Identity Theft

According to the Bureau of Justice, approximately 8.6 million households fell prey to identity theft in 2010, at a cost of more than $13 billion. You probably believe identity theft will never happen to you.  Most people believe identity theft is hacking into your computer or a stolen wallet and using your passwords and credit card information.  In reality, identity theft takes many forms that expose you every day, not just a computer hacker or thief.

Consider the following:

If your car is stolen what would lead a thief to your house?  You probably have your home address in your glove box with your insurance card and auto registration.

Keep anything with your address in a secure place such as your billfold or purse.  You may also keep it in a place in the car where it would not be readily found.  If you have a GPS, put in your home address as somewhere nearby like the grocery store, police or fire station.

Cell Phone…
Do not disclose the relationship between you and the people in your contact list.  Avoid using names like home, honey, hubby, sweetheart, dad, mom, etc. and very importantly, when sensitive info is being asked through texts, confirm by calling back.

Also, when you’re sent a text by friends or family to meet them somewhere, be sure to call back to confirm that the message came from them. If you don’t reach them, be very careful about going places to meet “family and friends” who text you.

Selling You on Facebook…
Many popular Facebook apps are obtaining sensitive information about users—and user’s friends—so don’t be surprised if details about your religious, political and even sexual preferences start popping up in unexpected places.

Now we are being exposed to “apps”—stylish, discrete chunks of software that live online or in your Smartphone. To “buy” an app, all you have to do is click a button. Sometimes they cost a few dollars, but many apps are free, at least in monetary terms. You often pay in other ways. Apps are gateways, and when you buy an app, there is a strong chance that you are supplying its developers with one of the most coveted commodities in today’s economy: personal data.

A Wall Street Journal examination of 100 of the most popular Facebook apps found that some seek the email addresses, current location and sexual preference, among other details, not only of app users but also of their Facebook friends. One Yahoo service powered by Facebook requests access to a person’s religious and political leanings as a condition for using it. The popular Skype service for making online phone calls seeks the Facebook photos and birthdays of its users and their friends.

This appetite for personal data reflects a fundamental truth about Facebook and, by extension, the Internet economy as a whole.  Facebook provides a free service that users pay for, in effect, by providing details about their lives, friendships, interests and activities. Facebook, in turn, uses that trove of information to attract advertisers, app makers and other business opportunities.

How many of us read the fine print of the apps or programs we download? Billions of dollars are paid for data collected from web user’s behavior and preferences. This is so they can design customized advertising.


Mail Trash – Shred Before You Throw Away…
Improper disposal of mail is still one of the leading causes of identity theft. You should always shred credit card receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, medical records, checks and bank statements before disposing. Identity thieves know that these documents contain sensitive information, and many will steal trash in order to try and find it.  (See Avoiding Identity Theft Online and in the Real World by Todd Gallinger.)

Protect your Social Security Number…
“Do not give [your Social Security number] out to anyone unless you are convinced it is necessary for them to have it. This means only give it to governmental agencies or to businesses you absolutely trust. Always ask if a business will accept another means of identification other than your Social Security number.” (See Identity Theft by Robert Kraft.)

Monitor Your Credit Report…
The Federal Trade Commission recommends checking your credit report at least once a year to correct errors and detect unauthorized activity. Rather than getting three reports at once, we advise people to obtain one credit report every four months from one of the three credit reporting companies on a rotating basis. By requesting the reports separately, you can monitor your credit more frequently throughout the year.

Medical Identity Theft…
The thief uses your Social Security number or insurance data to get free medical treatment — or to collect insurance money for services that were never performed.

Self-Defense: Every year, get a copy of your medical records from all of your health-care providers and a list of benefits paid in your name by your insurer.

Verify Before Sharing Information…
Don’t give out personal or medical information on the phone or through the mail unless you’ve initiated the contact and you’re sure you know who you’re dealing with… Medical identity thieves may pose as employees of insurance companies, doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, and even government agencies to get people to reveal their personal information. Then, they use it to commit fraud, like submitting false claims for Medicare reimbursement.  (See Medical Identity Theft by Bryon Gross, Esq.)