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Identity Theft Another Reason for Newly Weds to Retain Their Name

July 18, 2012

It’s becoming more and more common for American women to retain their last names after they get married. Many site cultural or societal reasons for this difference, but could it be because these women fear identity theft? Changing your name is a good way to unintentionally let a thief into your life, whether it’s due to a recent wedding or otherwise. The reason? You have to change all of your identification, which means that your personal information can get out in the open more easily.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provided some tips on how to keep yourself safe while changing your name. Some of these were:
*Make as many of the changes as you can in person. Don’t send your information by fax or over the phone if it is at all possible for you to go to the agency in question on foot or via local transportation. This keeps your information from being intercepted by electronic “middlemen,” such as hackers. It also ensures you know who at the agency sees it. It is especially important when changing your bank accounts and Social Security card.
*Ensure all of your creditors are informed of your name change in a timely manner. Make this the first thing you do after changing your driver’s license and Social Security card. It’s a good idea to have one of the credit bureaus, or all three, put a temporary fraud alert on your file, in case thieves try to take advantage of you by opening credit in your old name, which you may not notice right away.
*Consider signing up for an identity theft protection plan to alert you quickly if any identity theft occurs. Again, you may not notice right away on your own if thieves continue to use your old name on their accounts. Some plans can even take care of that fraud alert for you, free of charge.

People that don’t decide to change their names when they get married or who go with a hyphenated name are not immune to the risk of identity theft. Thieves can instead to try open accounts using your first name and your spouse’s last name, and a hyphenated name gives them easy access to both. All in all, your best protection is identity theft protection, especially in this time in your life when you’re probably going through a lot of financial transitions.

 

 

Medical identity theft

July 11, 2012

Sure you may know that identity thieves who steal your personal information can use it to sign up for services and open credit accounts. But did you know that you could also be held responsible for their medical bills? That’s because thieves, posing as you, can go to the hospital and get any numbers of medical procedures done, as well as procure prescription drugs. Or, they could bill your insurance company for services they never received and then sit back and collect the payout checks. The thieves often leave behind tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills – of which you are ultimately held responsible.

The Federal Trade Commission stated that 249,000 people were the victims of “medical identity theft” in 2005. This may seem like a small number compared to the millions of identity theft victims, but that this crime could grow exponentially as more and more doctors turn to storing patients’ records electronically.

When an identity thief uses doctor or hospital services in your name, not only are you out a large sum of money, there is also damage done to your medical history, which could result in you not being approved for certain jobs, including some positions in the armed services – or it could even be a matter of life or death if you are on record as having medication allergies or other conditions that you do not have in actuality, which be detrimental to your treatment when you have a “real” medical problem.

Medical identity theft can be even more difficult to resolve than the traditional financial only variety, since there are often more parties involved. The best thing for you to do is to protect yourself from becoming a victim before it happens. You can work to do this by being careful with your medical information, such as your insurance card, and by guarding your Social Security number and never carrying your Social Security card in your wallet. Also, if you lose your health insurance card, contact your insurance provider and your doctors immediately, and ask to receive a new insurance card with a different account number if possible.

Additionally, just as you request your credit report once a year, you should request a copy of your medical records. Your access to this information is required due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996’s Privacy Rule. Just contact any doctors you receive services from to request one. And pay close attention the Statements of Benefits that your insurance company sends you in the mail.

For further protection from medical identity theft and identity theft in general consider contacting a provider of identity theft protection. Identity theft protection services can help protect you because they can monitor your information to detect fraudulent charges made to any of your accounts and notify you promptly before major damage can be done. Also, some identity theft insurance providers, such as TrustedID, will help you decipher your benefits statements to ensure that everything is on the up and up.

 

Should You Quit Eating Out?

June 29, 2012

There are plenty of reasons why people say that Americans shouldn’t eat out as much as they do. They can save money, eat healthier and smaller portions and buy less gas. There is yet another reason to stay away from restaurants that few people think about: It could lower their risk of identity theft.

Don’t believe me? Consider this story. A couple years ago, Mark Pinella, a restaurant owner in Fayetteville, North Carolina, copied the credit card numbers of at least 163 of his customers who came in simply to get a quick bite of pizza. He collected this information so that he could use it to obtain property. This property included illegal drugs.

The police have documented at least 50 fraudulent acts Pinella committed in relation to this case. Because of his actions, many innocent people now have their information tied to drug trafficking and maybe even worse crimes than that, all because they didn’t want to cook at home on one particular day.

What makes this story even more distressing is the fact that this wasn’t a disgruntled waiter or waitress but instead the owner of the restaurant. It seemed to be a well planned and executed scheme that went on for a significant period of time, not a guy who got a lousy tip quickly jotting down one number on a memo pad.

So, the solution I am advocating is to never ever eat out, right? Absolutely and unequivocally no. Everyone needs a break now and again and this crime is just as likely to happen at the local department store or even at an online establishment that takes credit card payments. Plus, let me emphasize that it rarely happens.

Okay, maybe I wouldn’t say rarely happens, since over 8 million people had their identities stolen last year. Let’s just say that not eating out or purchasing anything with a credit, check or debit card is simply not realistic, and you can’t go around being paranoid that everyone is trying to get those digits.

It’s much smarter to simply go about your business with an identity theft protection service keeping an eye on your credit behind the scenes. A plan can help when you need to put a fraud alert on your file to keep others from being able to open new accounts without your permission. It can also give you a heads up if someone changes the address on your credit card. And, it can help you find out ASAP if any unauthorized purchases were made under your name, sometimes before they’ve even been printed on your statement.

So go ahead and leave the house. Eat, shop and enjoy life. You can even take a trip to Fayetteville, NC, and order pizza if you wish. The establishment mentioned at the beginning of this entry is thankfully now out of business. It will most likely stay that way for the next 10 to 20 years at least.

 

LifeLock announces ultimate protection

June 27, 2012

LifeLock has been one of the biggest names in identity theft protection ever since it came on the market. Periodically, it comes up with new products to further enhance its services. Now is one of those times. The company recently introduced a package it calls LifeLock Ultimate. The Ultimate Protection package

  •  Expanded monitoring of personal information across a comprehensive network of databases
  • Enhanced, online reporting of threats
  • Advanced checking and savings account application alerts
  • 24/7 online access to your annual TransUnion credit report and monthly score
  • Public record surveillance
  • Payday loan monitoring
  • Daily monitoring of all 3 credit bureau reports
  • Alerts when contact information changes on existing credit card, checking, and savings accounts
  • In a world of unprecedented attacks, LifeLock Ultimate™ protects you from a wider array of threats to your credit, bank accounts, and identity by seeking out potential threats and helping you defend against them.
  • For people looking for the ultimate in peace of mind from the leader in identity theft protection, you need look no further than LifeLock Ultimate™—the most comprehensive protection around.
  • Expanded monitoring of personal information across a comprehensive network of databases
  • Enhanced, online reporting of threats
  • Advanced checking and savings account application alerts
  • 24/7 online access to your annual TransUnion credit report and monthly score
  • Public record surveillance
  • Payday loan monitoring
  • Daily monitoring of all 3 credit bureau reports
  • Alerts when contact information changes on existing credit card, checking, and savings accounts
  • In a world of unprecedented attacks, LifeLock Ultimate™ protects you from a wider array of threats to your credit, bank accounts, and identity by seeking out potential threats and helping you defend against them.
  • For people looking for the ultimate in peace of mind from the leader in identity theft protection, you need look no further than LifeLock Ultimate™—the most comprehensive protection around.

 

When is a password not a password?

June 27, 2012

Want to invite identity thieves to access your accounts? Here is how to do it. Use a password that is super easy for them to guess, either off the top of their heads or with very little research. You may think people already know that they should not do this or on the other hand you may be getting a little red in the face realizing that you never thought about it before. Either way, it can benefit you to hear the results of the PHPBB password analysis.

This analysis took place in early February, after a hacker published all 20,000+ user passwords from the message board phpbb.com. Robert Graham of Hacked Off looked at all of the passwords to identify trends. He found that among the most popular passwords people used were “12345,” “qwerty” and even the word “password”. He also found that people’s first names composed of 16 percent. While he couldn’t determine if the passwords were the first names of the account holders, most likely they were at least the names of family members or very close friends.

So what does this mean for you? If you have one of these passwords on any of your online accounts, change it immediately. If you don’t but know others that do, tell them to do the same. Not sure what to use as your password besides “password” or your Social Security number? It’s easy to come up with a secure code that will stump identity thieves yet not drive you crazy.

Think of a common phrase you apply to yourself, such as “John likes to disco dance”. Using the first letter of each word, this gives you the first part of your password: jltdd. Then, add a number or two to the end. Pick your favorite number, the number of your favorite sports hero, anything but your birth date. Lastly, throw in a special character, like a percent sign or a question mark. Not only will it be hard to guess, but most people won’t even try to guess it for long.

Once you’ve got your secure password of jltdd88%* don’t just let it be for years. Even with said password, you still want to change it every month or so, especially on your most important online accounts, such as for your bank or credit card. It’s not as important as if your password was “password” but if an identity thief somehow grabs all the passwords on a site, you’ll want yours to be different as soon as humanly possible.

Another thing to remember is not to use the same password for every account. A lot of people do this for a perfectly logical reason: It’s a pain in the butt to remember several different passwords. Luckily there is software to manage your passwords or identity theft protection plans that allow you to store all of your passwords in a secure online area. That way you only need to remember one password to get access to all of them. Just remember to change the password to your passwords often as well, and work really hard to commit them to memory, especially the ones that you use on a weekly basis. Do not write them down on or near your computer. If you do, you may as well write “hack my accounts, please”.

 

The Scam’s on You

May 2, 2012

While not every teenager does this, it’s pretty common for people under 21 to try to get into bars and other 21 and over establishments using a fake ID. Usually, these IDs are not super convincing and they eventually end up confiscated by an observant bouncer. Fourteen teens in Saratoga Springs, New York, thought they could beat the system by buying very convincing identity cards from a website based in China.

These IDs had the potential to fool immigration services and police scanners. They didn’t though. Instead, the teens were arrested, and their personal information was stolen by identity thieves overseas, according to authorities.

Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy commented, “as these kids get older and try to get jobs, they will find that they have thousands in credit card debt … all because they gave their information to a foreign Web-based company.

Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, but the teens – who were charged with misdemeanors – are prime candidates for identity theft protection plans. That is assuming that they purchase them legally of course. With a protection plan, they don’t have to wait literally years to find out if someone is using their personal information illegally. They can learn about it as it happens and take steps to prevent things from getting worse. Also, if they buy an identity protection plan with an insurance policy, they can get discounted or free legal assistance.

That being said, American consumers should be smart enough to know that they should not provide their personal information to unknown foreign websites, even if it means that they can get half price drinks at happy hour. If you do so, you are gambling with your future, and that new car or mortgage is ultimately way more important than a can of Bud Light.

 

Internet: The Open Market For Identity Thieves

April 25, 2012

Ahhh … the Internet, it makes commerce so much easier, especially if you are an identity thief. This fact was again reinforced this week when federal police arrested 19 individuals from across the country after finding that they worked for a criminal organization known as Carder.su. This organization, in the loosest sense of the word, was based in Las Vegas but did most of its work online.

The purpose of this organization was to sell fake documents and stolen bank information on a network of websites. Essentially, it was a group of identity thieves selling information to create more identity thieves. Including those arrested, a total of 50 Americans are being charged in the federal investigation, which was dubbed “Operation Open Market”.

What makes this case important to note is that the majority of the crimes occurred online. Oftentimes, online identity thieves are difficult to apprehend because they are based in other countries or they move from place to place quickly. According to James Dinkins, a key player in the investigation, “The criminals involved in such schemes may think they can escape detection by hiding behind their computer screens here and overseas, but as this case shows, cyberspace is not a refuge from justice”.

This is heartening news, but this case is only one of thousands taking place around the world every day. Luckily, we, as consumers, also have a weapon to use to prevent cyber-identity theft from happening to us. It is called an identity theft protection plan. Part of the job of identity theft protection is to keep your information from falling into the hands of cyber criminals like the ones who worked for Carder.su. Many plans give you the option to have them scour black market databases for any trace of your personal information.

You do not want your information bought, sold or traded on these sites. If you know that it is up there, you can cancel it, change it and alert the authorities of the wrongdoing. The worst enemy of an identity thief, besides law enforcement of course, is an educated and protected consumer. If everyone chose this type of protection, we may just put Carder.su out of business for good.

 

 

 

American Married Women Refuse To Change Their Last Name for Identity Protection

April 11, 2012

It’s becoming more and more common for American women to retain their last names after they get married. Many site cultural or societal reasons for this difference, but could it be because these women fear identity theft? Changing your name is a good way to unintentionally let a thief into your life, whether it’s due to a recent wedding or otherwise. The reason? You have to change all of your identification, which means that your personal information can get out in the open more easily.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provided some tips on how to keep yourself safe while changing your name. Some of these were:

  • Make as many of the changes as you can in person. Don’t send your information by fax or over the phone if it is at all possible for you to go to the agency in question on foot or via local transportation. This keeps your information from being intercepted by electronic “middlemen,” such as hackers. It also ensures you know who at the agency sees it. It is especially important when changing your bank accounts and Social Security card.
  • Ensure all of your creditors are informed of your name change in a timely manner. Make this the first thing you do after changing your drivers license and Social Security card. It’s a good idea to have one of the credit bureaus, or all three, put a temporary fraud alert on your file, in case thieves try to take advantage of you by opening credit in your old name, which you may not notice right away.
  • Consider signing up for an identity theft protection plan to alert you quickly if any identity theft occurs. Again, you may not notice right away on your own if thieves continue to use your old name on their accounts. Some plans can even take care of that fraud alert for you, free of charge.

People that don’t decide to change their names when they get married or who go with a hyphenated name are not immune to the risk of identity theft. Thieves can instead to try open accounts using your first name and your spouse’s last name, and a hyphenated name gives them easy access to both. All in all, your best protection is identity theft protection, especially in this time in your life when you’re probably going through a lot of financial transitions.

Crackdown on Taxpayer Identity Theft

February 13, 2012

Around this time of year, Americans are getting checks in the mail to the tune of thousands of dollars – thanks to Uncle Sam. Never mind that this money is actually what they overpaid in taxes throughout the year, it still seems like a windfall to most, including to identity thieves. Identity thieves thrive on stealing people’s tax refunds by filing as them and then cashing those checks. That’s just one reason why it pays to file as early as you possibly can.

This tax season, the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service are trying to stop this practice with the help of U.S. Attorney’s offices. The agencies are aggressively going after those who have filed or who seek to file fraudulent returns – coast to coast. So far, this has resulted in indictments of over 65 individuals and searches that resulted in over 900 criminal charges related to identity theft. The investigators are also check out check cashing facilities to ensure that they are not aiding these fraudsters. “People will be going to jail,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “

If someone commits tax fraud against you, it’s likely you won’t notice until you get a letter from the IRS stating that two returns have been filed in your name or that you have drastically underreported your income. In the later case, it means that someone else has been working a job using your Social Security number. In either case, you should call the IRS Identity Theft Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. You will be given the information about how to proceed.

However, if you had an identity theft protection plan, you might be able to avoid all of this hassle. Part of many a plan’s job is to keep an eye on your Social Security number and financials to let you know, before a serious crime is committed, if something appears to be out of the ordinary. This includes if your information is put up for sale online or is involved in a change of address.

Secure Your Tax Records from Identity Theft

February 2, 2012

The following is straight from the standard IRS W9 form updated in December 2011. The W9 is filled out by independent contractors and other people who work for themselves who need to report their Social Security Number or business tax identification number to their clients or affiliated companies for tax purposes. Anyways, it is full of great information and copied here for your benefit. Information from form as printed follows.

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, social security number (SSN), or other identifying information, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. An identity thief may use your SSN to get a job or may file a tax return using your SSN to receive a refund.

To reduce your risk:
• Protect your SSN,
• Ensure your employer is protecting your SSN, and
• Be careful when choosing a tax preparer.

If your tax records are affected by identity theft and you receive a notice from the IRS, respond right away to the name and phone number printed on the IRS notice or letter.

If your tax records are not currently affected by identity theft but you think you are at risk due to a lost or stolen purse or wallet, questionable credit card activity or credit report, contact the IRS Identity Theft Hotline at 1-800-908-4490 or submit Form 14039.

For more information, see Publication 4535, Identity Theft Prevention and Victim Assistance.

Victims of identity theft who are experiencing economic harm or a system problem, or are seeking help in resolving tax problems that have not been resolved through normal channels, may be eligible for Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) assistance. You can reach TAS by calling the TAS toll-free case intake line at 1-877-777-4778 or TTY/TDD 1-800-829-4059.

Protect yourself from suspicious emails or phishing schemes. Phishing is the creation and use of email and websites designed to mimic legitimate business emails and websites. The most common act is sending an email to a user falsely claiming to be an established legitimate enterprise in an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft.

The IRS does not initiate contacts with taxpayers via emails. Also, the IRS does not request personal detailed information through email or ask taxpayers for the PIN numbers, passwords, or similar secret access information for their credit card, bank, or other financial accounts.

If you receive an unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, forward this message to phishing@irs.gov. You may also report misuse of the IRS name, logo, or other IRS property to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484. You can forward suspicious emails to the Federal Trade Commission at: spam@uce.gov or contact them at www.ftc.gov/idtheft or 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338).

Visit IRS.gov to learn more about identity theft and how to reduce your risk.

End of form.

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