Catch Me If You Can was one of my favorite movies when it was released 16 yrs ago – And not just for then (and now) heartthrob, Leonardo DiCaprio. I found the premise fascinating. The movie is based on the real-life story of Frank Abagnale, who, despite his “no-consequences” teenage attitude toward fraud & identity theft, made you want to cheer for the bad guy.
Mr. Abagnale’s most significant crime was check fraud. Considering the movie takes place in the 60’s, it is amazing & somewhat frightening to think how little has changed with our modern day checking system. To this day, Mr. Abagnale boasts that “what he did 50yrs ago is 4,000 times easier today”**.
You would think these lessons of the past would teach us to be more cautious, but the reality is just the opposite is occurring: Through the advent of social media, the majority of Americans splash their private information (home addresses, children, vacations – I’ve even seen photos of passports and driver’s licenses!) all over the internet with little consideration for the long-term consequences.
When it comes to identity theft we all naively assume, “That will never happen to me”.
Enter a phone call I received last night.
For the sake of privacy, we’ll say “my friend” was applying for her first home mortgage. As part of the application process, she logged online to review her credit history. She had noticed her score drop slightly over the past few years, but assumed it was attributed to a late payment somewhere – it had to be something she did, right?
Wrong. An unauthorized credit card account had been opened in March of 2016. Over two years ago!
Immediately, she called the bank associated with this fraudulent account. After speaking with a rep in the fraud department, she was able to tell her story and get details on the address – After all, it was in her name and she had the ability to provide her SSN, DOB, etc.
When they provided the address on file, her jaw dropped. An ex-boss had opened the credit card in her name exactly one month after she departed the company. Think about it: he had all the information he needed from her W-2, which he was providing. He simply changed the address to his own.
This is a very, very unique scenario. Rarely will you know the person who has stolen your identity, but it just goes to show that no one is immune. Below is a list of best practices to implement to avoid identity fraud.
- Check your credit – Annually, at a minimum. Through websites like Annualcreditreport.com, you can do so for free. You have the option to run three reports at once OR select only one and do the others periodically throughout the year. I set a recurring calendar reminder to do. If you have children, be sure to also check their credit as well. Child identity theft is on the rise and most of the time it is not caught for years until the child is old enough to open their first credit card.
- Consider freezing your credit. If you don’t intend to take out any loans or open any credit cards in the near future, you can temporarily freeze your credit. Until you opt to un-freeze, no accounts can be established in your name. Some companies will even work with you to only unfreeze for a specified amount of time so that as soon as you’re done establishing a new loan or credit card, your credit is protected again.
- Shred all documents with critical personal information. If you do not have your own personal shredder at home, it is a worthwhile investment. Otherwise, there are typically places that will allow you to shred in bulk where you pay by the pound. Locally, I pay 1 dollar per pound. Last, if you work in a large corporate office, the likelihood is you have a place to dump materials to be shred – take advantage and bring in whatever documents that are ready to be destroyed.
- Do not post pictures of any form of identification online and always delete them off your phone if for any instance you needed a picture of it! Only provide these to trusted sources when needed for application processes: Passport, mortgage, etc.
- Be aware of “phishing” scams and phony IRS or collections calls. Phone scams are on the rise and are intended to induce panic. They may say your child has been arrested and needs to make bail. That you owe back-taxes and your home will be foreclosed. Whoever it is they claim to be - get off the phone and call their publicly listed number yourself. You can and should report these instances to the respective party they claim to be. Additionally, “phishing” is an online technique. They may try to replicate your bank’s logo and website and say they need ID verification via SSN to protect your account. Banks will never ask for your SSN over email. Do not provide this and delete the email without clicking on any links!
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