Tag Archives: Identity Theft

When do you have to give your Social Security Number?

You hear a lot of information about when not to give out your Social Security number, but when are you required to reveal it?

The short (and incomplete) answer is: any time you’re doing something that involves taxable income.

A little more specifically, you’re probably going to be required to provide your SSN in the following situations:

  • Opening a new account at a financial institution
  • Taxes
  • When you get a new job
  • When obtaining or renewing your driver’s license or other state-issued identification
  • Conducting business involving government welfare or healthcare (Medicare, for example)

Aside from those situations, be very cautious about sharing your number. Actually, be very cautious anyway, but in other situations you would be wise to ask:

  • Why your number is needed
  • How your number will be used
  • What happens if you refuse
  • What law requires you to give your number

Finally, be extremely cautious (read: don’t do it at all) when it comes to people asking for your Social over the telephone or Internet, especially if they initiated the contact with you. If you can’t verify who the requesting entity is (as well as the answers to the four questions above), refuse to share your number.

National Protect Your Identity Week is October 17-24, 2009

Actually, shouldn’t every week be Protect Your Identity Week?

Snide remarks aside, PYIW is apparently an awareness initiative by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. I’ll let them describe their organization (from their website):

Founded in 1951, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), Inc., promotes the national agenda for financially responsible behavior and builds capacity for its Members to deliver the highest quality financial education and counseling services. The NFCC is the nations largest and longest serving national nonprofit credit counseling network, with more than 100 Member agencies and nearly 850 offices in communities throughout the country. Each year, NFCC Members assist more than 3.2 million consumers, helping many to drive down their debt and take control of their finances.

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Northwest Indiana is a member of this organization. They are one of the good ones—no misleading claims, true nonprofit structure, no insane promises, and an A+ rating from the BBB.

So, how to celebrate Protect Your Identity Week? Had I found out about this sooner, I would have set up some live presentations or something. But hey, if you hear about any bangin’ PYIW parties, be sure to keep me in the loop, ‘kay?

Child Identity Theft: Why you need to check your child’s credit report today

Children are an attractive target for identity theft. Why?

Several reasons:

  1. Clean credit history
  2. Clean criminal history
  3. Clean employment history
  4. It may be many years before the theft is discovered

That last one can be especially damaging. If a child’s identity is stolen at age 10, it may be another eight years or more before he applies for a credit card, tries to open a checking account or attempts to obtain an auto loan. By then, his credit (or criminal/medical/employment) history can be incredibly difficult to repair, since the crime took place so long ago.

That’s why you’re going to check your kids’ credit reports today, isn’t it? Go to AnnualCreditReport.com like you would to get your own credit reports.

Basically, you’re making sure your child doesn’t have a credit report. If he or she does, you need to take a closer look.

There’s an article from the MSN Money site called “Stolen innocence: Child identity theft” that’s worth reading, despite its Lifetime movie-esque title. I’m not sure when the article was originally written (it refers to Hillary Clinton as “Former New York Sen[ator],” so I’m guess it’s not super-recent), but it’s mostly good information.

However, the article features a section in which some people are debating whether child identity theft is actually a significant problem, which strikes me as a little strange (especially considering the sources in question). Growing problem or not, isn’t it worth your while to at least check?

I mean, I don’t advocate living in fear on any level. But since you’re checking your own credit reports anyway (you are, aren’t you?), you might as well make sure your kids’ reports are clean while you’re at it.

Identity Theft Myths: Online banking and shopping are unsafe

I know, most people already know that shopping and banking online are pretty darn safe. Amazon wouldn’t be the leviathan it is today if people were still afraid to shop online. However, there are still some folks out there who think doing anything online is an open door to getting your identity stolen.

The truth is, it’s probably safer.

Think about your monthly bills. Your paper bill starts by passing through who-knows-how-many hands. Then it sits in your mailbox unattended until you take it (assuming it’s still there). Later, you write out a check (with your full name, address and account number on it), place it in an envelope with your bill (which has yet another account number on it), and leave it unattended in the mailbox with the little red “Hey There’re Checks In This’n!” flag sticking up. Assuming nobody steals it from your box, it once again passes through who-knows-how-many hands on the way to its destination. At the end, a human being (i.e., an entity capable of error) has to manually input your payment and handle your paper check.

If you receive and pay online, however, you receive an email that only you can see. It probably won’t even have your full account number in the message. You go online to pay the bill, logging in with a password only you know. Your payment is taken from your account right away, and it is processed by a machine, which will usually only make an error if you make an error.

Additionally, the security at online retailers and financial institutions is unbelievably tight. The only time anyone really runs into trouble is when they fall for a phishing scam and give their passwords out to other people, or when they use a site that shouldn’t have been trusted to begin with. Your credit union, bank, and the major retailers are fine. If you’re not sure if a business is trustworthy, check them out on the Better Business Bureau.

Identity Theft Myths: Thieves will use your information for years

There are still enough people who believe this one to consider it widespread enough to talk about here.

There was a case back in the 1990s where a woman was a victim of an identity thief. This person used her name for over a year and a half, and ruined her credit (and a big chunk of her life in general). I remember seeing the story on one of those “news magazine” programs (20/20 or something), and I’m pretty sure there has been at least one made-for-TV movie about it.

It’s probably on Lifetime every now and then. The title is something like [Adjective] [Noun], the [Person’s Name] Story. Then again, all their movie titles are like that. They’re like Mad Libs.

Anyway, these days it’s far more common for thieves to take your identity for a “joyride” of a couple weeks’ duration. They’ll rack up all the charges/goods/services they can, then move on to the next victim. Oh, it’s still just as big a pain for you to fix, but cases of long-term cloning over the course of months and years are rare now.

Part of the reason is technology. People catch the theft much sooner, and more and more financial providers have built-in safeguards, which can provide some protection, or at least early detection. I think another reason is that identity theft has increasingly become the realm of organized crime. With a backlog of identities to work with, they can use them for a short time, then move on to the next identity before the fraud alerts start showing up.

None of this is exactly comforting, I suppose. Like I said before, it still takes you a long time and a lot of hassle to clear up any identity theft. But those widely publicized cases of long-term identity theft are the exception rather than the rule nowadays.

Identity Theft Myths: Identity theft is a high-tech crime

What springs to mind when you hear the words “identity theft?”

Be honest, now.

For a lot of people, the first thing they think of is their home computer. Because of the constant emphasis on computer security (and a few made-for-TV movies, I don’t doubt), many people are under the impression that your identity gets stolen because you were on the Internet and a hacker broke into your computer and got your personal information.

Of course, hackers exist. What used to be the demesne of nerdy college kids and spoiled brats with powerful computers and too much unsupervised time has become an important tool for organized crime.

However, not all identity theft occurs online. You don’t have all your credit card numbers, account numbers, passwords, Social Security number and other information stored on your computer anyway, do you?

Do you?

Tell me you don’t.

Anyway, a huge chunk of identity theft occurs through very un-high-tech channels. Your purse or wallet get stolen, and you were carrying your Social Security card with you. That’s an open door.

Or you received a load of credit card offers in the mail and simply tore the envelopes in two (or not at all) and threw them in the trash. That night, somebody picked through your garbage and found it. It’s the dark side of Dumpster Diving—what used to be a fun way to drive around college towns in June and score free microwave ovens is now a common route for identity theft.

If picking through garbage isn’t gross enough for you, there’s this little factoid: between 10 and 25% of identity theft victims knew the person who stole their identity. That’s your friends and coworkers. It could even be your family members.

The wide range in this percentage seems to depend on who is doing the research. You see both numbers in different reports, but there may be an age-related factor: younger people tend to know the person who stole their identity more often (as many as 40% of people under 30, according to some data I’ve seen). The point is, a lot of identity theft happens because somebody left their purse unattended at work.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can ignore online safety. Keep your virus/spyware protection updated and don’t fall for those phishing attempts (which I know you won’t because you’ve been reading the FPU, right?). But look at the low-tech ways you might be making yourself vulnerable. Get a crosscut shredder today if you don’t already have one, and get that Social Security card out of your wallet, already.

Identity Theft Myths: You don’t have to worry if you have bad credit

I’m going to do a series on identity theft myths over the next couple weeks. I might not end up doing them all in a row, though.

A lot of people think they don’t have to worry about identity theft if their credit is lousy. “Use it all you want,” they think. “You’re not going to get approved for anything anyway, and you can’t make my credit any worse than it is.”

Wrong.

For one thing, even though our current financial situation has made it a little harder to obtain credit, there’s still a possibility that somebody, somewhere will grant the identity thief credit using your information.

However, identity theft isn’t always about obtaining credit and making purchases.

Someone could use your information when they get arrested. When they don’t show up in court, the police could appear on your doorstep, and they’ve heard “you’ve got the wrong guy” a million times, so that won’t help you much. Trying to get a mistaken police record cleared up is a hassle you want to steer clear of.

Someone could also use your information to obtain employment. There is a story I see all the time about a woman who applied for a job at Target, then found out she already worked there, according to their records. Someone was working there using her social security number. I actually haven’t seen a version of this story specific enough to indicate it’s anything more than a made-up anecdote, but the fact is that people steal identities in order to obtain employment. Perhaps it doesn’t hurt you at all, and perhaps you never even find out. However, what if they commit a crime while on the job? It could end up following you.

There’s also medical identity theft.  This is the scariest scenario, because it could cost you your life. When someone uses your identity to obtain medical care, you could end up with insurance companies and hospitals calling to collect payments on services you did not receive. Worse still, incorrect medical records attached to your name, including information such as chronic diseases and allergies, could kill you. What if the fact that you’re severely allergic to a drug gets removed from your record, and you’re brought in unconscious and unable to speak up?

So, even if your credit is less-than-perfect (or just plain awful), don’t assume you’re safe from identity theft. Just because they can’t buy a car using your name and information, doesn’t mean they can’t use it for something (or sell it to someone who can).

Unfortunately for the rest of us, thieves are resourceful that way.

New Identity Theft Laws in Indiana

The video is available here.

It looks like Indiana has been taking some proactive steps in the fight against identity crime, including stiffer penalties for violations (including child identity theft and businesses who don’t properly dispose of sensitive information).

It’s good that they’re trying to make it easier to block access to credit if your identity is stolen, but don’t be misled: identity theft still a major hassle to go through.

They also don’t mention anything about whether or not the system would help in cases of medical or other types of identity theft. Since it’s mostly dealing with credit, I’m guessing not. Still, these new laws are a giant step in the right direction.

Gone Vishin’

It’s 9:30 at night when the phone rings.

The Caller ID displays “Card Services” and a toll-free number.

You pick up the phone, and an automated voice informs you that “your card has been compromised.” It gives you a phone number to call to take care of the issue. The phone number is the same number on the Caller ID display.

Now…what should you do?

If you answered, “hang up and ignore the call,” you’re right.

Currently, there is a move towards integrating older technologies with the Internet. Eventually, I believe these technologies will be fully integrated; your television signal, Internet connection and telephone service will all be traveling along the exact same lines as part of the same service. These different technologies will also become more “seamless” over time—there will be less of a distinct divide between how you use your TV and your computer, and between the content you will receive from both. Okay, you’ll probably still use your phone to call Mom, but the signal will be digital, and it will be traveling through the Internet.

However, there is a downside, at least for the time being: vishing. Using Internet telephone services (Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP), criminals are able to spoof Caller ID information, to make a phone call appear to be from a trusted entity such as a financial institution or credit card issuer.

Let’s face it, you’re more likely to believe a call from “Card Services” than you are a “Blocked Call” or “Unknown Caller.” And that’s the basis of how Vishing works.

What happens if you call the number as instructed? You will be instructed to enter your credit or debit card number, expiration date, PIN and other security information. This is pretty much everything a crook needs to use your card for fraudulent purposes. They might also attempt to get your personal information, such as date of birth or Social Security number—basically, everything they would need to commit identity theft.

Stay Vigilant

Nobody is ever 100% safe from fraud, scams or identity theft. Even if you’ve done everything possible to prevent becoming a victim, it can still happen.

Take, for example, the data breach at Heartland Payment Systems a few months ago. Through no fault of their own, thousands of people experienced unauthorized use of their credit or debit cards. It wasn’t that they fell for a phishing email or a fake phone call. They simply made a purchase or two at a store or restaurant that used Heartland as their card processor.

However, there is no reason to panic. By taking simple steps to stay safe on your end, you can drastically reduce your chances of becoming a victim of fraud.

The key is to be informed and vigilant. Know what the threats are, know how to spot a scam and keep a close watch on your financial statements, and you’ll be miles ahead of where the crooks would like you to be.

That’s why REGIONAL Federal Credit Union is bringing you this new website. We believe that education is key to achieving financial security and independence.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. In fact, it is my aim to make this site as entertaining as possible (despite the admittedly bone-dry seriousness of this first post). I’ll be posting some Video Dispatches from the FPU very soon. Be sure to check those out. There’ll be enough weird props, strange pop culture references, silly music and bad acting for everyone, and you’ll learn something, too.

I’ll be learning, too. After all, there are new variations on these scams popping up all the time. It will be a chore to keep up, but I will do my best. In the meantime, questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome! Use the comment function below, or email me directly at cturpen@regionalfcu.org. Also be sure to follow the FPU on Twitter (@fraudprevunit). I’ll be posting tips and updates there as well.

And always remember: stay vigilant.