Feature Article
Mark Pribish
ID Theft Protection Tips for Your 2010 Holiday Season
By Mark Pribish
Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader

The Holiday Season is prime time for deceit by identity theft criminals looking to garner your personal information - and 2010 is no different. That said, I have listed my Top 15 ID Theft Protection Tips including action items which you can do yourself for free.

  1. Computer Security Software - regularly update the security software (e.g. anti-virus, firewall and anti-malware etc.) on your computer(s).
  2. Contests - be careful when entering contests to win cash, cars, computers, and tickets, etc., as they can be a source of computer viruses. Remember also that every contest site will use your personal information for marketing purposes and/or will sell your personal information to third party marketers.
  3. Credit Bureau Reports - obtain and review each of your three credit bureau reports annually through www.annualcreditreport.com. You are entitled to receive each report at no cost under federal law through the FACT Act. Review each report for wrong information and inform the credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and/or Experian) if there are any inaccuracies on your credit bureau report.
  4. Emails and Attachments - do not open emails and attachments from individuals or organizations which you do not know and trust.
  5. Holiday Packages - be aware of thieves stealing packages delivered to your doorstep, where the thief follows United Parcel Service or FedEx trucks, waits for a delivery and then grabs the package(s) before you can retrieve them.
  6. Marketing Lists - take advantage of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) National Do Not Call Registry and avoid pre-approved credit offers via the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website at www.optoutprescreen.com and the DMA Choice website. After you register for each list, you can avoid having your personal information data mined by marketing companies if you indicate that you do not wish to be contacted by marketers.
  7. Online Shopping - do business with companies you know and trust. If you are unfamiliar with a website, research the company, its website and privacy policies. Use a credit card versus a debit card or checking account, as your credit card is protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act.
  8. Password Management - always create complex passwords using a combination of mixed-case words, numbers, punctuation, symbols and letters, with a minimum of 8 characters.
  9. Personally Identifiable Information - take extra care in protecting personal information like your name, bank account, birthdate, driver's license, home address, passwords, phone number, photos, and social security number.
  10. Phishing Scams - learn how to identify phishing scams by paying close attention to emails from financial institutions and retail marketing organizations asking for personal information. No credible company will ask for your personal or sensitive information via an email.
  11. Privacy Policies - learn and understand the privacy policies of any application that you use and do not download just any application.
  12. Privacy Settings - learn, understand, and use the privacy settings of the social media sites that you are on.
  13. Shredding - purchase and use a shredder to shred your documents containing personal information.
  14. Social Media - review, update and confirm the personal and professional information that you have on any social network. Do not communicate to the world where you are and when, as criminals want to know when you are not home.
  15. Wireless Internet - be careful of wireless Internet use and make sure that the wireless network you are using is password protected. Be aware of the fact that hackers can hack into wireless Internet networks and can view what you are viewing like bank account information.

By implementing some or all of the above, you will greatly reduce your risk of becoming a victim of Identity Theft this 2010 holiday season.

Happy Holidays!

To learn more about these threats and how to protect yourself and your family from Identity Theft, you can read my past newsletters at the Merchants Identity Theft Educational Website at www.idtheftedu.com.


Scam Central

Rental Property Scam

Losing your home to foreclosure is not something anyone ever wants to have happen. If however it does happen to you, you will need to find a suitable place for your family to live - as soon as possible. The thought of moving in with the in-laws or your own parents is not particularly appealing, and apartments are typically too small for all of the belongings you have collected over the years. What you need is a house to rent, and fast! Then, through your search, you spot an ad in the paper: a couple leaving the country for missionary service needs to rent their home. This is just what you need, and just in nick of time. There's just one problem; that house does not belong to who you think it does.

How It Works:

Unfortunately, this scam is becoming more and more prevalent. The property in question might legitimately be for sale or rent, but not by the person who posted the advertisement it in the paper. Thieves are combing through real estate listings and finding properties to use in their latest scam efforts. The thieves then take the information they have garnered about a home and use it to take out an ad in the local newspaper or online. In the ad, they pretend to be an elderly couple leaving the country for missionary service (or similar) looking for someone to watch over the home while they are gone, and the rent is affordable. Since they will be out of the country, they request that you mail the check to them in the foreign country where they are serving. When you mail the check, someone in that country receives and cashes it before you realize that they are not the owners of the property in question. Your money is now long gone without so much as a single clue as to where it went but a fake name and a foreign address. To make matters worse, you and your family still do not have a place to live and you have just been scammed out of a month's worth of rent.

Your Defense:

Before you rent a home from anyone, verify that they own the house or are the legal representative of the property owners (e.g. - a property management company). While the paperwork and contract signing does not have to be a lengthy process, there should always be a written agreement to protect both the renter and the property owner. Use local authorities or similar resources such as the county assessor website to investigate and verify that the person you are dealing with is indeed the actual owner of the property. Walk away from anyone that simply expects you to shake hands and mail a check each month. There is no doubt you need to get into a home soon, but you should not do so at the expense of proper due diligence. A little careful investigation up front will ensure that your rental experience is both legal and valid.

If you believe your identity has been stolen, call 866.SMART68 today.