Beyond Easy King Ranch Casserole

By: Campbell’s Kitchen

This image courtesy of

There’s a reason this casserole is called “The King.” This easy king ranch casserole is super simple to make and tastes amazing. Once you try this recipe for Beyond Easy King Ranch Casserole, you’ll have your new go-to dinner recipe! This is one of those budget casserole recipes that you won’t have to fuss over to make. Just combine ingredients you may already have at home, like cream of mushroom soup, sour cream, chili powder, tomatoes, cubed chicken, corn tortillas, Cheddar cheese and green onions. All you need from here is a jar of picante sauce, which you can pick up at any grocery store, and you’re good to go! This is one casserole recipe that “rules” every time.

Serves: 8 (about 1 cup each)


  • 1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Campbell’s® Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup (Regular or 98% Fat Free)
  • 3/4cup Pace® Picante Sauce
  • 3/4cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 3 cups cubed cooked chicken or turkey
  • 12 corn tortillas (6-inch), cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
  • sliced green onion


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Stir the soup, picante sauce, sour cream, chili powder, tomatoes and chicken in a medium bowl.
  3. Place half the tortillas in a 2-quart shallow baking dish. Top with half the chicken mixture. Repeat the layers. Sprinkle with the cheese.
  4. Bake for 40 minutes or until the mixture is hot and bubbling. Sprinkle with the green onion. Serve with additional picante sauce and sour cream.

Nutritional Information

Per Serving:

Calories: 337
Fat: 16g
Fiber: 5g
Protein: 22g
Sodium: 635mg

What’s Ailing You?

UNDER-THE- WEATHER MAN (aka the common cold):
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE: A sore throat and runny nose, followed by up to 10 days of coughing and sneezing.
IT COULD BE: A common cold—basically a viral infection that’s spread through the air, from shaking
hands or by touching a surface such as a doorknob that has viruses on it, then touching your eyes,
mouth or nose.
WHAT TO DO: Invent a cure and become a billionaire. Short of that, get lots of rest and drink plenty of
fluids. Over-the- counter medicines may soothe symptoms but won’t shorten the sickness.

DR ROTTEN FEVER (aka the flu):
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE: A cough (dry or with clear phlegm) accompanied by a sudden high fever, chills,
body aches, sore throat, fatigue and general misery.
IT COULD BE: The flu. “Influenza tends to come on like a truck,” says Todd Astor, a pulmonologist at
Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
WHAT TO DO: Get thee to a doctor ASAP. If you start taking an antiviral medication (Tamiflu) within 48
hours, it shortens your misery by a day and may reduce your risk for serious complications.

LUNG PHOOEY (aka pneumonia):
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE: A cough (often with yellow or green phlegm) accompanied by a fever, shaking
chills, difficulty breathing, chest pain, weakness and occasionally mental confusion.
IT COULD BE: Pneumonia, an infection of one or both lungs that causes their air sacs to fill up with fluid.
WHAT TO DO: See your physician, who may take an X-ray and prescribe an antibiotic. Some types of
pneumonia will put you in the hospital; others, such as “walking pneumonia,” don’t make you as sick.

THE PHLEGMISH MASTER (aka bronchitis):
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE: A cough (often with phlegm but not always), soreness in the chest and a fever.
IT COULD BE: Bronchitis. This is what people often refer to as a chest cold. It’s inflammation of the
bronchial tubes—the airways of the lungs swell and produce mucus, making you cough.
WHAT TO DO: See your doctor (especially if you have a fever), who may take an X-ray to rule out
pneumonia. Drink plenty of fluids, and breathe in steam from a hot shower.

COUGHUS INTERRUPTUS (aka pertussis):
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE: Uncontrollable, violent coughing that makes it hard to breathe, forcing you to
inhale deeply, often making a “whooping” sound. Other signs include a runny nose with a low-grade
IT COULD BE: Whooping cough, or pertussis. A highly contagious respiratory disease, it’s caused by
bacteria that make your airways swell.
WHAT TO DO: See your physician for antibiotics ASAP—you won’t get as sick if you start taking them in
the first couple of weeks of having symptoms.

(As written in the December 2017 / January 2018 AARP Magazine)

How to Avoid the Financial Pitfalls of Care Giving

(Be considerate but smart in protecting your own money)
When you fly as much as I do, you can recite the safety briefing by heart, especially the part about
putting on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else. The same sort of warning should be
given to the 43 million American adults who are family or friend caregivers—particularly when it comes
to their own finances. According to a 2011 study, the average lifetime cost to caregivers is $304,000 in
lost wages, pensions and Social Security. That doesn’t count the $7,000 in cash that 7 out of 10
caregivers pay each year (on average) from their own pockets to cover other costs. “How do you igve up
that much and still retire yourself?” asks Age Wave CEO Ken Dychtwald. If caregiving looms in your
future—and it likely does in you’re a daughter, an only child or the one (if you are, you know what I
mean)—take time now to protect your financial life.
STEP 1: Calculate the gap. The average cost of a full-time home health aide is $49,000 a year; a
semiprivate room in a nursing home: $86,000. Think you and your parents won’t need long-term care?
So do 63 percent of people over 50, note Age Wave. Yet 70 percent will, a clear disconnect. So ask your
parents about the size of their nest egg, how quickly they’re spending it, whether they have long-term
care insurance and how much equity they have in their home. If they won’t discuss this, a
compassionate financial adviser may be able to bring you together. Compare your parents’ assets
against their projected expenses, and you have your gap.
Step 2: Figure out how to fill the gap, without bankrupting yourself or your family.
 Look for free resources. Go to, set up the National Council on Aging, to
learn about federal, state and private benefits programs that apply to your charge.
 Make a budget for what you can contribute—physically and in dollars. (Shockingly, 50 percent
of caregivers don’t track what they’re spending.) Then ask your siblings what they can pitch in;
just because you’re delivering the care doesn’t mean you have to foot the entire bill. Every
dollar you don’t spend can be put away for the future, so you don’t perpetuate this cycle with
your kids.
STEP 3: If a gap remains, consider Medicaid. An unmarried parent may need to spend down assets to
qualify (nursing home residents can have only $2,000 in countable assets in most states). If your parent
is married, it’s more complicated; in general, the healthy spouse can keep one-half of assets, up to
$120,900 (not including the house). Call an elder-law attorney for help. You can locate a lawyer
through or, the site of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
STEP 4: Regardless of the gap, look into getting paid.
 Two government programs—one from Veterans Affairs, the other from Medicaid—offer
additional financial support that can be used to pay family caregivers. If your parent is a veteran
(or spouse of one) who served at least 90 days of active duty with at least one day during a
period of war, check out what the VA has to offer. Be forewarned: Waiting lists for some
Medicaid programs are so long you might never see any money.

 Have your parent pay you if assets are available. But first talk to an elder-law attorney about
drawing up a contract, notes Miles P Hurley, a certified elder-law attorney in Atlanta. This
document, he says, should answer questions such as “Is this child going to quit a job to provide
the care?” and “How many hours a day is the child supposed to pbe providing the care?” It’s
crucial to do this in a way that doesn’t jeopardize Medicaid eligibility—which is why you want to
involve a lawyer, preferably from the state where your parent lives.
STEP 5: Protect your own earning ability. If you’re midcareer, it’s very challenging to leave a job for
caregiving, then step back into the workforce at the same salary, explains C. Grace Whiting, COO of the
National Alliance for Caregiving. “Sometimes physically caring for a loved one may seem to be your only
option,” she acknowledges, but it may make more sense to continue to work while supporting someone
else who provides care. It can also be a good idea to ask for more flexibility from your employer. Given
that it costs six to nine months’ salary to replace a management-level employee, it’s not surprising that
many employers believe it’s less expensive to make an accommodation. Adds Lisa Winstel, COO of the
Caregiver Action Network, “Saying to your employer ‘I’m a family caregiver’ is not as taboo as it was five
or 10 years ago.”

(by Jean Chatzky for AARP Magazine; December 2017 / January 2018)


New Study suggests a ‘public health crisis’

Adult drinking in the U.S. has become a “public health crisis” in the past decade, with the steepest rise
among those 65 and over, according to a recent federal study.
The increase in alcohol use, in high-risk drinking behavior, and in alcohol abuse and dependence for
those 65-plus was at least double that of the general population, said the study, published in JAMA
Psychiatry and sponsored in part by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). It
compared drinking levels in 2001-2002 with those in 2012-2013.
The increases were “substantial and unprecedented relative to earlier surveys,” the JAMA Psychiatry
article said. One of the most troubling findings was a 107 percent increase in the number of adults 65
and over with “alcohol use disorder,” which as defined by the NIAAA is often characterized by
compulsive alcohol use and a negative emotional state when not using alcohol. “Even as an expert in
the field, it shocked me,” said Brenda Iliff, executive director of Hazelden of Florida, an alcohol and drug
treatment facility.
The study didn’t look at causes of the increase. But experts cited the aging of boomers as one possible
factor. “Baby boomers had higher levels of drinking and drug use. They’re bringing this along,” said
NIAAA Director George F Koob. Another possible factor: recent economic stresses on older Americans.
“The 2008 recession had a toll on the most vulnerable,” said Bridget Grant, the lead author of the study.
Richard Grucza, an epidemiologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, challenged
the findings, saying changes in methods mean “you can’t really compare the results.” But Koob stood by
the study, saying the results for older Americans were consistent with other research.
(As written in the AARP Bulletin of October 2017)

Make Winter Bearable

(Learn seasonal survival from the masters of hibernation)

Embrace hyperphagia, or overeating. Instead of feasting on holiday treats, act like a bear and grab
pawfuls of nuts and berries. They’ll tune up your brain and immune system.
Lose weight fast-er. Bears’ winterlong fasting helps them lose about 20 percent of their pudge. Your
variation: intermittent fasting. Eat only during an eight-hour window each day.
Shake it off. Dave Garshelis, a bear expert with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, notes
that hibernating bears do a lot of shivering, which preserves muscle tone. Similarly, human fidgeting
can burn 350 calories a day. And a Japanese study showed that setting the thermostat at 62 degrees
impacts your metabolism and could cause significant fat loss in six weeks. Hey, Boo Boo, spring is just
around the corner!

(written by Peter Moore for AARP Magazine)

Buckeye Pie


12 Servings

This pie version of buckeye balls candy has a chocolate wafer crust, a sweet and creamy peanut butter filling, and is covered with a chocolate ganache.


  • 1 cup crushed chocolate
  • graham crackers (about 10 crackers)
  • 2 tablespoons packed dark brown
  • sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter


How to Make It

Step 1

Make crust: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang; mist bottom with nonstick cooking spray. Mix crumbs with sugar and butter and press into bottom of pan. Bake until crust is set, 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Step 2

Make filling: Beat all ingredients except cream with an electric mixer on high speed until smooth, 2 minutes. In a separate bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form, 2 minutes. Fold whipped cream into peanut butter mixture; pour into pie shell, smoothing top. Cover, pressing plastic wrap directly onto surface of pie. Freeze for at least 5 hours, preferably overnight. Remove pie and place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Step 3

Make glaze: Place chocolate in a bowl. Bring cream and butter to a boil and pour over chocolate. Stir until combined and chocolate is melted. Let cool to room temperature. Remove plastic from pie; spread glaze evenly over top. Chill pie, uncovered, until glaze is set. Keep pie in refrigerator or cooler until ready to eat.



Pioneering drugs that remedy once-intractable diseases; clever products that make everyday living easier for people with injury or illness; innovative technologies that provide relief at a touch of a button—by all measures, 2017 has been a year of astounding health care advancements.  Here are some of the ways medical trailblazers and researchers are creating fresh possibilities for you and your family.


Adrienne Skinner awoke from cancer surgery to stunning news.  “I came to, and he told me we couldn’t do it,” Skinner says of her surgeon, who had planned to remove a tumor from the end of her bile duct. “He said, ‘Cancer has invaded your liver.  It’s stage 4. It’s systemic.’”  She was diagnosed with ampullary cancer, a form so rare that no standard treatments existed. Until now.

After some “pretty nasty” chemotherapy, Skinner, 60, of Larchmont, New York, became part of a clinical trial for pembrolizumab, marketed by Merck as Keytruda.  The drug helps the body’s immune system fight the disease.  Skinner started infusion treatments in April 2014.  In July her surgeon took another biopsy. “He said, ‘If somebody hadn’t told me you had cancer, I never would have known,’” she notes.  The tumor was gone.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since approved further uses of Keytruda, such as for patients with a genetic mutation called mismatch repair deficiency.  The drug continues to be tested for use by patients without the mutation. It is approved for some head and neck, lung, bladder and metastatic melanoma cancers, as well as Hodgkin lymphoma.

During clinical trials, the medication was famously used to treat former President Jimmy Carter, who two years ago announced he had cancer in his brain and liver and said his fate was “in the hands of God, whom I worship.” Four months later, his cancer was gone.

Skinner has seen similar results.  She’s back at work and makes a point of swimming and playing tennis.  “I’m running around like a maniac. I’m out gardening right now,” she says.  “I know what a gift is, and I know the gift of life.”


Written by Mandy Fetterman for AARP Magazine

October/November 2017




What’s New:

Hair-Saving Device.  Two years ago the FDA approved scalp-cooling caps, which help breast cancer patients keep their hair during chemotherapy.  Now one such device, the DigniCap, has also been approved for patients with other solid-tumor cancers.  That could help nearly 800,000 Americans avoid chemo-related hair loss.  Why it’s key:  One in 12 women with breast cancer avoid potentially lifesaving treatment for fear of going bald.  Says patient Lauren Jones of the Paxman Scalp device:  “It’s liberating.”      (by Sari Harrar for AARP Magazine)


Computerized Treatment.  Three words cancer patients should know: Watson for Oncology.  IBM’s artificial intelligence supercomputer can take test results and comb through tens of millions of medical documents to make recommendations for care.  “One doctor doesn’t have the computing power to crunch all the world’s data,” says Jay Wohlgemuth, chief medical officer of Quest Diagnostics.  Last year, IBM and Quest expanded Watson for use by clinics.  Doctors send a tissue sample to Quest, which identifies genetic mutations and sends data to Watson to unearth lifesaving treatments.         (by Lexi Pandell for AARP Magazine)


Ovarian Cancer Sniff Test.  Dogs can smell certain cancers.  Researchers in Philadelphia are developing an electronic nose to do the same.  It could be available within five years.  This is important because the first stages of ovarian cancer are nearly invisible to ultrasounds or via exams.

(by Virginia Sole-Smith for AARP Magazine)






Life goes on, and then suddenly, stuff happens.  For these 5 women, going solo reinforced a frugal lifestyle that has created both opportunities and meaning.  Here’s their best advice:

When Deborah DeHoff got divorced at age 40, the financial impact didn’t concern her.  DeHoff grew up so poor that her family often had to turn off the heat to save money.  She never got an allowance or went to the movies.  She rose early each morning to milk cows and bale hay.

“I vowed that my life would not be that way as an adult,” says DeHoff, who is now a certified financial planner and owns 10 acres—with two horses—in Elkhart, Indiana.

After her marriage ended, she persuaded her employer to help pay for a college degree.  That allowed her to shift from part-time work to a full-time career as a financial planner.

But the frugal ways of her childhood are ingrained.

“Frugality is a lifestyle,” she says.  “You have to make a conscious decision about every last thing you spend on.”

For example, she still never goes to the movies: Films, TV series, books, music, even internet access are all free at the public library.  She plans the rest of her financial life the same way.  A few more tips:

> Cut your own lawn.  “I won’t pay someone to do what I can do.”

> Shop with a list, and stick to it.  “If I need black pants, I don’t buy the blue skirt that’s on sale.”

> Buy in bulk.   DeHoff’s two horses, Monster and Sophie, are her only extravagance.  Even then, she buys their grain and hay in bulk and gets big discounts.

> Keep a loose-change jar.  Dump change into it at the end of each day; never raid it.  When it’s full, make a savings account deposit.

> Spend on what matters.  For vacation, DeHoff stays home and spends extra time with her horses.  “I don’t even go to Starbucks,” she says.  “Feeding the horses is more important.”


By Contributors: Bruce Horovitz, David Hochman & Claire McIntosh

For AARP Magazine, October/November 2017

A Fresh Approach to Fighting MS

A Fresh Approach to Fighting MS

The first sign of trouble came when Jim Swartwood, now 56, couldn’t read the license plate on his pickup truck from 20 feet away. Swartwood, of Big Lake, Minnesota, saw an eye doctor, then a neurologist.  Tests revealed he had 19 lesions on his brain, a sign of multiple sclerosis.  More symptoms of this debilitating nerve condition soon came, and the MS drugs he tried didn’t do much.  In 2013, Swartwood’s doctor got him into a clinical trial for a medication called Ocrevus. His symptoms subsided.  The dreaded relapses didn’t come.

Most treatments for MS focus on T cells, a kind of white blood cell.  But in 2001, Stephen Hauser, chair of the neurology department at the University of California, San Francisco, teamed up with Genentech to test Ocrevus, which targets a different kind of white blood cell called B cells.  Last March, the drug was approved by the FDA.  It’s not a miracle cure, but it slows the disease’s progression and reduces relapses.

Swartwood now lifts weights and plays racquetball.  “Who knows what will happen tomorrow?” he says. “But I know I will be blessed no matter what.”—David Ferry for AARP Magazine, October/November 2017

What’s new

A Scan for Memory Loss?…The brains of people with mild signs of early dementia have smaller-than-normal medial temporal lobes, according to MRI scans done by Canadian researchers. Scans can’t currently predict Alzheimer’s disease, but in the future they might allow for preventive treatment.

Digital Tremor Blocker…Parkinson’s disease patients often benefit from electric current delivered to the brain through implanted electrodes. Abbott’s Infinity Deep Brain Stimulation system now lets neurologists direct electricity to specific therapeutic targets, which patients control using an iPod Touch.

Novel Drug for ALS…For the first time in 22 years, a new medication designed to temper ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—is on the market. Radicava was originally developed to treat strokes.  But clinical studies in Japan showed that it slowed the progression of ALS, a devastating degenerative illness.


Lunch Break Money Boosters:

1)  Locate lost cash:   Businesses or institutions that owe you money but can’t find you are required to hand the cash to the state rather than keep it, says Patti Spencer, a PA wills-and-trusts attorney.  To claim your due, search online for “escheated property” and a state name; that should take you to a searchable database. Claiming money is free.  California alone holds $8 billion in unclaimed cash of 32.5 million people or groups.

2)  Split your paycheck:  If you direct deposit your paycheck into a checking account, change to a split deposit, which will send a small amount to a savings, vacation or emergency fund. It’s worth it: Research shows that people save an extra $1,080 a year when they use divided deposits. If your company doesn’t offer that, set up automatic transfers on paydays.  And think about sending a chunk to your credit card bill on the same schedule; never pay a late fee again.

3)  Save for future health costs:  Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) let certain people save, tax free, for future medical expenses.  If you can afford it, increase your savings to the max (in 2017, $6,750 if you have a family health plan; $3,400 for individual coverage). But don’t use the account for current medical needs.  Pay those costs out of pocket; use the HSA to save for medical expenses after retirement (HAS dollars can accrue indefinitely).

4)  Download a shopping or coupon app:  Many free apps provide discounts on demand when you shop.  Coupon Sherpa, for instance, delivers retailer coupons to your phone for in-store scanning and sends promo codes to use online. Card-Star stores your merchant loyalty cards on your phone so you won’t miss out on discounts.  Paribus searches for price drops on items you bought online, then contacts retailers to ask them to refund you the difference.

5)  Review your credit card bills:  First, check for charges that don’t make sense; for example, some scams involve generating small credit card charges each month, in the hopes you won’t notice them.  Action items:  Contact your card provider and contest suspicious charges.  Next, look for recurring charges for services you don’t use, such as a forgotten subscription to an e-greeting card service.  Action item:  Cancel them.  Finally, study your spending patterns.  Do you mean to spend that much on food or clothes in a month?  Action item:  Find ways to start saving money.


‘Play to your Strengths—Something that challenges you a bit’

‘Play to your Strengths—Something that challenges you a bit’

(Pioneering Brain Scientist Brenda Milner, 99, whose groundbreaking research helped unlock the mysteries of memory—and who’s still actively exploring links between brain function and behavior spoke with Brenda Milner for AARP Bulletin)

You’re a preeminent neuroscientist, and a professor at Canada’s prestigious McGill University.  At age 99, what motivates you to keep up your research at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital?

I am very curious. Human quirks attract my interest. If you’re a theoretical person, you can sit and dream up beautiful theories, but my approach is, “What would happen if…” or, “Why is this person doing (that)…” and then, “How can I measure it?”  I wouldn’t still be working if I didn’t find it exciting.  

Are you curious in real life, too?

Yes. I’m a good “noticer”—of behavior as much as the kind of furniture people have!

In the 1950s, you made a revolutionary discovery—that memories are formed in a brain area called the hippocampus, which is now getting lots of attention for its role in memory loss and dementia. Has brain research gotten easier?          Nowadays, everyone has functional magnetic resonance imaging.  Anybody with access to a medical school can get a good look at the patients’ brain while they’re alive and young, but it wasn’t like that (then). Psychologists were studying patients who were much older and beginning to show memory impairment.  Then they had to wait for their patients to die.

But you were different?

I was privileged in having access to the kinds of patients I had.  They were young adults of normal intelligence, in the prime of their lives.  We were able to test them before and after surgery for epilepsy.

Was it frustrating waiting for your concept to be accepted?

Oh no, no. It was so exciting working with these patients and satisfying one’s curiosity. But it was a bit annoying occasionally.

What led a young Englishwoman to brain science in the 1930’s?

I started at Cambridge University in mathematics and decided that I wasn’t going to be a great mathematician because I don’t have enough spatial ability.  I switched to experimental psychology, got married and came to Canada for one year—and I’m still here.  I was very lucky in being at the Neurological Institute when this work was being done.


6 Clever and low-cost ways to make everyday tasks easier, from people who care for others:

1)  Safer Soap:  Slip soap into a nylon stocking.  Tie to a towel bar or the shower head.  This creates a non-slippery soap that lathers through the stocking.

2)  DIY Ice Pack:  Mix one part rubbing alcohol with two to three parts water into a plastic zipper bag and freeze.  This ice pack will stay cooler longer and will mold to your body where you apply it.

3)  Glow Guides:  Use glow tape for safer walks in the house at night.  Place around light switches and thermostats, and along walls.

4)  No-Slip Sips:  Glue a piece of plastic tubing to a clothespin.  Slide a straw through the tubing and attach the clothespin to a glass.

5)  No-Slip Surfaces:  Apply no-slip paint to walking surfaces inside and outside the home to help prevent your loved one from falling.  The texture of the surface will become gritty.

6)  No-Spill Drinks:  Cut out a nonslip pad and place it on a shelf in the refrigerator.  Put beverage cartons on the pad.  Drinks can then be poured by just tilting the carton forward.


Guard Your Digits

Guard Your Digits

‘Social’ smarts will help protect your identity

By obtaining your Social Security number, identity thieves have the easiest path to the greatest damage: stealing your money and government benefits.  Getting medical care and other services in your name.  Leaving a terrific tangle for the real you to clear up.

And what then? You can apply for a new “Social” but few do so successfully.  In 2016, when 15 million people were victimized by identity theft, about 400 new numbers were issued, says Social Security Administration spokeswoman Dorothy Clark.  Getting a new number is a laborious and often futile process in which economic hardship must be proven.  And getting a new Social creates more hassles as your original number continues to follow you through life.  So, your best defense is to protect those nine digits.  Here’s how.

Leave it Home.  Never carry your Social Security card—what if your wallet or purse is stolen?  The same goes for your Medicare card (which includes your Social, until 2018), unless you’re seeing a health care provider for the first time.  If you like the security of having an ID on you, carry a photocopy of your Medicare card with several digits blanked out.

When asked, Don’t Tell.  Only a few organizations have a legal right to your Social—your employer, banks and lenders, investment funds, the IRS and government-funded programs such as workers’ compensation.  When asked by others, just say no.  The more your number is out there, the greater the risk of identity theft.

Guard the Final Four.  Although most widely used and shared, the last four digits are in fact the most important to protect.  These are truly random and unique; the first five numbers represent when and where your Social Security card was issued.  Scammers can get those numbers by knowing your birth date and hometown.  So don’t use the last four as a PIN.  Don’t share them in emails.  Ask companies to use an alternative identifier.

Freeze ‘Em Out.  If you place a security freeze on your file at the big three credit rating agencies, ID thieves who have your number can’t get loans in your name, because lenders can’t do the required credit check.  To place a freeze, you need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus:

Equifax (; 1-800-349-9960)

Experian (; 1-888-397-3742)

TransUnion (; 1-888-909-8872)

Freezes can be “thawed” as needed, such as when you are switching insurance providers.

Report Quickly.  If your number is used for identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877-438-4338 or at  File a police report and notify credit-reporting bureaus and banks.  Report Medicare fraud to 800-447-8477, and if you suspect crooks are going for your tax refund, call the IRS at 800-908-4490.  For lost or stolen Social Security cards, call the agency at 800-772-1213, or go to


(written by Sid Kirchheimer for AARP Magazine, September 2017)