Yesterday I was listening to the Michael Baisden show where the topic of the hour was Identity theft. This is not the first time that this was discussed on the show. I don’t remember who the topic guest was, as I was in the car, but the information, testimonies and methods used to get, sell and use your identity should make everyone prepared to guard their identity.
Last year I received a phone call in my office, from Jamaica, and the caller proceeded to tell me that I had won a million dollars in their lottery. At first I thought this was like the Canadian lottery or UK Lottery scams until they started validating my personal information. Remember they called me at work, they also knew my full name, social security number, address, and birthday. I didn’t tell them anything, I just listened. I told them that they had the wrong social security number and had the wrong person, but it did make me want to check by credit report to see what if anything had been done. Had I become a victim if Identity theft?
Identity theft affects millions of Americans every year, and no one is immune to the possibility of becoming a victim of identity theft. According to the Today Show and MSNBC 1 in 12 Americans will become victims of identity theft. If you had a chance to see NBC’s Dateline episode on “To Catch and ID Thief” it gave some great information on Identity theft. If you’ve ever seen the Michelle Brown Story on Lifetime, you can also get a glimpse of the nightmare your life can become once you’ve been a victim.
How do you know you’re a victim?
Your identity can be stolen by dumpster divers who are obtaining your bank statements, credit card applications or statements, checks from your trash or mail, purse or wallet, or getting your debit card number from a corporate database. Your information can also be stolen by employees of business where you used your cards, or from old company computers that were thrown out that were thought to have been wiped. Once an identity thief has this information, they can wreck your name. Since the crime may take days, weeks or even months before you noticed what happened, it’s easy for the criminal to commit several crimes before you’ve realized what occurred. Bills are run up in your name, your credit gets trashed, and you have to argue with those idiot bill collectors over money that you haven’t even spent. Just about every aspect of your life becomes an open book, and it’s a long and painful process to fix everything. If you are unfortunate enough to become the victim of identity theft, you will undoubtedly spend many, many hours trying to clear your name and remedy the situation
How many news stories have you seen on the news where some databases, like TD Ameritrade, TJ MAXX, Monster.com, and T-M0bile were stolen or hacked into and their customer’s personal information has been compromised!! This is one of the reasons why Massachusetts has enacted a Data Privacy Law, which I hope is going to propagate across the nation to help secure personal information of customers and clients. However, thieves are very resourceful.
Identity Theft doesn’t have to happen on a large scale like that the TJ MAXX incident. Many thefts occur because a close friend or even a family member who is bad with money will steal the information of someone they know so they can get a cell phone, a car, a house, open a bank account or even gamble online. This includes their friends, their relatives, or even their own children. Identity Theft is spinning out of control and is becoming a fast growing international crime. Data breaches, internet fraud and email scams are occurring on a daily basis, not to mention the risk from people you know or do business with. Thieves could be stealing your personal information to not only establish credit, but use it for employment, insurance, benefits and social security fraud. This crime leaves your credit history in a mess and it can you take years to rebuild it.
Here are some of the indicators that you may have become a victim.
- A call from a collection agency about an account you don’t have.
- Bank and billing statements don’t arrive on time.
- Checks have disappeared from your checkbook.
- Your credit report shows accounts you didn’t open.
- A bill from a credit account you didn’t open.
- Unauthorized charges on your debit, long distance or bank accounts.
- You are turned down for a loan, mortgage or other forms of credit because of unauthorized debts on your credit report.
What do you do if you’ve become an identity theft victim?
- File a report with your local police department where your wallet, credit cards, etc., were stolenand keep a copy of the report for your personal records. This
- Obtain a FREE copy of your credit report and look for any suspicious activity. By Federal law you are allowed to get 1 free one from each of the major services each year.
- Report any suspicious charges and accounts to the appropriate credit card issuers and credit bureaus immediately via the phone and in writing. Cancel the accounts.
- If your purse or wallet is stolen, cancel all cards immediately and get replacements. Also, put a “stop payment” on all lost or stolen cards.
- Contact the three main credit reporting companies (see list below) to put a fraud victim alert on your credit report. The three main credit reporting bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. You can report fraud or get a copy of your FREE credit report by reaching one of these companies. Once you report to one bureau, the other two agencies will be sent the report. A fraud alert will be put on your account by each company and you will be sent a copy of your credit report.
How can you reduce your chances of becoming a victim?
During the Michael Baisden show they were plugging the company Lifelock. You know that commercial with Todd Davis having this social security number 457-55-5462 on a truck and daring thieves to steal is identity. So they did! According to various news articles and the Today Show, Todd has had his identity stolen a few times while even with LifeLock. You can Google this story to get the facts, and make up your own mind. If you want to know if you should do business with any company, type that company’s name and the words complaints, lawsuits, and scams into a search engine like Google or Yahoo and evaluate the results. There is actually a class action suit against Lifelock because of some of the things they do. My best advice is to do research on any company or person who you are going to do business with or allow to take care of your kids. Personally I won’t use Lifelock, but I guess it’s better than nothing. According to the Federal Trade Commission, nearly 10 million Americans fell victim to identity theft last year, at an average cost of $5,000 per victim. However, two-thirds of victims who discovered the misuse of their personal information within five months incurred no out-of-pocket expenses, other than the one they paid for having some type of protection service.
There are also those credit monitoring service such as TrustedID, IDWatchDog, and Identity Guard, just to name a few, that you can pay to help protect you. It used to be that was all these services did was to monitor your credit report and alert you to weird items. The rest was up to you. So if it happens that your identity was stolen, they let you know about items that appear on your credit report, but it was up to you to go from there and clean up the mess. Many of these services are now beginning to offer more than just monitoring services. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission says it takes 12 months, on average, for a victim of identity theft to notice the crime. A credit monitoring service will alert you, usually daily or weekly, to changes in your credit – helping you to stop the theft before it gets out of control.
Needless to say becoming an identity theft victim happen to you can wreak havoc on your life and taking steps to protect yourself from becoming their next victim has become a necessity. I personally wouldn’t spend a dime on those on fraud alert or credit monitoring programs that only focus on credit related risks. But as I said those services are better than nothing. Identity theft insurance is one particular product that companies have begun to offer consumers in response to the growing threat of identity theft. There are companies such as Zander, Allstate, and others that offer Identity theft Insurance that offers great programs that covers all types of identity theft and they take over all the work and pay your expenses if you are a victim. As always do your homework and research on what protection and services the various companies offer before you invest a dime your money.
Here are some other things you can do, to minimize being an identity theft victim
- Use cash for your transactions as much as possible (it also helps control your level of debt)
- Never carry your Social Security Card
- Never put your SSN on your Checks (we used to do this in the Military)
- Never put your full name on your checks. USE your First, (Second) initials and last name.
- When writing any check to pay a bill never write the full account number, use only the last 4 digits.
- SHRED, any document that has account numbers, your address, your social security number on it including old checks (older than seven years)
- Use locking filing cabinets for your financial paperwork, or keep such papers in a secure place
- Make copies (front and back) of all of your credit cards, and other documents and store these in a safe location.
Protect your computer data
- Password protect your computer and encrypt any financial files.
- Change ALL OF passwords every six months.
- Don’t give anyone (including family) your credit/debit cards or PINs.
- Get a firewall program, a privacy filter and encrypt the data on your computer and laptop.
- Lock your computer (screen saver) when your away from it.
- Get new Credit Card or Debit Cards every 18 months. Just tell the issuing bank you’ve lost the old one. After all they really want to keep you using their service.
- Be cautious who you ask to house sit or pick up your mail, you can even get a mail box alarm to let you know when the mail arrives, or over just get a PO Box if you can invest the time and money.
- Monitor your accounts online if use programs like Money or Quicken, you can sync all your account with your computer so you can monitor all the accounts in one shot on a regular basis.
- Pull your credit reports every fur months. Since you’re allowed 1 Free one from each of the three major agencies, just pull a different one every 4 months. Put a reminder on your calendar. Credit Reporting Agencies:
Free Credit Report
https://www.annualcreditreport.com (They are FREE by Federal Law)
Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271
By Victor Swindell, owner of PepperEyes.com, a division of Swindell Enterprises. PepperEyes.com is dedicated to assist those people who are unwilling to become a victim and are taking responsibility to protect themselves.