Monday, October 18, 2010

Be Proactive about Identity Theft

This is a great article on Identity Theft. I have seen many clients suffer from these cases. For more specific guidance contact Saggio Management Group and our accountants can assist with forensic accounting to determine any identity theft losses.

11 Ways to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Oct 15, 2010 5:26 PM EDT

There are more than 175 million credit card holders in the U.S., and more than 10 million of them have been victims of some type of identity theft.

"It's the fastest-growing crime in America," says Mike Bush, the director of PR for Affinion Security Center, a company that has been focusing on identity-theft protection for almost 40 years.

The ways in which thieves can steal your credit card numbers--or even your name--can be alarming, says Bush, and not always so obvious.

"I'm a personal finance reporter and my credit card has been misused," says Erica Sandberg, a personal finance expert and online writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. "Nobody is immune."

That being said, there are ways to make yourself less likely to be a victim. Here's what you need to know:

1. Be Selective Where You Use Your Credit Card

Every year we become more and more accustomed to using plastic for everyday expenses. But there is no reason to use your credit card for small purchases. "Just be more cautious and prudent when using plastic," says Sandberg.

2. Check Your Checking Account Religiously and Monitor Your Credit Report

"You must look at every statement and every charge. You can do this for free by going to," recommends Bush. "Just look to make sure that everything makes sense on it and if it doesn't, contact your bank and the credit report site." offers to check your credit with the three big credit agencies all at the same time. Bush recommends checking with one site every four months so you're covered the whole year.

3. Maintain a Credit Freeze on Your Account at All Times

Having a freeze on your credit account prevents lenders from issuing new credit without checking with the cardholder. This is a smart way to make sure nobody opens new lines of credit under your name.

"So if someone tries to apply for a credit card in your name, the bank attendant will see there is a freeze on your account and will have to call and verify with you before any new lines of credit are given out," says Sandberg.

But remember, this will not safeguard you against fraudulent claims on your existing lines of credit.

4. Have a Good Bank

Do research on banks and see which have the best fraud monitoring. You can find this type of information by going to the Better Business Bureau.

5. Be Smart With Your Password

It might be hard to keep track of different passwords, but having the same password for everything is just asking for trouble.

And never share your password. Ever.

"It might seem obvious but often times we've seen people do this," says Bush.

6. Be Judicious on Where You Purchase Items Online

Sometimes you have to use a credit card to make online purchases, but make sure the site is safe.

"Don't think you're immune, because even if you use a legitimate Web site, you never know," stressed Sandberg.

7. Don't Discount Family Members

Think about everyone and anyone who could be using your card.

"You must look inward. Could it be your older child or estranged spouse? Think about who has access to your information and credit cards," says Sandberg.

8. Don't Open E-mails From Unknown Sources

Make sure your computer is equipped with anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-key logging software.

"Getting these kind of viruses is as easy as opening an e-mail with an attachment," explains Bush. "A key logging virus records movements on all the keyboards. So if you go to your Gmail and enter a password, thieves will be able to see it."

9. Shred Your Information

Few of us actually shred all of the mail we receive, but the experts say it's a good idea.

"Don't just throw it away. A thief with some time on their hands can pick up a piece of your mail with your address on it, and just with that information, steal a big chunk of your identity," Bush says. An enterprising thief is a very scary concept.

10. Don't do Financial Transactions Over Public WiFi

People often think it's lucky when their computer picks up a free wireless signal. Maybe not.

"There is technology that intercepts a public wireless signal," explains Bush. "So a thief can be a couple of feet away from you on another computer looking at all the information you're looking at."

11. Beware of Shoulder Surfing

It doesn't matter if the ATM is in a well-known store or even in a bank.

"Thieves can put small cameras above the ATM and watch the pin being entered, so watch out for anything that looks suspicious," said Bush. He stressed that this is doubly as important when you are at an unfamiliar gas station or deli. So to stay safe, when in doubt, don't use the machine.

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