Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CPA: Identity Theft

Identity theft was the last topic covered in my Citizens Police Academy course.  While I thought I was pretty familiar with everything that I needed to do to protect myself and my family, it was a good reminder of some of the things I'm not doing.  Here are some of the notes I took from the class, along with a helpful checklist from www.usaaedfoundation.org.

  • On average it takes a person 6-9 months before they realize that they've been a victim of identity theft. 
  • A shredder (preferably cross-cut) should be a standard appliance in everyone's home. If you don't have one, pick one up the next time you go out. 
  • People can and do go to the dump and can buy trash from specific zip codes. 
  • Sometimes we can be too trusting with who we give sensitive information to. Think twice before giving out your SSN or other sensitive info and don't be afraid to ask why they need that info and if there's something less sensitive that you could provide. 
  • In Texas the max penalty for ID theft is 2 years in prison, and you get to keep all the stuff you acquired while using someone else's identity. 
  • Don't think that no one gets hurt with ID theft. Yes, the company gets reimbursed for its loss or is able to report it as a loss on their taxes, the credit card company makes up for it by charging high interest rates to its customers, and the victim is usually not held liable for any of the charges. But society pays for it through the high interest rates and the tanking economy. 
  • You can (and should) check your credit report once a year from three different companies (or you could rotate them and check your report every 4 months). Go to annualcreditreport.com to access all three companies. It's also probably worth it to pay for your credit score once a year. 
  • Your agreement with your credit card company is that your credit card is only valid if it is signed on the back. For all of you that put "See ID" or something similar on the back, if you don't sign it and you become a victim of ID theft with that card number, you could be held liable for ALL expenses on that card since you failed to honor the agreement. So sign your card! (When was the last time anyone ever checked your ID anyway? What about all those self-checkout lines that don't ask for any kind of ID?)
  • When shopping around for the cheapest deal on anything, be careful when you're not buying from the actual vendors website (e.g., buying a ticket on a Southwest Airlines flight from cheaptickets.com). Those websites might offer a lower price, but they might also bad people luring good people trying to save some change. 
  •  It is possible to buy a Social Security Card online. 
  •  If you haven't been a victim of ID theft, it's only a matter of time when you will, and there's nothing you can do to stop it, but by heeding good counsel you can mitigate the effects. 
  •  Medical ID theft can actually cost you your life. Imagine someone stole your ID to get medical care and is receiving doses of Demerol (which you happen to be allergic to). You get into a car accident and are rendered unconscious. The doctor looks up your medical record and sees that it looks like you're OK taking Demerol and gives it to you…you then never wake up. This may sound a little drastic, but it happens. 
Specific things you can do:
  1. Store wallet/purse in secure location 
  2. Store personal records in a safe deposit box or other secure place away from your residence 
  3. Memorize PINs and other passwords, don't share with anyone (including bank representatives, police officers, or someone in a store) 
  4. Don't share personal info via email 
  5. Limit access to social networking sites (facebook, twitter) 
  6. Don't open email attachments or links from unknown individuals 
  7. Install/enable firewall on your computer (Windows Firewall) 
  8. Install software that checks for spyware (Windows Defender
  9. Install reputable anti-virus software (e.g., Microsoft Security Essentials, AVG) 
  10. Make sure computer is set to automatically update, double check to make sure it's happening 
  11. Encrypt your wireless connection (avoid working openly from cafĂ© hotspots), preferably a WPA-2 connection (WEP and WPA are easier to break) 
  12. Use a cross-cut shredder 
  13. Cut up or shred data CDs 
  14. Shield account numbers and PINs from others' view 
  15. Place a hold on your mail when you travel (usps.com) 
  16. Use a secured postal mailbox 
  17. Request online delivery of financial statements and other sensitive documents 
  18. Don't display full name in phone book, consider an unlisted number 
  19. Don't have unnecessary personal info printed on checks (Social Security Number, Drivers License, etc.) 
  20. Never sign an incomplete receipt 
  21. Photo-copy everything in your wallet and store it in a place separate from your wallet for reference if your wallet gets lost/stolen 
  22. Use strong passwords, consider using a password safe (e.g., keepass.info) so that you can have a different password for each account and have an easy and safe way to store it 
This info on this list came from a pamphlet created by USAA. For a free version of the complete pamphlet, visit www.usaaedfoundation.org.  Stay tuned for more on my CPA experience.