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?

There are no borders with identity theft

Identity theft is a crime without borders.  If you see me mention that it is a ‘global phenomenon, I’m not talking about the fact that there are victims in practically every country on Earth, I’m talking about the fact that the victim can be in one country, the thief in another and the information used in yet another.

Simon Bunce is a good example.  Simon is a citizen of the United Kingdom, but His information surfaced as a purchaser of Child Pornography during a US Investigation.   Then the nightmare began for Simon.

Deep in the heart of Texas

It all started in the state of Texas.  US investigators were hard at work cracking down on Child Pornography on the internet.  During the investigation thousands of British credit card numbers were discovered, all used to purchase child pornography on the internet.

Now we all know that Great Britain and the US had a little spat a few years ago called the Revolutionary war.  No hard feelings neither side is holding a grude.  We get along famously.  So famously in fact that our American investigators took the helpful step of forwarding this information to British authorities.

Enter Simon Bunce et al

Across the pond, Authorities are just as determined to wipe out child pornography.  They immediately identified and went after those on the list, some 7000 people including Mr. Bunce.  This is when the nightmare began.  Police arrested Mr Bunce on ‘suspicion of possessing child pornography’ and seized his computer.  If only it had stopped there.

Mr Bunce was now suspected of being a pedophile.  Goodbye cushy high paying job, goodbye family; hello to a nightmare.  Mr Bunce’s wife did stand by him.  Mr Bunce took it upon himself to investigate just how his credit card number ended up on a list of suspected pedophiles.

Indonesia? But I was having Dinner in London

Mr Bunce followed the trail to Jakarta Indonesia.  Someone in Indonesia had used his credit card to make the infamous purchase while he had been busy enjoying a nice dinner (which he paid for using the card in question).  A very neat trick.  David Copperfield and Cris Angel could take lessons from Mr Bunce in the magic department, I mean being in two places that distant at the same time is a neat trick.

Eventually the Police agreed and cleared him of the charges but at a high cost for Simon Bunce.  He was arrested, lost his job and his family and probably had to deal with suspicion and scorn from his neighbors and friends.  How would you treat a pedophile?

Mr Bunce had done nothing to deserve the nightmare he had to live through.  Identity thieves ruin lives.  It is not a victimless crime.  Perhaps credit monitoring could have helped in this situation.  One of the benefits of Identity Theft Shield is continuous credit monitoring and immediate notification of suspicious activity.

Identity theft victims suffer an emotional toll too

Identity theft is a crime.  People who are the victims of crime often have a mental reaction to that crime.  Identity theft is no different.  Identity theft victims are put through all sorts of stressful situations.

Imagine finding out you do not have the money to pay your rent or mortgage, going to jail and spending the night in a cell for something you did not do.  Going to the hospital for treatment and finding out your insurance is exhausted.  Identity theft victims face all of these situations on a regular basis.

Indentity theft can be a source of great emotional trauma, especially when you clear up one thing only to find that there is yet another problem to be dealt with and having that happen over and over again over a period of weeks or even years.  That is the emotional toll an identity theft victim can face.

Because identity theft is not a violent crime, victims can often find that their issues are overlooked or that others around them expect them to simply ‘suck it up’.  People who have never experienced it don’t understand that the victim’s  sense of violation is just as real as the mugging victim.

The Identity Theft Resource Center has put together a guide for Identity theft victims to help in overcoming the emotional impact.  The fact sheet can be found here.

One way to ease a bit of the stress is to be prepared and have help available that you can turn to before you become a victim.  Having something that will kick in and take a bit of the burden off of your shoulders.  This is one area where LegalShield can help.  Through the Identity Theft Shield you have investigators that will work with you to restore your identity.

Opt out to protect your information

Junk Mail.   How much junk mail do you receive every day?  Probably a lot.  and junk mail is not the innocent little annoyance you think it is.  You probably just think it is something that you must live with, but in many cases it is not.  You can opt out of receiving quite a lot of junk mail.

Much of the junk mail you receive may come from businesses sharing your information with others.  You can stop much of this junk mail by opting out.  Some junk mail is easy to opt out of like pre-approved credit card offers.  Simply dial 1-888-567-8688 in the US.  This will keep credit bureaus from selling your information to lenders and insurers.

All financial institutions are required to provide you with a privacy policy that tells you how they share your information with others.   You may be able to opt out of much of this sharing process but not all of it.  There are instances which you cannot opt out of but you can opt out of some of it.

It is also never to late to opt out.  It will take a little effort on your part because you will need to contact each institution that holds an account in your name to find out what their procedure is for opting out.

Why should I opt out?

Allowing your information to be freely shared is a big identity theft risk.  The more businesses that have your information, the bigger the risk that your information will be lost.   The better control you have over who holds your information, the lower your risk of it being lost.

For more information on opting out, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s page on Privacy Choices you can download a PDF version of this publication that will help you understand what opting out is and how you can opt out.

For more information on Identity Theft please visit  LegalShield  learn how we can help with Identity theft issues.


Here’s a new hit song for identity thieves!

This song is blowing up the Top Ten on the Identity Identity Theft Hit Parade!  Da Dumpster Dive!  These guys may be diving in for old Kool Aid and Bagels, but Identity thieves dive in for a different reason.

By now most of us are understanding the need to shred our old personal documents.  An in home shredder is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity.  And we know that it needs to be DOD Approved and not a ribbon shredder.  Ribbon shredders just create jigsaw puzzles for identity thieves, strips can be pieced back together to harvest information.  With individual getting more savvy about the destruction of information, your home trash is much less attractive to identity thieves than this item.

Why are dumpsters so attractive to identity thieves?  Well you always find dumpsters near businesses.  Businesses gather all sorts of personal information from their clients and customers.   Names, addresses, phone numbers, account numbers and the list goes on.  And businesses do not always follow the law when it comes to disposal on this information.

It is a fairly common event to turn on your local news to see a report about files dumped in dumpsters.   Honest people come across these files and report it to news reporters, police or others and it ends up on your evening news.  For every honest person that reports the situation, how many dishonest people are taking the information for nefarious purposes.

Personal information found in dumpsters is a gold mine.  The thief does not have to use you information personally.  There is a huge black market out there for personal information and the thieves know this.  They can make a fortune selling what they find in these dumpsters.

If a business you have dealt with improperly disposes of your personal information in a dumpster, and a thief gets his hands on it; well that information can be sold as many times as the thief wants.  Multiple people can buy and use your information.  This is why it is important to have a plan, to be able to react quickly and at any time to respond to identity theft issues.

He’s dead, he won’t care

On a traditional Catholic calendar  October 31st through November 2nd are all holidays.  October 31st needs no explanation All Hallows Eve or Halloween is quite notable.  That makes November 1st All Hallows Day, Better known as All Saint’s Day.  November 1st is set aside to honor the many saints of the church.  That only leaves November 2nd.

November 2nd is not really observed in the U.S. except in ares where there is a large Hispanic population.  November 2nd is All Souls Day, better known in Mexico as Dia de los Muertos-Day of the Dead.

The Day of the Dead/All Souls Day, is a day to honor and remember those who have passed on.  Being today is the Day of the Dead, It is an appropriate day for me to honor and remember the dead in my own way.   By telling you about a practice that dishonors our departed loved ones.  It is called Ghosting and it is one of the first widely used forms of identity theft.  Ghosting is simply taking over the identity of someone who has died.

Classic Ghosting

There was a time when governments did not document births or deaths.  It fell to families and churches to record this information through family bibles, baptismal records or church membership registries.  That meant that the information on births and deaths was only available locally.  Identity thieves only needed to worry about a few things to successfully ghost someone. They needed to be the same sex and race as the deceased and close to the same age.  All they had to do was go to a different location and establish themselves as the deceased.

Modern Ghosting

When Government began to be more effective at recording vital statistics, Classic Ghosting became much harder.  Today it is almost impossible.  Ghosting still occurs today but in a different form.

Today ghosting is all about using the information of the deceased to commit financial identity theft or Social Security Identity Theft.  Yes we do have what is called the Death Master File to prevent it from happening but it can take years for the deceased to be added to the file.

A Well known victim of Modern Ghosting is the Late Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain.  Kurt Cobain died in 1994 yet his social security number was allegedly used in 2007 to purchase a $3.2 million home in New Jersey.

Identity thieves will target anyone even our loved ones who have passed on.  When you lose someone you love, they can no longer protect themselves.  It is up to us to protect them.   or for us to take steps to protect ourselves before we pass on.  Talking to an attorney now about what you can  do as a part of your estate planning would be a good first step.

You’re Repo’ing my car? But I’m only 4 years old!

As parents, the safety of our little ones is important.  We put time and effort into teaching them how to be safe.  For example “Don’t talk to strangers.”  We don’t teach them to protect their identities.  We don’t even consider them at risk for the most part.

Most of us still consider Identity Theft a financial issue.  It’s all about our credit cards and bank accounts.  And our kids don’t have credit cards.  And usually a parent or trusted adult is listed on that bank account so our children won’t become a victim.

Actually our children are prime targets for identity theft.  I didn’t get a social security number until I was 8 years old.  I wouldn’t have gotten it then, but my mother applied for mine when she applied for my older brother’s just to get it out of the way.  Now our newborns are often coming home from the hospital with Social Security numbers already assigned to them.

A child has something very valuable to Identity thieves-Clean Credit.  They also don’t use that credit so a thief has years and years to use the child’s information with almost no risk of discovery.  Child identity theft victims may not find out until they apply for a driver’s license or for college financial aid.  The activities of an Identity thief can ruin the life of a childhood victim.

As parents we need to be aware of the risk to our children and we need to teach our children about protecting their identity.  Make the protection of Personally Identifying Information a family issue.  Have children help with shredding documents.   To get them in the habit, let them shred some of their old school papers.  Always check junk mail for credit card or other offers of credit in your child’s name.  Consider enrolling your child some form of Identity theft protection designed for children, like Safeguard for Minors.

The important thing is to teach them to be aware and protect their identities.

Dude! Surf’s almost up!

Halloween is here,  Turkey Day will be here before you know it and then surf’s up!  The Holiday season is prime time for identity thieves to go surfing.  Mailbox Surfing that is.

Your mail can be a goldmine for identity thieves and the Holidays simply means bonus time!  Millions of items containing Personally Identifiable and Non-Public Information are placed in the mail each day.  Bank Statements, utility and credit card bills, applications and government issued correspondence arrive in mailboxes each day.  We write out checks and mail information ourselves and identity thieves know this.  That roadside mailbox is just waiting for them to come along and harvest what is in it.

During the Holidays they can make an even bigger haul from Christmas cards and gifts we mail out.  So what to do to lower your risk of identity theft by mail?

The safest way to protect your incoming mail is to rent a Post Office box.  Your mail remains secured in your PO Box until you retrieve it.  Many newer communities have turned to this option, having a bank of locked mailboxes in a central location as opposed to roadside mail boxes.

Protecting your outgoing mail is also pretty simple.   Treat that roadside mailbox like the threat that it is, don’t put anything into it.  Take your outgoing mail to the post office or one of those blue United States Postal Service mailboxes.

And a tip for protecting that holiday mail:

Send all valuables (including Checks, Money orders and Gift Cards) by Certified mail with a return receipt.  This way the mail is hand delivered to the address and someone at the address must sign for it.

Lets Give the Mailbox Surfers something that they don’t want this holiday season, a wipeout.

It’s the little things that matter

When you see this in your yard, how much attention do you pay to it?

I’ll bet you don’t pay any attention at all do you?  It’s  just a little ant and beneath your notice.

But what if you saw this on your front lawn?I’ll just bet that would make you sit up and take notice wouldn’t it?

So what do ants and elephants have to do with anything?  It a good visual example of how easy it is for an identity thief to commit financial fraud.  If you think that the identity thief is looking for the ‘big score’, think again.

Identity thieves are most effective in making multiple little purchases, not major ones.  We would notice the major purchase while the smaller one gets over looked.

Think about it for a moment, when you pick up your credit card bill and give that cursory once over that most people do which of the following two purchases would jump up slap you in the face and say “Hey I’m fraudulent!”?

The $5000 charge for a home theater system or the $30 charge for gas at Exxon?  Of course you would notice the $5000 charge because that is the elephant.  It is obvious that you don’t have a new home theater system, but you probably did buy gas at some point.

This is why saving your receipts for credit card charges is so important.  If you have multiple cards, you need to note on that receipt which card you used.  When you get your bill, compare it to the receipt and immediately dispute fraudulent charges with your credit card company.  It may be only nickels and dimes, but nickels and dimes add up to dollars!