Thursday, August 13, 2015

Protecting your Identity

I wrote this a while ago, back in 2014. I have made some updates and I hope this will help you as it has helped me. 

The Internet is an infamous lair for con artists and criminals that preyed on its unwary users. Ever since the Internet boom, many had realised the potential advantages and disadvantages that unravelled as it became more and more frequently used. This gave rise to ideas of scams and tricks to lure people who were interested in fast money and of various acts of vices.

The combination of information accessibility and unsavoury acts that are both prevalent on the Internet. This paved the way for Identity Theft.

What is it?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) defines this as "when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission". In other words, it is a mix of various crimes (frauds) where a criminal whether or not in a large or small organised group or merely as an individual uses the identity of an unknowing innocent person. This latter definition was adapted from the book titled A Gift of Fire by Sara Baase, 4th edition. 

It is a very serious crime and can definitely wreak chaos with your credit status/history, reputation and especially with your finances. Mainly because criminals will pose as someone and use that person's information to make unauthorised transactions.

For example, if the criminal has your Credit Card number and the Card Security Code (CSC) they could buy virtually anything. In fact, the FTC receives a myriad of complaints of identity theft each year and billions of dollars are lost to this crime per year in the United States alone. It is not surprising if you have fallen victim to this deleterious act because there are about serval million victims in a year. 

Why should I be concerned?

At this day and age where almost everyone's life revolves around the Internet, it is essential to know how to protect your identity on and off the Internet. Well because logically, whatever you lose in the real world can be also used on the Internet. So don't forsake living out your real lives just yet. The Internet isn't everything just so you know. 

To convince you even further, if your identity does get stolen, chances are that, knowing when or will your identity be secured is no definite answer. It will likely be that your identity will get stolen again. Why? A straight forward answer is that, whatever goes on the Internet stays there forever. So think twice before logging in your birthday and your home address. The worst is not over, Identity Theft is really hard to rectify and it will take a tremendous amount of time, money, and effort (patience) to even partially resolve.

To lighten the mood, there are insurances out there that cover Identity Theft and related issues with varying terms and conditions. You might want to start investing in one.

How should I Prevent this from happening to me?

The following methods shown below provide adequate protection against Identity Theft.

Reliable sources from the USA government, the FTC website and also suggestions from Frank Abagnale were adapted to make this list of methods. The links of sources are found at the end of this section.

The numbers that they are listed here, do not reflect their priority. They are just for visual purposes. So, regard each of them equally and try to grow a habit of doing them spontaneously.

1. Check your Credit Reports 

A stolen Social Security Number (SSN) is all that the criminal needs to open up a bank account or credit card with a fake address and phone number. So check your credit report regularly to make sure there are no fraudulent credit cards opened in your name.

Also ensure that your credit reports are accurate.

2. Opt for a Credit Monitoring Service.

Sign up for this service and the bank will alert you via email or text message about changes in your credit report. Make sure you don’t lose your phone if you want alerts send to it.

3. Invest in a Shredder.

Shred your sensitive materials, especially financial statements and pre–approved credit card offers. Always destroy the black strip of a card when disposing it. We all like to imagine that no one goes through garbage, but there are people who actual do it. So buy a crosscut shredder that dice material into tiny squares or a micro-cut shredder that turns paper into confetti unlike of strips that traditional shredders normally do. These provide maximum security.

4. Always Double Check Bank/Billing Statements.

Make sure that your statements arrive on time (if they don’t then report it because Identity thieves can change your billing address) and go through your purchases and check for fraudulent activities. Accumulate your receipts from a month’s worth of transactions, that way checking would be much easier (for bank Statements).

If there are any discrepancies or anything raises your suspicion, call the bank immediately.

5. Protect your mail

Never leave your mail lying around and always collect your mail as soon as possible.

Have someone you trust do it for you if you aren’t able to for any reason, or you could have the post office hold onto it for you (if you trust them). Do that especially when you are away from home for more than two days or so. Also, bring any outgoing mail to the post office or to a drop box rather than leaving it in your mailbox.

Don’t leave your new checks in the mail. Better yet, pick them up at the bank instead of having them sent to your home. This makes it harder for your checks to be stolen, altered and cashed by identity thieves.

6. Be Mindful of What you Share.

Unless you know whom you are dealing with, don't give out your personal information over the phone, mail or Internet. In fact, don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information ever.

Identity thieves can pose as banks or government agencies. Do not give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.

Another example is telemarketing. An Identity Thief might call to make fraudulent offers for products, benefits or medical services. The caller will require you to provide personal information, such as your social security number, birthday, or Medicare ID number. So don’t succumb to tricks of that sort.

7. Know your Surroundings, Especially at an ATM

Be alert and aware of your surroundings when using an ATM or whenever you are using your cash or taking out an ID. Pay attention and keep your eyes peeled for anyone who seems a little too interested in your transactions.

Always try to use your free hand to shield the keypad when entering your PIN or your telephone number. In that case, never write down your credit or Debit card pin. Don’t even think about putting a note of it in your wallet.

Avoid dodgy ATMs as some of them have been set up to copy your account number while still giving you money. Whilst leaving you none the wiser.

8. Create Strong, Non-repetitive and Unique Passwords.

Short and simple passwords are easily hackable or guessed by a computer. It’s almost like not having a password at all.

So make it worth your while and effort by creating a strong (as in lengthy), non-repetitive (as in random and should have no same figure next to each other) and unique (as in one of it’s kind; only known to you) password.

In cooperate a mix array of numbers, symbols, lower and upper case alphabets. Do not use your birthday, dog’s name or even your favorite color. Try to avoid words in the dictionary.

9. Protect your Social Security Number at all costs.

Always have a habit of asking why someone (companies, authorities and so on) asks for your Social Security Number.

Learn their purpose of needing it and how they would keep it safe.

Resist coercion and just say “No” if you are uncomfortable giving it out.

Also, avoid companies that use your SSN as an identification number, especially if it will appear multiple times. If your driver's license number is your SSN, ask to have it changed.

Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet (or bring it out) only when absolutely necessary.

Keep in mind that your bank does not print your Social Security Number on your personal checks.

10. Have a Minimum Number of Credit Cards.

Only keep the ones you actually use or plan on using. Having more than 30 is too much.

Also, keep an organized record of all your credit cards (its associated numbers i.e. card and account numbers, expiration date and write down the lost credit card hotline) and their billing cycle so you can report a theft promptly and thoroughly.

11. Only carry essential documents with you.

Do not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport with you outside the house (Only when necessary).

Store personal information in a secure place at home or at work. If you have extra bucks, why not invest in a safe?

12. Fortify your Computer.

Install firewall and antivirus software. This will help prevent hackers from gaining illicit access to your computer.

Also with the right knowledge, you can protect any credit cards or account numbers with an encrypted password.

13. Know the People you Trust.

Ensure that your employer, landlord and anyone else with access to your personal data keep your records safe.
If you aren’t sure, then don’t give them your information. It is your right to not do so.

14. Miscellaneous Facts.

Tax ID theft. Phony tax preparers steal your social security number and sell it to scammers. ID thieves may also read obituaries so that they can file a tax return in the deceased person’s name. This can be a problem for a surviving spouse, when he or she tries to file taxes later in the tax season. For more information contact the IRS’ Taxpayer Advocate Service at 1-877-275-8271

Medical ID theft. In general, seniors have more contact with medical service providers that can take advantage of access to their insurance information to get medical services in your name or to issue fraudulent billing to you and your health insurer.

Nursing home and long-term care. Staff at these facilities have access to seniors’ personal information on file, as well as the potential misuse or theft of seniors’ finances (for example check books or bank statements in the senior’s room) . You can report this fraud to the long-term care ombudsman in your state at long-term care ombudsman.
I think I am a Victim What should I do?

You must report to your bank or financial institution. Call the phone number on your account statement or on the back of your credit or debit card.

Immediately inform the police. Keep a copy of the police report, which will make it easier to prove your case to creditors and retailers.

Contact the credit-reporting bureaus and ask them to flag your account with a fraud alert, which asks merchants not to grant new credit without your approval. 

An ID Theft affidavit to report the theft to most of the parties involved. All three credit bureaus and many major creditors have agreed to accept the affidavit. You can download the ID theft affidavit or request a copy by calling toll-free 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

According to TransUnion, the more people who know how to prevent identity theft, the less motivated others will be in committing the crime. So by doing the following methods, you are not only doing yourself a favour but for the community as a whole.

Be a Smart Consumer, Know your Rights and get the Consumer Action Handbook today. Available in both PDF format or hardcopy for FREE.  

That's it ! Hope this helps! 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

My visit at Philips Exeter Academy

The ceiling of the marvellous library.

It was just one of those days when you head out to do something, but end up doing something else sort of day. Nonetheless, the air was fresh and the temperature mild which made it perfect for a scroll outside.

The timing and weather permitted me to visit the world acclaimed private college preparatory school located in a quaint town of Exeter, New Hampshire. I have been to this little town before for more than a few several times, wondering what lured people here. Little did I know that an institution with such prestige was hidden from view by old georgian buildings in the area. 

The Philips Exeter Academy, known throughout the USA and the world across. Mark Zuckerberg is just one of its notable alumni, and who can forget the new rising star in the east, Sara Jane Ho whom is the proud owner and principal of Institute Sarita featured on the WSJ. 

Knowing the glitz and glamour, and the long history of elites that used to walk where I was walking at the time, it was like an invisible aura radiating from the compound, and being there I could feel every pulse that it made.  The excitement I felt was like a little girl in Disney World. With the greatest of wonder and delight, my dear friend and I explored the campus, through and around buildings. She acted as though she was my personal guide since this wasn't her first time there. She is very familiar with the place and remembers the names of the dorms that doted around the beautiful architecturally designed buildings that served as classrooms and also faculty buildings.  Although most of them were locked,  I could definitely imagine what it must have been like on a normal school day. Students in and our of the classrooms and people walking around busy getting to places, I can definitely imagine.

The highlight of my visit there was the Phillips Exeter Academy library. 

I think this picture of the stairwell inaccurately portrays the ambiance you feel when you walk up and down the building. It feels so mysterious with each turn of the corner you take and every floor of the building holds some new surprise as there are 272000 volumes of books, including electronics ones too.

Individual lounge areas can be found in every nook and cranny of the building. This library certainly makes you want to study!

Every book on the shelves has a label like this one.

This is the central atrium of the library and the walls that surround it.

My visit at this lovely place was unfortunately short. I do hope to go back there again when normal school days are back on. To get a real feel of the atmosphere and explore the many faculty buildings, would certainly be a treat!