Have you asked yourself that question? Do you log into your bank or credit card website with a password that’s several years old, or use the same password for every site? Have you e-mailed statements or tax forms? E-mail is convenient, passwords are inconvenient. How do we reconcile our need for speed with security? UPMC, Target and Niemen Marcus data breaches have been in the news. Heartbleed vulnerability has been widely reported. Is the U.S. mail service secure, or UPS or FedEx?
John’s tax return was stolen from the mail. Barb had her personnel data compromised on her employer’s servers. Consider the amount of personal information that could now be in the wrong hands. Barb called me because her employer offered credit monitoring. Should she take it? John’s case is equally egregious. Although you may assume someone stealing mail would not be sophisticated enough to steal an identity, there is a vast marketplace of criminals willing to pay for just this information. What should John and Barb do? Vigilance is the best response. Consider this three-step process.
Immediately pull your credit reports. You are entitled to free reports annually.
You need to check all three reporting agencies; the information can be widely different. Lenders tend to report to only one or two of the agencies, so you will notice differences among the three. Make sure you can verify all the information. Confirm names listed as aliases; sometimes a different middle initial or Jr. vs. Sr. can cause inaccurate reporting. Verify past addresses. Pay close attention to recent activity. Dispute any erroneous information.
If you believe your tax records have been compromised, complete IRS Form 14039.
This will flag your tax file, so the IRS will monitor for suspicious activity. Criminals sometimes file false reports to try to claim refunds in your name.
Consider signing up for a credit monitoring program. In Barb’s case, her employer offered to pay for a service. The service her employer chose represented only one agency. I suggested that Barb contact her employer and ask if she can substitute a service that monitors all three credit-reporting bureaus. If her employer refuses, she’ll have to decide whether to pick up the cost herself or hope the single agency will be sufficient.
A directory of monitoring services can be found at myFico.com.
myFICO® is the consumer division of FICO®. Since its introduction 20 years ago, the FICO® Score has become a global standard for measuring credit risk in the banking, mortgage, credit card, auto and retail industries. Ninety of the top 100 largest U.S. financial institutions use the FICO® Score to make consumer credit decisions.
What to look for?
- All three agencies are represented
- Social Security Number monitoring
- Daily monitoring and periodic reporting
The most comprehensive services are Identity Guard and Privacy Guard, both of which cost around $14.99/month.
- Don’t click on or respond to unsolicited e-mails.
- Don’t give personal information over the phone if you did not originate the call.
- Before you vacation, visit https://holdmail.usps.com/holdmail/, or call or visit the post office to stop your mail. Contact your newspaper carrier to stop delivery, as well.
Remember the eighties TV series “Hill Street Blues” Let’s be careful out there.
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