“Be afraid. Be very afraid,” is a movie line everyone can recall. Fear, however, can be abated when you get more information and begin to take steps to feel more secure.
Picture this: You’re being pulled over by a patrol car and you just want to kick yourself. You weren’t speeding, but you know you should have gotten that broken taillight fixed more than a week ago. So you wait nervously after having handed over your driver’s license, registration and insurance card, for the cop to hand you a ‘fix-it’ ticket.
But it’s taking forever. Suddenly two more highway patrol cars join the one behind you, and an officer gets out with a police dog on a leash. What the *** is going on?
Several officers are now at your driver’s side window asking you to get out of the car, turn around and place your hands on top of the vehicle. All this for a broken taillight? No, they say. There is a bench warrant out for your arrest on drug charges. They’re kidding, right? You’ve got the wrong person, you say. There has been a mix up! “Yeah, yeah,” says one officer.
They may be able to clear this up, but not before you’ve been taken off in handcuffs, processed, possibly incarcerated and you feel as if you’re in the middle of a nightmare.
Identity theft is a very lengthy and ugly ordeal, next to impossible to reverse and often requiring years to fix. To make things worse, it may cost you thousands of dollars to fight.
How does identity theft occur? It occurs when an identity thief obtains your social security number, bank account numbers, birth date, driver’s license and other pertinent information. After they steal your information, they can easily order your birth certificate online, since it all leads back to you.
Identity thieves can wreak havoc not only with your DMV records, credit cards and financial profile, but can also work as you in other states keeping the IRS at your heels. What’s worse, these criminals can layer false information on top of your Medical Information Bureau records (what insurance companies use to determine rates, insurance risk, etc.) by using your social security information or medical card, putting you at risk should you be taken to an emergency ward alone and unconscious.
ID theft is an insidious crime. Here are some tips on saving both your identity and your sanity.
Order your credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies. You are allowed one free credit report from each of these agencies every year. Check your credit report carefully and close any accounts you no longer use.
- Avoid carrying your checkbook with you unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- Guard your social security number, birth date, and your mother’s maiden name with extra care. Guard your children’s ID just as possessively since a child’s pristine-perfect, long shelf-life ID is worth a lot more than yours. Find out if their schools or daycare centers have taken steps to become compliant with the body of laws that pertain to ID safety by having gone through the required training and if not, insist that they do.
- Avoid putting paid bills and anything that contains personal information and your signature in your home mailbox. Instead, take them to the post office or hand them to your mail carrier. If you work outside of your home, bring them to work and drop them in the mail slot at your work. Thieves rob unlocked mailboxes, sometimes dressing as mailmen in broad daylight.
- Purchase a good crosscut paper shredder. Shred all old documents that have any information about you, as well as bank records, tax records that are no longer needed and any offers, especially credit card offers that come in the mail. A safe bet is to shred any paper with your information on it that you no longer need.
- Never trust an email that asks you to click on a link from a company that may have any information about you. Instead, open your browser and hand type in the website URL you are familiar with, not the one in the email, if you believe you need to respond. To be even safer, call the institution with the phone number you already have on file. This rule applies to more than just banking information. Never click on links inside an email from eBay, Paypal, your ISP provider, or the IRS.
- Don’t take surveys via telephone. If people call to ask you to participate in a survey, the person calling is getting a lot of personal information about you that is none of their business. Politely state that you aren’t interested, have them agree to take you off their list. Then hang up.
- The Social Security Administration sends out a statement every year with your information. Check it carefully to make sure it’s accurate.
- Do not add your social security number, phone number or driver’s license number to your checks. If the information is required by a store, you can always write that information on the check manually.
- File a dispute immediately if you find something amiss on your bank account or credit card statements. You can file disputes up to 60 days after something is not correct in most states; but after that, the money is gone forever, even if it was a fraudulent transaction.
- Look for a prominently placed certificate or proof that your doctor’s offices, hospitals or clinics have had the mandatory training to protect your medical records. If you see hundreds of medical files with no locks on cabinets, piled on unattended desks with records piled high or available for the plucking from file holders outside each examination room, it may be a sign that they have not yet complied with the FTC laws regarding ID theft.
And always thank a store clerk who asks for your I.D. when you use your credit card. The thoughtful store clerks who do ask for I.D. are acting as a safety net for you and are watchdogs for your finances. Be thankful and happy they are willing to do their job correctly and take the time to ensure your safety.
ID theft is now the #1 crime on the streets, surpassing drug crimes. The average adult “2-pack” (driver’s license and social security card) goes for a measly $150-200, but can cost you thousands of dollars in anguish, lost work time and hundreds of hours of lost sleep.
The Federal Trade Commission is now requiring ALL businesses of one or more employees to mandate identity theft safety training for their employees, whether full-time, part-time, contract or temporary workers in order to create a ‘culture of security.’ Why businesses? Because up to 85% of ID theft takes place in the workforce. Even more training is required for ‘touch point’ personnel (payroll, front office staff) if the company is considered a creditor (defined by the FTC as any company that accepts payment for services rendered at a later date), called Red Flag Rules training. These rules have been on the books for several years, but enforcement (up to $3500 per file if a data breach occurs) of Red Flags has been delayed FOUR times by Congress. It’s only a matter of time before enforcement becomes the rule and companies can potentially feel the fallout from and ID breach. The time to prepare for it is now, since experts agree that is is only a matter of when and not if something like this will occur. The FTC is more likely work WITH a company that has taken the appropriate steps than with one that has buried its head in the sand, hoping nothing bad will ever happen.
The best way to help avoid the stomach acid of having someone else use your ID is to be alert and on the lookout. Once your ID is stolen it is routinely traded and used up to 37 times, potentially making this a chronic problem for your AND your family for years to come. Just go ahead and Google ‘identity theft’ articles on the Internet and be prepared to spend days sifting through the horror stories if you’d like to see more.
Punishment for identity thieves seems to be next to impossible to achieve, since there simply is no ID theft police. The only way you can really protect yourself is by taking the steps needed to help prevent identity theft from occurring.
Visit FTC.org for more information on the body of laws that pertain to this topic. To arrange a meeting to discuss identity theft safety training for your workplace, doctor’s office, child’s school or credit-linked institution (mortgage company, credit union, or even real estate broker), please contact me at 916.984.1049. We provide this service at no charge to employers (we can explain how). And if you are interested in obtaining ID theft protection and restoration services (licensed investigators do all the heavy lifting to get your ID back to normal) for you and your family, please contact me.