The Taxman Cometh


2011 is quickly drawing to a close, bringing a new year.  It’s a time of transition, out with the old and in with the new.  And starting on Monday January 1st businesses will begin working on those w-2’s, and we will be into a new tax season.

Everyone who files taxes is subject to being audited.  Will you be one of the unlucky ones picked to be audited in 2012?  Tax audits can be a nightmare and many people find themselves panicking when it happens.   Tax law is very complicated, we don’t call the IRS “Individuals Representing Satan” for nothing you know.  A tax attorney is vital when meeting with an IRS Auditor.

As a member of LegalShield, I don’t have to worry about it.  I have access to a tax attorney if I am ever audited as a standard part of my membership.  How about you?  You can have this peace of mind also.  Signing up for a membership now will not only cover your upcoming 2012 return but also the return you filed for 2011, but you must secure your membership now.   Tax coverage begins with the return filed in the year you get your membership.  Enroll now to cover your 2011 tax return.  January 1st 2012 means you missed the boat!

 

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Time to lighten things up for Christmas


There are two central figures that represent Christmas, Santa Claus and the baby Jesus.  Both have been identity theft victims, at least in the movies. so since it is the holiday season, I thought I would focus on those movies and lighten things up.  Two of these movies are perfect for family viewing and many of you may have already watched them this year.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

We all remember Dr Suess’ classic book.  The Grinch is a well known holiday classic, and I really prefer my Grinch animated with Boris Karloff reading the story.  The Grinch had a nefarious plan that hinged on stealing Santa’s identity so that he could steal all the Christmas cheer from Whoville.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

All Jack really wanted was a little love.  Seeing how well loved Santa was, Jack decided to take his place.  Eventually Jack learned that he was loved too for different reasons.

The Life of Brian

The Life Of Brian 3 Wise Men

This one is strictly for the adults and some people may find it a bit offensive but after all it is Monty Python.  Poor Brian comes into the world mistaken for the Messiah.  To Brian’s credit he did spend his life trying to convince people that he was not the Messiah.

These three movies just go to prove one thing, no one is safe from identity theft.

Don’t half plan for that day


I am a firm believer in pre-planning for the inevitable (No, pre-planning does not jinx you, neither does getting your will prepared).  Both pre-planning and preparing a will are different sides of the same coin, they are ways to help your loved ones when the time comes.

When the inevitable happens we are not ourselves, we are grief stricken.  We don’t think clearly and there are those who will use the opportunity to take advantage.

While most funeral homes are truly there to help you say goodbye, there are the bad apples just like anywhere else.  Those who will attempt to steer you into paying for the biggest spectacle ever seen outside of a circus tent and guess what?  Nine times out of ten they succeed by playing on your grief and making you feel guilty for not buying the most expensive of everything.  Pre-planning your own funeral protects your family from the few sharks out there.

Having a will works in much the same way.  You have your wishes planned out in black and white for the world to see.  Instead of people fighting over your possessions, you designate where they should go.  By doing so you prevent the family feud over who gets your silver etc.  You decide who raises your children rather than them becoming a ward of the state or being placed in the custody of someone other than who you wish to raise them.

Last but not least you can protect the assets you do have.  Many people say I don’t have anything but you would be surprised what you are really worth. Who would you rather have your assets when you pass on?  Your family or the state? In you don’t have a personally drafted will,  I guarantee that the state you live in has one for you and you won’t like it.

Don’t keep putting off this important part of protecting your family. Remember none of us knows how long we have, we are only promised right now.  LegalShield understands the importance of having a will, that is why we offer  standard wills to each of our members at no addition charge and annual updates to keep your will current.

Your trash is fair game for anyone who wants it


Are you shredding all of your personal information before you put it in your trash? If not you are an identity thief’s dream. Do your realize that it is absolutely legal to go through someone’s trash? That’s right anything in your garbage is fair game once it is put out for collection.


Police will root through your trash to find evidence of wrongdoing then use that evidence against the individual to secure a warrant.  Private investigators go through people’s trash to find evidence to support claims of their clients and it’s all perfectly legal.  Your garbage is not protected by any implied expectations of privacy.   And identity thieves are perfectly within their legal rights to root through it too!

That little fact became an issue in the case of California vs Greenwood in May of 1988. the court ruled that garbage placed on a public street is readily accessible to children, animals and others. What that means is that an identity thief who roots through your trash and removes documents you have thrown out is not violating any laws at that point. It becomes a crime when he uses the information to commit identity theft.

So the smart person knowing that his garbage is fair game will shred everything to thwart the thief. After all if you are placing a whole document in the trash, it is easy to pick up, fold up and put in a pocket for later use. However if you are putting out shredded material an identity thief must collect it all and then spend hours trying to reconstruct it. There are much easier ways to get information than that.

Be prepared Mom and Dad!


Time to draw on my law enforcement experience again.  This post is directed towards parents (and Grandparants etc).  Do you have a missing child kit?  All parents should have one tucked away and it’s not a bad idea for you to give one to any other relative that your child visits regularly.

A missing child kit will reduce your stress if your child ever goes missing.  You will already have everything you need together in one place to take with you to the police department if you need to file a missing child alert.  At the very least your missing child kit should include:

  • A copy of your child’s birth certificate
  • For infants you should have a footprint card, for older children a fingerprint card
  • List of friends with their phone numbers
  • A recent photo-less than 6 months old
  • Physical Description of your child like Scars, Birthmarks  etc
  • Any additional personal information you think important including medical conditions.

 


Remember to keep the information updated!  The more detailed information you have, the better!

All of this information will be used by the police to place a missing child alert.  Missing children are placed in a nationwide computer system along with any additional information you can give them.   This alert is usually known as an Amber Alert.  The sooner the Amber Alert is placed in the system the sooner law enforcement agencies will be notified to look for your child.

If you don’t have a fingerprint card on your child, call your local police department.  In most cases they will gladly fingerprint your child.

I’m sorry ma’am, I can’t help you. It’s policy


Odds are you’ve heard these words before.  They seem to go hand in hand with merchant disputes.  You feel as if you’ve been wronged and the merchant is not holding up his end of the deal in some way.  What follows is a round of hoop jumping worthy of a Ringling Brothers Circus performance.

You will get tons of commiseration but no actual results.  Even worse is when they start doing the “department shuffle” on you.  You know what the department shuffle is.  That’s when no matter who you call they tell you your problem is handled by a different department.  Now you’ve moved up from hoop jumping to tennis ball being lobbed back and forth through every department and supervisor they can find to pawn you off on.

Sooner or later you just get worn out and write the whole thing off as a loss.  Admit it, somewhere along the line this has happened to you.  It’s happened to me too in the past.  The dispute is just not worth the hassle.  You could call a lawyer, but unless it is a huge amount of money it’s not worth paying the attorney’s fee.   Consumer complaints tend to be small amounts.


Well that scenario does not have to be in your future anymore.   Think about how much money you’ve written off in the past.  Maybe not a lot taken individually but collectively is another matter.  If you could add up every loss you have written off over the years, you would be shocked.  It probably adds up to hundreds if not thousands of dollars you have lost because 5 dollars here or 10 dollars there just was not worth the aggravation at the time.

When you write your complaint letters or make phone calls to a business you get directed to “Customer Service”.  If an attorney writes a letter or makes a phone call he gets directed to the Legal Department.  Big difference isn’t it.  Instead of customer service reps telling him about policy, he get lawyers looking at liability.  That’s why having a lawyer handle a dispute gets different results from you trying to do it yourself.  Often he gets positive results.

Imagine having a lawyer write a letter on your behalf the next time you have a dispute with a merchant.  It doesn’t matter what the value of that product is.  $30 blouse falling apart at the seams after wearing it once?  Call your attorney and let him handle it.  Don’t have an attorney?  Then take a look at LegalShield and get your own provider law firm on your side today!

Taking stock and taking charge


Back in 2007, the Federal Trade Commission published a booklet called “Protecting Personal Information: A Guide for Business” that gave five tips for protecting personal information.

The booklet concentrates on five key things that we can also do as individuals to better protect our information.

Take stock

What personal or sensitive information do you have?  Any form of identification should be considered personal and/or sensitive.  Whether it identifies you or accounts you hold, property etc.  You need to know that you have it and get it all together in one place.

Scale down

Honestly evaluate your situation do you really need 15 credit cards?  Do you really need a credit card from every retailer you shop at.  If you have a Visa that is accepted at Sears, JC Penney, Macy’s etc do you really need a separate credit card from each retailer?

Another big and unnecessary risk we take is with all those retailer loyalty cards.  How many do you have hanging from your keychain right now?  Every one of those little keychain cards represents a different database that you are now listed in.  Do you really shop at that retailer often enough for it to be worth the risk?  If not, opt out of the program.

Lock it

Separate your information into what is necessary and what is not.  Secure your personal information.  A home safe or strongbox can serve this purpose.  Any documents you are not using should be locked away in a safe place.

Pitch it

Now how about that pile of unnecessary documents and cards?  First things first.  If you are planning to scale back on credit cards, contact these creditors and close those accounts! Identity thieves love dormant accounts.  Properly shred all of the documents and cards that you have deemed unnecessary.

Plan ahead

There is an old adage, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”  That is exactly what you need to do, prepare for the worst.  There is no way to completely eliminate your risk of becoming an identity theft victim, so you need to be prepared when and if it happens to you.

Photocopy the contents of your wallet and lock it up with the rest of your important information.  If it is ever lost or stolen, you will know exactly who to contact to close the accounts.  It also will be easier to list what was stolen or lost on the police report that you file.

Make a list of all the loyalty rewards programs you are enrolled in so that you can easily contact them.

Have something in place to help you fix it!  Restoring an identity is not as simple as many think.  According to Wiley Rein Publications, it can take an average of 600 hours and an average cost of $1,400 to restore an identity.  This is where Identity Theft Shield from LegalShield can help.

Would you believe?


There was a time when our airwaves were not clogged with attorneys trolling for clients for class action lawsuits?  Today you cannot turn on the television without seeing a commercial for a class action lawsuit for this drug or that drug.  Class action suits mean big paydays for the attorneys who handle them.  What I rarely see is the attorney who advertises for clients with the intent to help clients prevent major problems.

Attorneys  can help you prevent a molehill turning into a mountain, but that means addressing legal issues before they snowball out of control.   Let me give you an example.  You want to do some work on your home, maybe add on an addition.

You call in a contractor to do the work.  Soon you have a nice new room but the first time it rains the roof leaks.  The contractor comes back out, goes up on the roof and stays there for about an hour comes back down and tells you it is fixed.  A few months later and it is leaking again.  How long will you go through this cycle?  When will you get fed up and call in someone different to fix what should have been done right in the beginning?

Having an attorney involved on your behalf could mean the difference in the contractor fixing the problem so that your roof does not leak again or the contractor coming out and doing a patch job that eventually fails.  This is one of the many benefits of a LegalShield membership.  You have attorneys to help you now instead of waiting until the problem becomes a major one.

You’d better shop around


Identity theft is a major problem and it’s not limited to the United States, it is a global phenomenon. The biggest contributor to identity theft is the accessibility of information. Information is at our fingertips, anyone can access your information in just a few moments. Freedom of Information acts means that others can legally access official information about you through public records. Anyone includes identity thieves.

We know identity theft cannot be stopped or prevented because our personal information is no longer private. Everywhere you go, everything you do, someone is collecting information on you. School records, background checks even that little customer loyalty card you’ve got from a store you shop at to get discounts is another method of collecting information about you. Even though you are doing everything recommended to prevent identity theft, these agencies and companies can expose or lose your information at any time placing you at risk. The only thing you can do is be prepared and be proactive.

Which brings up the issue of identity theft protection. All identity theft protection plans are not created equal and you need to know what to look for in a plan and why. Here are a few things that a good identity theft protection plan should provide.

Credit Monitoring

Early detection is the key to limiting your loss. Credit monitoring is very important. Experts recommend checking your credit report often, I recommend continuous monitoring. Many of the legal protections you have against identity theft and fraudulent charges are time sensitive. Continuous credit monitoring with immediate notification means you will discover this activity quickly allowing you to take full advantage of these protections.

Identity Restoration
A good plan should provide restoration services. Think of it this way. If the wiring in your house developed a short, are you going to try to fix it yourself or call an electrician? You call the electrician to fix it because you know it needs to be done right to prevent future troubles. You also know that the electrician knows how to safely deal with the power source, you don’t want to risk an electrical fire by making things worse so you let the expert do his job. The expert also knows how to check the wiring to locate all of the wiring problems in your home. That’s the job of the identity restoration investigator, to not only restore your identity but to track down trouble in other areas. What good is it to fix your credit because of those hot checks but not find the warrants that were created because of the hot checks? This brings us to the last area of coverage and perhaps the most important….

Address the Need for Legal Counsel

Your credit issues in the long run are minor. The Federal Government provides you with legal recourse for most credit issues resulting from identity theft provided you take advantage of them in the allotted time frame. Your legal issues will be the major part of your problem and an attorney could be critical. If there are warrants in your name due to identity theft you may find yourself arrested and thrown in jail, this happens on a regular basis. Criminal Identity Theft is second only to Financial Identity theft which accounts for 30% of the total reported cases. You will need a lawyer not only to help at the time of your arrest but most likely to represent you in a court of law. This is in addition to other legal issues you may be facing.

Also when looking at identity theft restoration plans, understand what they are actually offering, many plans are offering services you can do yourself for free or services that are not really protecting you such as a credit freeze. A credit freeze is great if you know you are risk to prevent NEW ACCOUNTS from being opening in your name but those existing accounts are not covered. Always read the disclaimers and make sure you understand them. If the “guarantee” is not providing you with reimbursement on your losses what good is it?