18 Jan

Identity Theft

Counteracting Identity Theft Attacks

Most of us would say that we are NOT going to be victims of identity theft because we are aware of the different tactics criminals use to steal our identity.  In this age of technology and constantly being connected, there are so many ways criminals will attempt to get our identity, which increases the risk of having it stolen.    All it takes is getting distracted, feeling comfortable and dropping our guard or otherwise ignore the signs.  Identity theft can occur from a variety of vehicles and criminals are getting smarter with the use of technology. 

A common practice is phishing emails attempting to gather sensitive information like username, passwords, credit card numbers, and bank account numbers. Phishing works by pretending to be a trustworthy company and/or person.  The email will be a very legitimate looking with a company logo and impersonating legitimate senders asking you to open attachments or click on links in the email immediately to avoid a negative consequence.  Some of the examples include a warrant for your arrest, IRS penalties or email sent from an executive in your company.  By acting, scammers can either take control of your computer or access your accounts based on the information collected.    Some of the more common types of phishing emails are:

  1. Email from a Federal Agency such as the FBI or IRS.
  2. A friend or relative is requesting funds because they are in a foreign country stranded.
  3. PayPal is requesting an update to the expired credit card to process your purchase.
  4. A company is stating, they noticed unauthorized transactions in your account and had limited access to your account. 
  5. You won a contest or inherited something from a relative and the email request you provide personal information to claim it.
  6. Email from what appears to be your bank providing an alert of funds withdrawn which exceed your limit. 
  7. A company is requesting your personal information to verify their account due to a routine security check.  

Other ways criminals attempt to get personal information is via phone either at home or cell phones.  The reoccurring phone calls from supposed IRS agent requesting personal information to avoid additional fees or even criminal charges.  Again, the IRS will not call you to communicate any issues with your taxes; they will send you a letter.  In the last few years, I have made a rule of not making donations over the phone especially if they request payment at that moment via credit card or electronic transfer from a checking account.   I plan early in the year which charitable organizations I will be donating during that year which helps me stay on budget, but I intentionally think of which causes I want to support.  If I am caught on a weak moment and agree to a phone donation, I will ask them to send me the donation envelope, and I will mail a check instead of providing any credit card or bank account information. 

Another entry point to get our identity is our mailbox.  Most of the junk mail is harmless but watch out for pre-approval offers, which can expose us to identity theft.  Many credit card companies constantly send pre-approved credit card applications and pre-printed credit card checks directly to our homes. I suggest stopping the delivery of these offers by using the service provided by the major credit reporting agencies and opting out for five years or permanently.   OptOutPrescreen.com or call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT

A new recent scam is targeting men in affluent neighborhoods demanding payment in bitcoin to keep their secret.  In the letter, it states, that the sender stumbled across your misadventures and if you don’t pay, they will send the information to your family and friends.  The sender also mentions that this is blackmail and if you go to the cops, they have taken the precautions so it will not be traced to them.  I learned about this one because my husband received one at home and it baffled me to see how low these individuals will stoop to achieve their goal of profiting from you. 

There’s no full proof way to prevent identity theft, but you can make it a bit more challenging for criminals.  Here are some recommendations I give my clients on ways to protect yourself.

  1. Use strong passwords with 8 to 10 letters that use a combination of letters and special characters.  Changing passwords at least twice a year if not quarterly.
  2. 2-Step verification process, whenever possible.
  3. Getting alerts from credit reports.
  4. Review your statements monthly for unauthorized transactions; Take time to review your credit card transactions and bank statements monthly to alert the credit card companies of any fraudulent activity.
  5. Review your credit report; each of the credit reporting companies will provide you annually a free copy of your credit report. I suggest you stagger the request to receive a report three times a year.  Here is an example, Experian report requested in January, Equifax report requested May and TransUnion in September.  You can request a copy of your report from  https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action
  6. Shred documents that contain personal information.
  7. Wipe clean your computers, tablets, and smartphones before discarding.
  8. Do not share personal information over the phone or email.
  9. When filling questionnaires, question if your social security is necessary on the form. If they do need it, ask them what measures are used to protect your identity.
  10. Do not carry documents that have personal information. I.e., social security card, passport and health insurance cards that have your social security number.

Stay vigilant, alert and if you are ever unsure contact the respective company to verify that the communication you are questioning is legit or talk to your financial advisor for guidance.

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