How to protect against Identity Theft

Seems like we hear more and more these days about major security breaches from some large box store, but the truth is there are many ways that we can be taken advantage of.  We must remain vigilant to protect ourselves from the many traps that exist.  This article will serve as a guide to not only let you know of the ways identity theft can happen but also a few practical ways to protect yourself from harm.  Take these tips to heart because the dangers are real and can cause serious damage to your reputation as well as your finances.

Identity Theft is defined as the fraudulent acquisition and use of a person’s private identifying information, usually for financial gain.  It is a serious crime that can disrupt your finances, credit history and your reputation.  Patience, time and money will be needed to resolve all the damage caused by this invasion of privacy.

There are several ways that thieves can receive your information including:

  • Dumpster Diving: Yes, people really do this! Thieves are not above digging for gold.  There is plenty of information that can be gathered from bills and other documents that we discard with abandon.
  • Going deep sea “Phishing”: Emails have made life much simpler by receiving information at a faster pace. The same could be said for how simple it is for thieves to receive your personal data.  Clicking the wrong email could inadvertently send personally identifiable information to thieves even if you are clicking the ‘unsubscribe’ link.
  • Social Engineering: We field calls every day from various companies/individuals asking for information. Thieves like to offer a job, a loan, or an apartment, and ask you to send personal information to “qualify.”
  • An inside job: As much information as we provide legitimate businesses we are still at risk. Many thieves work normal everyday jobs and are trusted employees at their respective places of work.  Places like medical offices, government agencies, and businesses that we interact with every day are vulnerable to employees stealing personal information from the businesses clients.
  • Thug life: Sometimes criminals are not so sophisticated in their tactics.  Stealing your wallet, purse or backpack is simple as it gets for a thief receiving your information.  The result is a lot less simple since they can really cause some damage now that they potentially have your driver’s license, passport, health insurance card, credit cards and other items that may show your personal information.  If you still carry your social security card in your wallet or purse, just say no!  Unless you have a specific reason to carry it, drop it in a safe deposit box for safe keeping

As scary as all this sounds, there are some simple ways to reduce the risk of your identity being stolen.  You’ve stuck with me this long!  Here is where your vigilance pays off by getting these few golden nuggets to stop thieves in their tracks!

  • Check your credit report: You have the right to a free credit report from each of the three national credit reporting companies.  So technically, you could check your credit every 4 months for free.  To order, go to annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.  If you find errors ACT!
  • Buy a good great shredder: A “cross-cut” shredder is not good enough considering the sophistication of today’s thieves and computer technology.  Shredding using a cross-cut shredder leaves the thief with a puzzle to reassemble and thieves use computers to do the work for them.  To avoid the puzzle pieces purchase a “Micro-Security cut” shredder.  It will cost more but remember the end goal.  The extra cost is money well spent because the paper is pulverized and the information won’t be retrievable.  After you finally get the right shredder, use it early and often!  Anything that has your name or information on it, shred it!  Even if the information is innocuous to you and me, the thieves have the upper hand because they know what to look for.  Shred even the front/back cover those old magazines where your address is provided.  The bar above your name and address contains information that is valuable…shred it!
  • Check your bank, credit card and any other account statements regularly. If you don’t receive the statement or if it has mistakes, make sure to follow up with your bank and verify everything is within order.
  • When receiving unsolicited emails beware! If you receive email that you know to be spam, don’t click anything!  Just because the link says ‘unsubscribe’ does not mean that is what the link is for.  By clicking the link, you could be giving access to your computer or worse, accepting a download of a virus. It is best to add it to your spam filter and delete!
  • Secure Passwords: To create a secure password, you should use upper and lower case alphabetic characters, numeric characters and special characters. The passcode should be least 8 characters in length.  It can be difficult to remember so most people like to use common words that are important in their life but this will increase the likelihood of the password being compromised.  Instead, use phrases that mean something to you but not to others.  Many remember the phrase: Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally, to remember their order of operations in math.  To represent this, a password like 1(Emd@$5 would be easier to remember.  The jumble of characters would mean nothing to anyone else but you and I.  I used the ‘1’ and ‘5’ to represent 2015 but separated them to raise the difficulty of guessing.  Most people will simply add a ‘1’ at the end of their passcode to get a number in the mix.  Thieves know this fact, making it easier for them to figure out at least one character, making the password much easier to solve.
  • Beware of anyone calling and asking you for information. If you know it is your doctor’s office, that’s one thing but having a random person calling and asking for info is a no-no.  If you don’t know the person, tell them you will call them back.  Most legitimate places are fine with you calling them back when you have a moment.  Thieves will be pushy, wanting the information before they hang up.  They have a lot of practice at these kinds of things so don’t be fooled.  When you get off the phone, look the number up yourself, then call back knowing the person that you are talking to is legit.
  • When dealing with employees stealing your information, unfortunately, there is not much you can do except keeping your personal information away less reputable businesses (i.e. strip clubs).

You can also lock down your credit by contacting the credit bureaus and requesting that your info be locked.  You may have heard of “LifeLock”.  This is a paid version of something that you really do on your own for minimal cost by calling the three credit bureaus and asking for either a fraud alert or a credit freeze. By the way, if you have minor children, you should freeze their credit until they are of age.  Who needs a credit card in elementary school?

The fun fact about LifeLock is that the owner once advertised his social security number in an effort to demonstrate how secure his service was.  Thieves took his challenge to heart, stole his identity and had a field day at his expense!  So much so, the Federal authorities had to reissue him a new social security number on more than one occasion, a feat that is more difficult than getting a meeting with the President of the United States in the Oval office!  The Feds don’t make a habit of issuing a new social security number to people, so protect the one you got!

No matter how you slice it, we have to be more careful with our information and take extra steps to protect ourselves more than ever.  Being vigilant and informed will go a long way to protecting yourself and your financial livelihood.  For more advice on how to protect yourself, visit sunrisemonetarysolutionsllc.com or call me at 1-844-2QuoteMe.

About the Author

Zeffrey T. Johnson is the owner of Sunrise Monetary Solutions and QwikiTAX, an Insurance Brokerage and Tax Preparation service respectively.  While QwikiTAX specializes in personal tax returns, Sunrise Monetary Solutions provides business and personal finance solutions including auto home, life, health insurance and employee benefits.

Zeffrey has a dual degree in Accounting and Business Management from Missouri State University and has over 15 years of experience dealing with accounting and finance related issues.  He has served as an auditor in various roles for CPA firms large and small and extensive experience as a business consultant.  Zeffrey has audited or consulted with many of the larger companies in Kansas City, in addition to working with governmental agencies like the Department of Justice, Department of Agriculture, National Science Foundation.  He was also named Kansas City’s 2015 & 2016 Tax Preparer of the year by Thumbtack.com.

On a lighter note, Zeffrey, his wife (Regina) and three kids (Amayah, Zander and Tiana) live in Lawrence, KS.  He enjoys watching football and learning about photography.  He attends Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church and is active on several church committees.

His office is located at the VFW Building, 406 West 34th Street, Suite 105A, KCMO 64111 and can be reached at 1-844-2QuoteMe (1-844-278-6836)

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