Identity Theft – Awareness is Safety
It’s December and that means the holiday season. A season where happiness reigns for a brief moment, and neighbors get along a smidge better. It’s also the season of giving and being thankful for what you have. Just be careful not to give away too much. December is the Identity Theft and Awareness month after all.
In my last article I talked about how to take care of your finances once your identity has been compromised. Knowing how to repair a hole in the ship is all well and good. However, the best way to keep smooth sailing through life is to avoid the hole-making object in the first place! That’s why I would like to share a few tips and tricks to keeping your identity safe. The best way to do that is by maintaining awareness of the crime!
Debit vs Credit
Like I mentioned in my last post, credit cards come with a host of built-in security features that keep your money where it belongs. In your account. Debit cards just don’t have the same pizzazz. Debit cards, for all intents and purposes, are the same as cash. Most places allow a debit card to be run as credit (or automatically do so) which means a thief doesn’t need your PIN. Debit cards are notoriously easy to clone too. So my best advice: keep it in your pants (purse). Only purchase on credit.
While we’re on the topic of “like cash” products. Ditch your checkbook too! Checks provide a symphony of information to crooks. They have your name and home address and they provide your full account number and the bank’s routing number. Should you have a blank check stolen, a thief has easy access for a shopping spree and little you can do about it. To top it off, the bank charges YOU for a stop check order – usually in the ballpark of $25-50 – for a financial instrument that has terrible security. Put your checkbook in a secured, discrete area of your home and only take it out when necessary.
Social Media Awareness
I consider myself a businessman and as such, knowledge is power. Sun Tzu wrote that you should always know your enemy before you go to battle. When I enter business negotiations, you can bet I’ve scoured the internet for information about my “opponent”. Even minor things, like their overall disposition or the type of organizations they are a part of all help with how I direct my communication – both verbal and non-verbal. And where might I find that information? Mostly on social media.
Fret not my friends, I use my powers of investigation for good! However, not everyone is as kind. Facebook is the premiere information gathering location. I can find face shots, professional organizations, birthdays, emails, phone numbers. I can also find your family. “Your Mother’s Maiden Name” is not an uncommon security question for password resets. With the rise of women using the Facebook feature to have their maiden name in parenthesis so old friends can find them, it makes it even easier for an unscrupulous user to get into your accounts.
Another site you may not be aware of? Myspace. Myspace was cool back when cyber security was in its infancy. When people didn’t fear cyber-crime as much. This is especially true for Millennials who were teenagers at the time and know far more about the internet than their parents. This led to all sorts of personal information being set into the public domain, simply because the website had a box to fill in. The added threat of Myspace is that nobody remembers their passwords, or even the emails they once registered with.
I encourage you to just not put the material out there. Admittedly, I allow my birthday and phone number to show on Facebook (I am a Realtor after all), but not much else. Set your profiles to as private as they will go. Also don’t add people who you don’t know. As a rule, if you don’t have five or six mutual friends with me, I probably won’t even look at your profile. You just get rejected. My only exception is if I recognize your name from a networking event – and even then it depends on the relationship I expect to have. If you want me in your network, use LinkedIn.
Don’t Give Out Your Social Security Number
I’ll be real clear with this. There are only a handful of business transactions or reasons to ever give your SSN. If you’re applying for government benefits, if you want a driver’s license, or anything credit related. Here’s another fun fact, Jay Jacobs of the Verizon data team that tracks cyber-crime, believes that up to 80% of all SSN have been stolen by hackers. Worse yet, Jacobs believes that all federal employees have had their numbers stolen. As an aside, I highly recommend you actually click on that link. It’s an NPR article and highly informative.
The bright side is stolen SSN doesn’t equate to a stolen identity. These hackers sell the information in data packets. Usually with your name, date of birth and a few other snippets of information. They tend to also be sold in bundles of thousands of identities all at once. Thus, a buyer has lots of information but has to sift through the material to understand what’s in it.
The easiest way to avoid this type of issue is simply not give out your SSN. Again, only a few things require the number. Everyone else can do without.
It’s sad that we live in a world where things like this exist; however, as with all things, c’est la vie. Just prepare and live your life intelligently. Identity theft is no joke. Most people come away mostly unscathed, albeit incredibly grumpy. However, the ones that are forced to shell out thousands or can’t get approved for credit should serve as beacons of truth to the danger of identity theft.
By taking minor precautions and awareness of the crime, and checking your credit report every year via annualcreditreport.com, you can rest somewhat easier. The holidays are a time for happiness and thankfulness. Not getting Scrooged.