You know that I go to great lengths to protect myself from identity theft. I do what I can from my end even though I have no control over corporate breaches. Ugh!
But, there are others in my family who may be at risk.
Have you ever had a close family member pass away? You probably said ‘yes’ to that question. If so, you know that the family writes an obituary for the newspaper that includes a number personal details. When I was the Executor for my father’s estate, I did that. I even looked at the newspaper to see what information other families included to make sure I didn’t leave anything of importance out.
Well, that was mistake number #1.
I (like many others) handed a potential identity thief the information on a silver platter. I included his date of birth, where he grew up, the names of my mother and siblings, his past places of employment, and the organizations he was a part of. I included everything everything but his social security number.
According to AARP, 2.5 million deceased people have their identity stolen postmortem each year. This is wide spread and the victims can’t speak up, so it’s a win for the thief.
So what can you do about it?
- Send death certificates to the three credit reporting agencies and request that a death alert be posted to the deceased credit report – I did this.
- Contact the banks and investment companies with death certificates. See if you can get the accounts out of the deceased’s name. In some states you can do this if the account was joint – I took care of this, too.
- Notify the Social Security Administration, the IRS and Motor Vehicles – this is where I could have done more (partial mistake #2 – I did social security and the IRS but not motor vehicle).
Then, preventatively, check the deceased’s credit reports to monitor for any suspicious activity so you can catch it early on. For more options, please go to my previous newsletter on reports available to consumers.
Hopefully, I won’t lose anyone close to me anytime soon, but from now on I will do ALL the steps – not just most. I was somewhat lucky, as my father was collecting social security and had a government pension, so I notified both. It didn’t even occur to me to notify the DMV. Learn from what I have done (and not done) to protect your loved ones.
You know you should have completely unique passwords for every online account, and you’re not supposed to write them down anywhere. But that’s not enough. They also have to be hard to remember.
If you’re like me, that’s just not possible because you use a lot of online services. The internet has made my life easier in so many ways, but it comes with its own risks.
So, how do you keep your online accounts safe? Many people are turning to Password Managers.
A password manager is software that stores and organizes your passwords in an encrypted state, which makes them hard to hack.
The most popular versions will fill login forms automatically. Once you’ve downloaded the software and stored your passwords, they’re fairly easy to use.
Are they safe? The experts are mixed on this point. Some feel that it’s never safe to store your passwords. Others are comfortable with the encryption used on the best versions.
My assistant swears by LastPass. It’s free for your PC, but for $12 a year, you can use it on your smartphone.
If you want to use a password manager, you can choose between a web-based or a local service. LastPass is web-based as is Dashlane and Roboform. The information is stored in the cloud so you can easily use it on all your computers and devices. Keepass and SplashID are local, meaning they’re stored on your PC.
To do your own research, check out the links below.
How do you manage your passwords? Let me know in the comments.
Links for Research
Wall Street Journal
Are you as annoyed by unwanted sales calls as I am? The phone rings right when I want to relax, enjoy dinner, or watch my favorite show. The phone rings again when I’m in the middle of folding clothes, vacuuming or have my hands in soapy dishwater. I answer, expecting family or friends, and hear a recorded voice – so irritating.
It’s not just my land line. It’s happening on my cell phone, too.
We’ve been on the Do Not Call list for years. Once you’re on the list for 31 days, you’re supposed to receive fewer calls, but too many telemarketing firms ignore the rules. I report those rule breakers to donotcall.gov. It’s a small act of revenge, but it makes me feel better.
I also use my telephone provider’s block list, which works great as long as I have the number of the company that called me. But, I may not have the correct number thanks to spoofing.
In fact, a telemarketer was spoofing my own 800 number! I know this because someone in California contacted me and requested to be taken off my call list. But, I don’t have a call list. I have as much business as I can handle right here in Connecticut.
To be honest, I’m not sure if they believed me. I might not have believed them if the situation were reversed. It’s not easy finding the source of unwanted calls, so I feel for them. I have tried to find the real company behind some of the most irritating robocalls (Heather at Card Services, anyone?), and got nowhere.
About those robocalls…
I just found about, and registered at NoMoRobo.com thanks to my friends at LeBlanc Communications. It’s a free service, and your phone provider must participate. We just signed up, but it seems to be working. I’ll let you know how it goes.
How do you manage unwanted calls?
When you get a robocall, should you…
- hang up right away
- follow the instructions for removing yourself from their call list
- try to get through to a real person, then shame them for calling when you’re on the “Do Not Call List”
Although “C” was tempting, I used to do “B” thinking that it was the most logical way to get the calls to stop. But the calls actually increased! How could that be?
It’s because some of these calls are from fraudulent companies who have no interest in following FTC regulations.
Like many of you, we’re on the Do Not Call Registry. (If you’re not, do this today at DoNotCall.gov.) It stops most unsolicited calls. The calls we do receive are from scammers like “Rachel from cardholder services” and the new “Life Alert” phishing scam.
While it does help to report these calls to DoNotCall.gov, you should know that some originate from outside the US, which makes it difficult for the FTC to prosecute them. It doesn’t help to try to remove your number from their call lists, because they don’t actually have a list. They’re just dialing random numbers hoping to get a live line. In fact, any interaction on your part could actually put you on a call list!
If you want to keep track of calls that violate FTC regulations, you can put in a formal complaint on the Do Not Call website or by calling 888-382-1222. We’ve started to do this. In fact, I did this yesterday as I received a robocall on my cell phone – which is against FTC regulations in every state no matter the circumstances.
Calls you shouldn’t report to DoNotCall.gov
- Political campaigns
- Companies that you do business with
Unless they’ve called your cell phone, it’s perfectly legal for companies to call you for these purposes. If you report them, you’re just wasting the FTC’s time, which is unfortunate around election time and the holidays.
While doing the research for this post, I came across some interesting tips for stopping the calls. Some people are suggesting starting your voicemail message with the three tones you hear when you call a disconnected number. Do you think the robocallers have programmed their systems to ignore disconnected phone numbers? I’m not so sure, but it’s a fun idea.
Let me know what you are doing to eliminate unwanted phone calls from your life.
Even after a loved one dies, they’re still not safe from identity theft or more specifically “ghosting.”
It’s reported that $2.5 million deceased Americans become victims of fraud – anything from new credit cards and loan applications to new utilities and cell phone accounts. Just when the family is dealing with their loss, before they’ve even touched the probate issue, they now have to take additional steps to protect their loved ones.
How does it happen?
We give our loved one’s identity to the world on a silver platter. For starters, most of the important identifying information can be found in the obituary.
- Full birth name and married name
- Mother’s maiden name
- Home town
- Date of birth
- Nearest relatives and their relationships to the deceased
- Last place of employment
It’s been reported that thieves take this information and purchase the deceased’s social security number for $10 from the Social Security Office’s Death Master File. With that, they have everything needed to set up new accounts, all while the family is still grieving.
You might be thinking, “Why do I care? It can’t come back on us because the person is dead.” Well, by using your loved one’s information, they can take yours as well. Remember, your name is in the paper too, listing how you’re related to everyone in your family, your probable home town, and your approximate age. At the very least, it will cause the surviving family members stress when new bills arrive at the house along with collection calls.
What can you do about it?
- Limit the information listed in the obituary column – in this case less is more
- Send copies of death certificates to all three credit reporting agencies, as well as to the banks, investment firms and credit card companies used by the deceased. Ask them to place a “deceased alert” on all accounts – this is especially important if they’re going to stay open until probate is completed.
- When closing accounts (including utilities, phone, cable, rental services, etc.), ask them to tag the account as “account closed – holder is deceased.” That way, the account will be flagged as permanently closed. Closing an account may seem final enough, but it’s not. All paid services want you to continue service, so they won’t question a reopen request unless the word “deceased” is on the file.
- Report the death to Social Security. If you let it go through normal processes, it can take months – in that time, an identity thief will have set up hundreds of accounts in your loved one’s name.
- Cancel the deceased Driver’s License through your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, so that duplicates will not be issued
Since deceased people don’t check their credit, I would recommend that you request a copy of their credit report from one of the three credit reporting agencies about a month after you’ve taken the above steps – just to double check their account status. Then check again a few months later.
Take these steps to protect your identity:
- Beware of solicitations asking for your personal information. They might call, email or text. If you didn’t initiate the communication, don’t give out your information. If they claim to be from customer service, hang up and call the number found on your statement.
- Review your bank and credit card statements and question any activity you are unsure of.
- Be careful with your paperwork. Take your receipts with you when you make a purchase or use an ATM. When it’s safe to dispose of old receipts, statements, or other paperwork containing your personal information always shred them. Never just throw them away.
- Review your credit reports a minimum of three times per year for incorrect information and dispute it.
- Keep your home computers up to date with antivirus software. Remember, it can get outdated quickly, so do your updates on a regular basis.
- Change your internet passwords regularly. Don’t use easy to guess passwords.
- Make sure you pick up your incoming mail as soon as possible and never use your home mailbox for outgoing mail. Always bring it to the post office or a mailbox.
None of these precautions will help you if someone has stolen your information from the database of a company you deal with. But, if you are vigilant about your identity, you can catch any fraudulent activity early on.
Call your credit card companies to let them know where you will be. Your credit card company will know it’s you making the charges and will let them go through.
Put a hold on postal mail, newspapers, and any other regular deliveries before you go. You don’t want mail piling up advertising a vacant house.
Clean out your wallet. Remove all items that will not be necessary (that includes your checkbook). Carry two credit cards, and if you are traveling with someone, have different credit cards in case one wallet is stolen.
If you need to use an ATM, use one at a bank (preferably in a lobby). They are less likely to be tampered with.
Be careful when using hotel computers and Wi-Fi networks. Do not access your financial accounts as identity theft can be right around the corner.
Beware of fake calls from the “front desk”. If you receive a call from the hotel front desk telling you your credit card didn’t go through, it could be a scam. Thank the caller, and then go to the front desk in person to straighten this out. Never give your personal information over the phone to someone who calls you.
Taking a few precautions before, and during, your vacation may save you from financial troubles when you get back.
This is one of those little tasks many people forget before leaving home on a vacation, a long weekend, or any other trip.
For example, you might want to carry only one or two credit cards. If you’re traveling with a spouse, don’t carry the same credit cards. If one of you loses his wallet and has to cancel the VISA card, you could still have your MasterCard or American Express.
What about the cards you leave at home? They should be locked up in a safe place (not left in a drawer). It’s impossible to keep your travels secret. The wrong people might know that your house will be empty for the next week.
But, back to your missing wallet. How did that happen? Did you forget it somewhere, or did you leave it unattended in the wrong place?
You may feel paranoid about leaving your wallet back at the hotel, but it’s much worse to keep your valuables in a beach bag while you’re in the water. Most hotels have safes which allow you to lock up you valuables before you head to the beach.
What if you’re just at the beach for the day? Leaving your wallet in the car is not a great choice, either. Parking lots near tourist destinations are popular targets. If you have to leave it in the car, keep it in a not-so-obvious place so it’s not easy to find in a smash-and-grab.
Taking a few simple steps to protect your wallet, and your identity, ahead of time can save your vacation, and hours of your valuable time. You don’t want to have to clean up an identity-theft mess after your vacation.
Identity theft is one of the biggest fears plaguing consumers these days. It was interesting to catch a scene on a crime show recently where a waitress is caught hiding a portable credit card swiper under her apron, then using it to steal her customer’s credit card information. YES, this does happen in real life.
Identity theft isn’t the only thing that can hurt your credit. Banks make mistakes, family members make late-payments on jointly shared accounts, you might have a payment dispute with a fraudulent company. I could go on, but you get the idea. Life happens.
The only way to protect yourself is to consistently monitor your credit. Most people believe that you have to pay an outside company to have your credit monitored. I disagree! I do it myself.
Once you get in the habit of monitoring your credit, it gets easier and becomes an almost compulsive habit. You’ll feel that you have much more control over your life and finances.
How to Monitor Your Own Credit
1. Look over your credit report three times per year minimum. You can do this by visiting www.AnnualCreditReport.com and ordering one report every four months. It’s completely free. If you subscribe to Quick Tips, you’ll get a reminder email with instructions in January, May and September.
2. Check your credit score at www.CreditKarma.com every month to see if there are any changes. This is also free. Monitoring changes in your score can alert you to hidden issues.
3. Monitor your bank accounts (checking, savings, etc.) to see if there are any unusual transactions. Most banks have online access, so you can easily check any time you get online. My virtual bank accounts actually email me with every transaction, so that’s an added plus.
4. Monitor your credit card accounts. I get online and check each and every account to see what’s happening. I do this every week or so, just to be on the safe side. These days, people can even scan credit card information through your wallet or purse from a distance. It doesn’t hurt to be careful.
Yes, taking these steps can take up some time, but it’s well worth it. Even with my busy schedule, I am able to find the time to monitor my credit. I am comfortable checking my accounts and credit, and I don’t feel it’s necessary to pay for a monitoring service. You may not find that it’s worth your time, but remember, it’s absolutely free to give it a try.