting the elderly. How can I protect myself? Harry in Michigan, 77

ANSWER: Elder fraud is happening at an alarming rate these days. Why? Unfortunately, the older population is very vulnerable. You have to stay alert to what can happen. The most common scams happen over the phone. Never, ever give your social security number, date of birth, or your mother's maiden name to anyone over the phone. Many scams are perpetrated using these details. Identities are stolen, bank accounts are emptied, and new credit cards are opened and maxed out. You have to be careful.

Also, be sure that you don't have any sensitive information out in the open if anyone like a delivery boy or cable guy were to snoop around your home. I'm talking about pin numbers, bank account records, check books, and other important papers. Identity theft can also occur when a thief looks through your trash and finds valuable documents. Always shred old mail and other papers that contain your name. I use a cross-cut shredder that slices documents into small pieces so it's impossible to piece them back together.

Criminals also knock on the door and pose as utility or cable company employees. They even wear the uniform and have fake identification. So never let anyone who shows up unannounced enter your home.

Also beware of phone calls claiming that you've just won a prize that'll be sent after you provide your vital information. Other criminals call and claim to be a charity looking for donations. Never give any information if they have contacted you first. I've also heard of people who fake they're relatives in town for a visit. They stop by, case the house, and then rob you blind the first chance they get. Finally, be careful when venturing outside the home. Don't carry your social security card, credit cards, or Medicare card with you unless you'll need them.

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.