Smoke Detectors, Credit Reports, and Money Stuff

Alright, smoke detectors have little to do with scams, but changing your batteries now will prevent that random screeching that always seems to occur in the middle of a nap. First things first…

Protecting Your Money and Data

I am no computer expert, although a few things jump out if you want to avoid hassles that come with protecting your money and data. Consider having a computer used only for money stuff, only on a safe network. Use a reputable security suite and anti malware program. This computer is never for cute kitty photos from your Facebook friends, unless it is an emergency.

PaZZwurd$!!!! Make them long and difficult to guess, I use a unique one for each account. How do I remember them? I write them down and keep them near my computer like any other dummy. There are some password generation programs that store numbers for you, I can not in good faith venture which are the best. Two-Step authentication has become popular with many firms, if someone (or you) tries to log into your account from a new browser the company will text a code required to enter the site.

Protecting Your Credit and Your Tax Returns

Around the first of every year I get copies of my three credit reports to make sure no one is pretending to be me. They are free at AnnualCreditReport.com.  I request them all at once, shred last years and move on as long as things look normal. Some writers suggest getting one every four months throughout the year just in case something pops up. Seems like a hassle to me, considering a few other things now available. If there are any significant errors, best to send proof correcting the errors certified mail to each of the three reporting agencies. If necessary, involve state and federal attorney generals if errors are not being fixed by the agencies.

The credit freeze makes the most sense of everything out there. If you freeze your credit then at least in theory people can’t open new credit in your name. As a plus your level of junk mail should decrease. On top of the credit freeze a permanent opt out never hurts.

Protecting your tax return from fraudulent filing should be a consideration if you have been a victim of identity theft. Applying for a filing code will offer a layer of protection. This is a unique code the IRS will mail every year that must be included on your tax return. This should prevent a thief from claiming in a refund using your name and Social Security Number.

Resources:

Some credit card companies and credit unions are now offering a FREE FICO score as part of their service. I would not be paying any shysters for FICO, don’t fall for those scams. Your FICO score should not fluctuate too much from month to month making it a good way to eyeball your credit. A sudden plunge would likely come from lots of new debt and/or unpaid bills being reported on your credit file. If that happens, time to investigate, otherwise one less worry for the month.

Credit Monitoring services seem an expensive overkill if you have taken the steps previously mentioned. I am just some hack banging away on a keyboard, do what you want. What I added for about $30 was a rider on my homeowners policy that provides some coverage for legal fees in the event of ID theft. Still overkill IMO, but it seems every retailer in the world lost a zillion credit files last year so…

One other thought on this front is credit card versus debit card for everyday purchases. Liability is limited either way, but having your bank account drained from fraudulent debit card purchases could suck a lot until the money part of the theft gets sorted out. If you want to use a debit card consider a separate account that is not linked to your bill paying money. Fraudulent purchases are a when, not if, plan accordingly.

Moving on….

Money, it gets stuff done.

Many times elsewhere I mentioned, I do not like people near family money. Being ripped off on a part, for a thing that may be broken, while a bummer will in most cases not wreck your life. Not so when it comes to a life savings. Many people who don’t track scams for sport might be shocked to learn a $100,000,000 ponzi scheme is commonplace these days. A few this year were multiples of that, and don’t kid yourself judgements are meaningless money lost is gone forever.

Check your professionals at both the state and federal level each year. There have been a number of articles recently where broker infractions were not properly communicated between agencies. A broker could be clean at one agency, and dirty as an ashtray at another. This needs to be done every year, people change. When schemes implode there are any number that were run by folks with many years in the money business. Lump attorneys, trust companies and accountants in this process if they have access to your funds. Any whiff of the adviser having money problems or complaints should be all the prompting one needs to move their money rapidly to safety.

Duties must be segregated to keep your nest egg safe. If you are in a situation where the person managing your money controls the reporting, the deposits, and the withdrawals a problem could be brewing. If someone is managing money for you that money needs to be held in a segregated account, preferably with a major firm where you can verify without going through the adviser. When you need to take money out, an entity other than the adviser should be writing the checks.

Its not a bad time to look for unclaimed property because you never know.

Try and avoid confusion about money by having a list everything you own on one sheet of paper. This includes bank accounts, brokerage accounts, retirement plans, and insurance policies. Listed beside each is the beneficiary and contact information necessary if something should happen. Most banks and brokerage accounts allow for TOD beneficiaries. Don’t in my opinion add someone as a joint account holder unless that is really what you want. Like a husband/wife situation where the funds are truly shared. The obvious problems of fraud, lawsuits, and the possible loss of step up in basis are why I would avoid this.

While probate is not a scam, it certainly is not cheap or fast. Nor is a situation where someone becomes incapacitated and needs their affairs handled. Why I feel it important to spell out your wants in detail before something happens. The less people have to do when you can’t, the less likely they are to muck it up. Or the less likely your beneficiaries are to be taken for a ride.

That’s it for now, put the sheet someplace safe and enjoy your year.

How Much Is Your Identity Worth?

Todays crims may not be after the families silver or the DVR and Telly in the corner, long gone are the days of some guy coming up to you in a pub and saying, ‘Hey mate I got a load of DVR’s you after one’?

It would be more like, “I have some fresh credit cards tested, if your quick you could get a couple of grand with buying some on line kit straight away.

This is big business, and I mean BIG business, so lets get some perspective.

In the USA alone in 2011 over 11 million adults fell victims to Identity theft, A massive increase by over 12% on the previous year and growing and growing.

Don’t think the UK is safe either, because it is on the increase here as well.

The postman drops a letter on your door mat, you see it is the water rates, a couple of days later, yep you guessed it, the telephone bill. OK we all hate bills its a fact of life, but the burglar is starting to love these bills. Nope, there not going to pay them for you, but the information, like account numbers, middle names, date of birth are all things that are personal to you and therefore, in the right/wrong hands which ever way you look at it, used correctly can request credit and can get things from others that probably are not that clued up.

Then guess what? yep thats right, all these bills are kept in a drawer in the kitchen along with the gas bill, electricity bill, spare key for the car, a probably the details of the car as well. So you can now imagine that before it was the TV etc, now a quick look around and a burglar could be out of your house in less that five minutes with the most important piece thing you hold dear and until now did not put a value on it. Your Identity !!!

To compound it if you are as sorted as my good lady is, then all these documents are listed in some sort of easy to sift through order in a filling cabinet. Giving the crim an index to see what is best to take and what he can do without.

Being in the security industry, we listen to peoples pains and anguish every day as they are phoning us up after the horse has bolted so to speak, so this is real and we, to keep our filing cabinet locked, and all our important documents in a safe, Passports, National Insurance numbers, and lots more are kept safely in a fire rated safe in a location that Im not telling :-)

We all need to wise up to ID theft it is very real, and if you have been a victim you may find credit reference agencies, could black list your name and address for years to come, getting a loan from a bank, buying on credit, all may come back saying thanks but no thanks, even Credit cards that you have, now could be calling saying when are we going to get paid for money that you did not spend.

For the Criminal it is easy to do, in and out in a flash, carrying paper is even easier than the TV!

Get decent locks, get a decent alarm and finally a decent safe. These should be considered as the bare minimum. Maintain a healthy security envelope around you, your home and your identity.

Hope this helps.

Written by Darrel Walters, Head of the tech department @Locks_Online
Managing Director and head of The Walters Group and have been for over 23 years
TRUST Security – Trust LocksOnline

How Identity Thieves Justify Their Pursuits

Note: This is a summary of research done by Heith Copes and Lynne Vieraitis. I highly recommend reading the full paper at:  Identity Theft: Assessing Offenders’ Strategies and Perceptions of Risk

When you hear about crimes, you might think, “How can the criminal do that?” But did you know? Criminals justify their crimes. When a criminal decides to commit crime, he goes through a psychological process of sanitizing the conscience so that the crime can be accomplished. Offenders mentally rationalize their actions and neutralize the guilt associated with them before deciding to commit crime. And identity thieves are no exception to the rule.

Using linguistic devices to blunt the moral force of the law and to neutralize the guilt of criminal participation, the offenders make themselves believe that their actions are ‘acceptable’ if not ‘right’, thus protecting their self-image from serious damage. You tell us, what can social controls do to check or inhibit deviant motivational patterns in situations like these?

Of the offenders interviewed, nearly sixty-percent (n = 35) articulated at least one technique of neutralization and several (n=14) used multiple techniques. However, all the techniques were not mentioned and some techniques were used more frequently than others. The neutralization techniques used by offenders emerged naturally during conversations with no deliberate attempt made to elicit these responses.

It was found that there are many ways in which offenders justify or excuse their crime. Identity thieves, however, tend to rely on a few. In order of frequency, denial of injury, appeal to higher loyalties, denial of victim, and denial of responsibility are the most common excuses used by identity thieves.

Many identity thieves believe that stealing identities causes no real harm to victims because they think the credit damage can be repaired by the victim with a few calls and there is no direct financial loss in it for them.

Other identity thieves, however, do acknowledge the victims only to label them as large, face-less organizations like banks and corporations that deserve victimization (i.e., denial of the victim).

Likewise, individuals who work within an organization to carry out their crimes sometimes rely on the diffusion of responsibility to excuse themselves. Claiming that they only played a minimal role in the crime, they believe they should not be judged like the others. The evidence these individuals point to to prove that they “didn’t really do anything”? The small amount of money they made.

Noble intents, mostly helping people, is another excuse identity thieves use to make sense of and justify their crimes. Some said they did it for their children while others pointed to the fact they had done it just to help that random stranger they had met at a bus station.

Thus, it appears that neutralization is a technique that does not just initiate people into identity theft; it is also a technique identity thieves use to continue their current line of behavior.