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ID theft

All about how it happens and how you can keep it from happening to you.
  • My identity has been stolen! Now what?

    If you have fallen victim to identity theft, you must take action quickly. But often, in the heat of the moment, it's hard to remember what you should do. Here are the steps you should take. Print the list and keep it handy, just in case.


    First of all, contact the police and file a report. Get the police report number, and the name and phone number of the investigating officer. You will want to keep this information handy to provide to any creditors or other people you speak with regarding the theft.


    You may wish to close your checking and/or savings accounts, depending on what was stolen, and stop payment on outstanding checks. You will definitely want to inform your bank or credit union, telling the fraud department what accounts might be breached. Be prepared to provide the representative with account numbers. You will want to obtain a new ATM card, account number and PIN.


    You will also want to contact your credit card issuers and even close the cards you think might be at risk. When you get your statements, go over them carefully, checking for any questionable or fraudulent activity.


    If you spend time and money fixing the damage done by such a theft, make sure you document everything you do, including dates and the names of people you speak with. Jot down the amounts you spend and what the expense was for also, as some states will force the theft to make restitution to the victim. You should also keep copies of all correspondence.


    Call the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – and ask them to place a fraud alert on your file. This will require that you be contacted before any new credit is issued in your name.


    Posted Mar 13 2012, 12:38 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Do people understand what a credit score is?

    In a recent survey, only 27 percent of consumers really understood that their credit scores are used by lenders to measure risk. Your credit score is, in fact, a snapshot of your financial well-being, and lenders place high value on this three-digit number. Your score tells a lender whether or not he can expect repayment on your loan – if you even get the loan to begin with.


    Generally speaking, the higher your score, the better your credit and the better your chances of getting a loan at a good rate with good terms. If your score is lower, well, you can expect the opposite – not-so-good rates and terms, if you're able to secure a loan at all. 


    Your credit score is basically made up of these factors: payment history, amount of debt you carry, length of credit history, types of credit and new credit. About 60 percent of consumers have a credit score of 700 or higher. A score of 720 is considered good. If your score is below 700, it's a good idea to take action to raise it.


    But how? The first and most important thing you should do is to check your credit report. Find out if the information shown on this all-important document is correct. If it's not, make it so by contacting the corresponding credit bureau or creditor, and ask that the information be fixed. You should do this in writing. 


    Next, reduce your debt. Pay it down, beginning with your high interest items, and work your way down from there. And last of all, make sure you pay your bills on time, every time. 


    Doing these three things will help set your credit back on track and raise your score. But it won't happen overnight. It will take time – but stay on course and soon you'll see a vast improvement.

    Posted Mar 06 2012, 12:33 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Can't I just protect my own identity?

    It seems that everyone has heard of identity theft, yet many people still have questions about it. Here are a couple of the most commonly asked questions.


    • How much of a problem is identity theft and how long does it take to recover?


    Each year for the past several years, the Federal Trade Commission has listed identity theft as its No. 1 complaint. Victim losses are somewhere in the neighborhood of about $1.1 billion a year. And the FTC estimates the average victim spends about 170 to 300 hours working toward recovering after an identity theft. 


    • Should I sign up for identity theft protection?


    Some would say you can do the things yourself that you would pay an identity theft protection service to do, but the fact of the matter is that most people don't take the time to do those things. True, you can get a free copy of your credit report each year, but most people don't. And most just glance at their credit card statements, and are less than careful with their personal information online. 


    The bottom line is simply this – protecting your information isn't rocket science. The trick is finding the time to do so, and then knowing what to do. If you aren't willing to spend the time yourself, then it's worth it to spend the money to pay someone else to do it for you. But be sure you research the identity theft protection services carefully, and make sure you know what you're getting for your money. There are things you can do on your own, but you can't watch your personal information online 24/7 – so it would be smart to find someone who can.

    Posted Feb 28 2012, 12:38 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Identity theft is No. 1 on the IRS list of threats

    During tax season, it's not uncommon for people to be on the receiving end of misleading promises about lost refunds and free money. But these are scams. Scammers will attempt anything and everything in order to steal a taxpayer's personal information, and then he'll use it to file fraudulent tax returns, gypping taxpayers out of millions each year.


    The IRS released its "Dirty Dozen" list of schemes used to commit tax fraud, and identity theft is the No. 1 threat. Identity theft occurs when a thief steals a person's identifying information and uses it to file a fake claim. Last year, the IRS was able to block more than $1.4 billion in fraudulent refunds. Who knows what this year will bring. 


    Phishing also made the list, and is a common tool year-round. This technique involves the victim receiving an unsolicited e-mail which contains a link to a form or a fake website that is designed to trick the victim into revealing personal or financial information. 


    The other dominating threat is fraud by return preparers. These phony tax experts show up each year, boasting of huge return guarantees and charging over-the-top fees for their services. 


    To protect yourself, guard where and to whom you reveal your personal or financial information. If you receive an unsolicited e-mail, do not click on any links contained within it or respond to the e-mail. And when choosing a tax preparer, be sure you pick someone you can trust. You will want your only regret this year to be that your refund isn't as large as you wanted it to be.

    Posted Feb 21 2012, 11:38 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Are credit monitoring services worth the money?

    It's getting to be a much more common thing – more and more people are signing up with credit monitoring services. And it's an action that Consumer Reports says is unnecessary. 


    In a recent Consumer Reports Money Adviser report, the Adviser looked at credit monitoring services offered by the three credit reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. The Adviser called the services, "overrated, oversold and overpriced."


    Although the credit bureaus say that monitoring credit reports is the best way to protect consumers against identity theft, the Adviser noted that monitoring of the three credit bureaus' reports is only one way to keep an eye on one's personal information, and not the most effective way, overall. 


    The fact is that no one person or service can prevent identity theft or identity fraud. The whole point of a credit monitoring service is to catch a thief in the act – once the information has been stolen, a credit monitoring service is supposed to pick up on illegal activity in the form of new, fraudulent accounts appearing on the victim's credit report. Once this is detected, the consumer can then take action to counter it. 


    But if credit monitoring doesn't prevent identity theft, what good is it? Credit monitoring can be a good thing as part of a total package of protection, but shouldn't be the only preventive measure taken. Credit monitoring, in addition to identity theft protection and your own personal actions like shredding documents bearing personal information and taking great care when online, can all work together to protect you from theft. One product, on its own, just isn't enough.

    Posted Feb 14 2012, 03:31 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Corporations must step up and be more communicative when it comes to data breaches

    Reuters broke the news earlier this month that Internet giant VeriSign was repeatedly hacked during 2010. VeriSign does not believe the attacks breached the servers that support the firm's Domain Name System network, but at this point, has ruled nothing out.


    Should that particular network be breached, it could be devastating for many of the world's websites, which would allow cybercriminals to redirect users attempting to visit those popular websites, as well as infect surfers with malware.


    According to VeriSign's U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing, senior management at the company were not notified of the breach by their IT team until a year after the fact. The statement indicated that IT personnel had worked to implement "remedial measures designed to mitigate the attacks, and to detect and thwart similar additional attacks."


    The statement also said that given the nature of such breaches, VeriSign officials are not positive that the actions taken were enough to prevent future attacks or the future loss of information. 


    Although it is commendable that VeriSign is not owning up to the breach and has, by all appearances, been open about the incident, many companies are not, often not telling the public or even those possibly affected about the breaches. Companies must strive to do better, and the federal government must step up and hold corporations accountable. Our personal and financial information is far too important to risk to save bruised egos. 

    Posted Feb 07 2012, 11:30 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • New Timeline making some Facebook users antsy

    Millions of people use Facebook every day, and soon millions of people will face yet more changes within the social media – and users have no say-so about it. 


    In a few days, Facebook will make its new profile format, Timeline, compulsory. The new look will present a scrapbook of your past status updates and photographs. Here's the scary part: even if you don't update your Timeline regularly, Facebook apps will do it for you. For example, if you have listened to a song on Spotify, it will appear on your Timeline. 


    By all appearances, it looks like Facebook is encouraging users to share even more personal details about themselves and their life experiences, which will ultimately make it easier for others to view it. Unfortunately, this will also make it easier for identity thieves to piece together information about a person and use the collected information to commit identity fraud. 


    A recent poll showed that 51.29 percent of Facebook users are worried by the new Timeline, while only 7.96 percent said they like it. 


    But even so, it is not expected that the changes will cause very many people to delete their Facebook account. If past experience is any kind of teacher, most users will grumble, but then get used to the change and move on. 


    Our advice? Clean up your Facebook. Re-evaluate what you share online, and share only what you want to share, being careful to choose who you share it with. 

    Posted Jan 31 2012, 10:39 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Apple's App Store – Not the safe place you may think it is

    It seems that blind faith in the security of Apple's stewardship of its App Store is not a good thing. The online place for apps for your iPhone or iPad can't be trusted. At least not yet.


    For many consumers, the App Store feels safe because most feel that all the software has been verified by Apple. But this isn't true. Case in point, a recent Camera+ app that was found to be bogus.


    Spotted by iPhoneography, the bogus app was posing as the popular application. The makers of the genuine Camera+ app, criticized Apple, saying the company's approval process for its app store is "all too often disappointing."


    The app hasn't been proven to contain any malicious functionality. It could be that those behind the bogus app were just looking to make a quick buck. They won't though, because once notified of the bogus entity, Apple removed it from the App Store. 


    The real Camera+ app is the 14th best-selling app in the store, so you'd think that if someone other than the makers of the real deal, Tap Tap Tap, tries to submit a phony, Apple would pick it up, right.


    Wrong. Malicious apps have made it into the App Store several times, and although Apple has removed them each time, in most cases, the damage was already done. Apple has to step up its verification and submission policies. Whatever it takes. The safety – and trust – of too many consumers is at risk.

    Posted Jan 24 2012, 10:18 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Employers: Tread lightly in social media

    You know the drill. When you you are looking for a new job, you spend hours preparing your resume, getting all the details just right, proofreading the final product, and printing out copies or e-mailing them to prospective employers. 


    But employers these days don't just view your resume as a means to determine whether you're the right candidate – they also check out your social media presence. 


    In a recent survey, 56 percent of those responding said when they hire, they check out social media sites looking for information on potential employees. Twenty-seven percent said they'd do this, but were uncomfortable with the idea of a potential employer looking them up on social sites. 


    Employers sometimes look at social media sites for the presence of their current employees as well. One such case of this was when Aflac checked out those famous tweets by the voice of their duck in TV commercials, Gilbert Gottfried, who had tweeted some callous commentary after Japan's earthquake disaster. Gottfried was "relieved of his duties" by the company as a result.


    Other famous incidents of social media karma come back to haunt included former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who tweeted pictures of his groin to a woman he met on Craigslist. In April 2009, two Domino's Pizza employees posted video of themselves adding mucus and intestinal gas to pizzas they were preparing. 


    If you are looking for a job, check out your social media presence with a careful eye, looking for anything that could cost you a potential job offering. If you're an employer, be careful when perusing social media used by employees or potential employees. Misuse of social media could result in accusations of discrimination or unfair dismissal. 


    Employers should consider drafting and adopting a clearly-stated policy on use of social networking sites in recruitment and with current employees.

    Posted Jan 17 2012, 10:51 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • How do I pick the right identity theft protection service?

    Identity thieves use your information for everything from getting a job to committing a crime – just like you do. What they aren't going to do is find a way to protect that information. That's solely up to you. And you'd be wise to find the best way to protect your information before a criminal has a chance to get his hands on it in the first place.


    There are a multitude of identity theft protection services available, and many of them have very reasonable fees. There's even some free options out there. So how do you cut through the rhetoric and find the one that is best for you?


    Here are the things you should look for when searching for a service:

     

    • Look at the reputation of the company behind the service. How long have they been around? 


    • Check into their security features. There should be features that make sure your information is safe, like fraud alerts, fraud monitoring, and the ability to place a credit freeze if necessary.


    • You're going to want recovery assistance, should you ever fall victim to identity theft. While you certainly don't ever want to need this, no one wants to go through something like that alone, so it's best to have it. Make sure the service you choose can work with you to recover your information and file the necessary reports, notify your creditors and dispute any fraudulent transactions.


    • Customer service is key. You want support to be available 24/7.


    • It's a given that you want your information protected, and you're going to want it protect beyond just the basics. Look at the company you are considering and make sure they protect more than just your name and Social Security number.


    The identity theft protection service you choose should do more than just place your information under lock and key – it should be there for you if the worst should happen.

    Posted Jan 12 2012, 10:28 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Company offers free credit monitoring – But is it really a bargain?

    Credit Karma made headlines this week as the first company to offer free credit monitoring. The service includes a once-a-day check of your TransUnion credit file, and if there's any "significant" change, you'll get an e-mail. Significant, by the way, means a late payment, new account opened or a credit inquiry. 


    According to company CEO and founder Kenneth Lin, Credit Karma won't ask for a credit card number, there are no hidden fees and the company won't sell your personal data. All they need at sign-up, Lin says, is the last four digits of your Social Security number. If you are one of the 10 percent this doesn't work for, you'll have to surrender your whole number.


    It should be noted, however, that the company will likely use your registration profile to match you with offers from its marketing partners, although the partners do not see your credit score or file. 


    Obviously there's a big hole in this protection – they only monitor one credit bureau. In order to effectively monitor your credit, arguably, the best way is to monitor all three credit reporting bureaus. If you want to monitor your Experian credit report for free, you can do so with Credit Sesame, which is also free. 


    By federal law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting bureaus, including the aforementioned two and Equifax. You'd probably be much better off doing this, and signing up with a paid service that monitors all three if you feel you need the extra protection. 


    If, however, you don't feel that's necessary, the freebies offered b Credit Karma and Credit Sesame are okay. Just weigh your options carefully and determine what will work best for you. 

    Posted Jan 04 2012, 10:25 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • New scam making the rounds

    If you got a new Macbook, iPad or some other Apple product for Christmas, you should be aware that there's a new e-mail scam headed your way. Scammers are sending out a very official-looking e-mail, which requests that you update your billing information.


    The scam reportedly targets new Apple owners who are just setting up and registering their new equipments and accounts. The e-mail apparently looks legitimate, and reads, "It has come to our attention that your account billing information records are out of date. That requires you to update your billing information. Failure to update your records will result in account termination."


    There is also a link included, "http://store.apple.com," which actually goes straight to the scammer's servers. Clicking on the link and then inputting your information will give the scammer all he needs to steal your identity.


    Once you click on the link, you are directed to a fake Apple ID sign-in page, which will give the scammer your login credentials. You will also be prompted to input your name, date of birth, Social Security number, credit card information, billing and shipping addresses, and your Apple ID and password. 


    Be extra vigilant when you receive unsolicited e-mails. Do not click on any links contained in them, and don't give your personal, financial or account information to anyone unless you are sure of the person on the other end of the request. It's best to check with the company directly to see if the request was made in the first place. 

    Posted Dec 28 2011, 03:59 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Be cautious when it comes to using 'smart' media

    With all the smartphones out there, as well as the fact that it seems everyone is using social media, it's no wonder that old scams are making a reappearance.


    One example is the grandparent scam, in which a scammer calls a elderly person pretending to be a grandchild in desperate need of money. The caller will ask the grandparent to send money via wire immediately. The scam has been quite effective.


    Now, thanks to social media, the scammer can call Grandma knowing the gender, name and age of her grandchild. This makes the scam all the more believable. 


    Another issue on the rise is malware. Everyone likes to download apps for their smartphones and tablets, but not everyone is careful about where they get these apps. Criminals know this and are using this knowledge to their advantage. Ever get a message about a new app? Ever see a new app advertised? Not all apps are legit, and many contain malware designed to find your personal or financial information and get it to the scammer. 


    There are even apps that are designed to look like games or other applications that appear to be from a legitimate source. In March, Google removed 58 malicious apps from the Android market, and there have been numerous phony apps that have appeared in the iTunes store as well.


    How do you protect yourself? First of all, don't download apps from sources you're unsure of, particularly if the app comes to you unsolicited. You should also avoid smishing, a technique criminals use to send you text messages that send you to phishing pages, designed to mimic legit sites and trick you out of your personal or financial information. 


    Beware of likejacking as well. This is a common Facebook scam in which your newsfeed will show "must see" videos or promotions. Clicking on the included links can not only cause issues for your safety, but will also post the link on your friends' walls as well, compromising their safety.


    The bottom line is this: When in doubt, don't. It really is that simple.

    Posted Dec 20 2011, 11:22 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Do I have to shred documents before I toss them?

    Is shredding documents really necessary? Is shredding enough to prevent identity theft?


    These are questions asked by consumers all the time. Some people don't believe shredding sensitive documents is enough, while others claim that everything must be shredded. 


    The truth is that even with all the cybercrime out there, most of identity theft relies on a good, old-fashioned paper trail. In other words, identity thieves are not above digging through your trash, looking for documents that bear your personal and financial information. They'll go dumpster diving, and they'll steal your wallet – whatever it takes. This means that tossing anything that bears your name, address, telephone number, birth date or banking information can put you at risk.


    Documents that should be shredded include credit card receipts and expired credit cards, medical and financial records, canceled checks, computer printouts, tax records, bank statements, credit card statements, and pre-approved credit offers. You should also shred documents you no longer need. Each state has regulations on how long certain documents should be kept, particularly if they are needed for business or tax purposes.  Non-tax documents, including utility, credit card and medical billing statements, should be kept for one to three years. Tax documents should be kept up to six years. 


    Will shredding prevent identity theft? No. Nothing you do can prevent it. But you can certainly put a damper on a thief's efforts – so yes…shredding documents is necessary. We must all do whatever we can in order to thwart identity theft. 

    Posted Dec 13 2011, 11:38 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Use these tips to stay safe when shopping online this holiday season

    Identity theft – it's one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country, and now that it's the holiday season, you can bet identity thieves are scheming toward a very merry Christmas for themselves. Scammers are counting on shoppers to be too frazzled and rushed to be careful. 


    Many people are avoiding the rush at stores and malls by shopping online. Here are some tips to help you make safe online purchases.


    1. Consider investing in antivirus and anti-spyware software. If you already have antivirus software, be sure to download the latest security updates, as there are new viruses and malicious programs every day.

    2. Use a credit card instead of a debit card. A stolen debit card gives an identity thief a direct line to your bank account, whereas credit cards offer added protection from fraudulent transactions. To be safe, don't store your credit card numbers online, and review your credit card bills monthly for unauthorized charges.

    3. Make purchases through websites that offer secure connections. When shopping online, choose websites or e-merchants that offer heightened Secure Socket Layer security to protect your personal information. Before inputting your phone or credit card number, check your browser's status bar for an unbroken "padlock" icon, which indicates the site uses SSL. Also, because most e-mail accounts are not secure, it's best not to send payment information in an e-mail.

    4. Watch what you post online. The Internet has made it easy to store and share information, but we should be careful when sharing personal information online. Avoid posting addresses and phone numbers on social networking sites, or storing credit card information and passwords in your e-mail account.

    5. Strengthen all your passwords and PINs. With so many passwords and personal identification numbers to remember these days, it's tempting to use a birthday, child's name, consecutive numbers, or other predictable passwords or PINs. Use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols to protect your shopping and e-mail accounts with the strongest possible passwords.

    6. Talk to your kids about the dangers of online shopping. Children are often so comfortable and confident online that they don't think they need to take special precautions. And identity thieves know this, which is why kids are among their prime targets. Supervise your kids' online shopping and talk to them about keeping their information secure.

    7. Shop at trusted websites. Everyone wants to find the best deals when shopping online, but be cautious when using unfamiliar websites. When shopping at a site that is new or unfamiliar, review customer reviews and Better Business Bureau listings to check the site's legitimacy.

    8. Be wary of fake online stores. Many online scammers steal personal information by redirecting shoppers to fake web pages that look like the checkout pages of legitimate shopping sites. To avoid these traps, be careful what links you click. Set your browser to block pop-up windows, and make sure you type in the store's web address into your browser window instead of clicking links from e-mails or other websites.

    9. Guard your Social Security number. There's no reason for an online shopping site to request your Social Security number to make a routine purchase.

    Posted Dec 06 2011, 12:10 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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