Identity theft continues to be a serious problem, and it is one with which we should be very concerned. Recently, I invited David B. Watts, an experienced private investigator and author http://www.accidentalpi.com, to speak to my firm’s Client Care Program members
Identity Theft is More Than You Think
Mr. Watts made it very clear that privacy is dead. It no longer exists. There is an amazing amount of information about individuals on the internet. Just look for yourself. But as Watts made plain, while we all want to avoid having our identity stolen, or having our credit card used by thieves, you are more likely to be the subject of personal information gathering. This is also a dangerous form of identity theft.
Identity Theft as Data Collection
Identity theft is also data about you, gathered and stored every day. Every time you play a game on social media, “like” a website, or willingly surrender personal information in order to obtain a discount on a product or service, your personal information is being stored. The news is filled with stories about data being “hacked” or stolen from websites, stores and even the federal government. This data is sold on the Black Web to thieves, and even to foreign governments.
Every day, a bit of your privacy is surrendered, whether you research a product on line (have you noticed how ads for that product keep following you online, days after?). When you use your rewards card at the local store, information about your buying habits is collected and sold. Department stores have installed face recognition cameras to watch how you shop, your emotional reactions, what you buy and how.
Making Yourself Less of a Target
We are all targets, says Watts. It is just a matter of how large a target you want to be. There are steps you can take to make you a minimal target.
First, and obviously, guard your personal information. Don’t give out your social security number and don’t carry that card in your wallet or purse. There is no reason to do so.
Buy and use a shredder which cross cuts paper, not just cuts strips of paper. Private Investigator Watts shared how easy it is to put together strips of paper to reform a document. Cross cutting makes this impossible. Shred all documents containing sensitive information, like account numbers, social security numbers and the like. Consider shredding anything with your name on it.
Pay for a good credit monitoring service like “Identity Force”. Watts noted that the most known, and most advertised, company has been sued numerous times for failing to perform as advertised. It’s not worth the $99 annual charge. I have personally used both. Identity Force is well worth the money, and there is a big difference in notifications over the most known company. https://www.asecurelife.com/identityforce-vs-lifelock/
Every year, get your free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies and review it. See http://creditreport.comcreditreport.com
Opt out of the following:
-Nexis Lexis: order your free Lexis Nexis personal report and opt out. But, order it by mail: Privacy Information Manager, Lexis Nexis, PO Box 933, Dayton, Ohio 45401.
-Go to http://familytreenow.com and opt out.
Get credit cards with low limits. You probably don’t need a ten thousand dollar limit on your card. Thieves love high limits when they get your credit card.
Never buy anything over your cell phone. Use a computer and be sure the site is secure.
Identity Theft and New Born Children
There was yet another very significant observation made by David Watts: when a child is born, a social security number is now automatically issued to the baby at birth. Thieves know that the child is not going to use that number until they get their first job, maybe when they are fifteen years old. That gives the thief fifteen years to use it and never get caught.
Watts recommends that parents contact the three credit reporting companies and put a freeze on the Social Security number. It can be removed when the child gets their first job.
It seems we need to do a better job thinking through what technology has brought. We now need to be more vigilant about our privacy and personal information than previous generations. I would be interested in hearing about other protection ideas, as new technology develops, new services are born and more vulnerabilities arise. This is certainly an area our legislators need to address. In the meantime, buyer beware.