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Friday, August 16, 2019

Thwarting Cyber Thieves

By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy flickr
What’s in a name?  To Shakespeare it was the start of a line Romeo used to woo the fair Juliet more than 400 years ago.  In more modern times, the value of a name can be vast, particularly if an identity thief manages to pilfer yours.  According to Forbes Magazine, the cost of identity theft during the past six years is more than $107 billion in the US alone.  What’s even worse than the dollars and cents cost of this crime is the effect it can have on your family, your friends and your job.  That’s because once stolen, an identity thief can use your good name to open fraudulent bank accounts, acquire credit cards, duplicate your social sites and even file for tax refunds with the IRS.  In short, once a thief gets hold of your personal information, they can make your life a living hell that could take you months to bounce back from.  If you don’t want to see your good name tarnished, there are some steps you need to take to protect your identity.

1.      How likely are you to be a target of identity theft? – When it comes to becoming a victim of identity theft, you need to realize that nobody is safe.  Heck, the huge credit collecting organizations themselves have been hacked in the past and will be targeted again.  Even if you do everything in your power to protect yourself from getting victimized, there’s no way to stop cyber-criminals from glomming your personal and financial data from other companies.  That’s right, every time you sign up for a loan or a social site, you leave electronic footprints that can be used to piece together your vital statistics.  The trick is to leave as few footprints as possible.  That means remaining vigilant while being willing to walk away if someone asks you too many questions.  Do you really need to provide your social security number to your doctor or dentist?  How many credit cards and social sites do you really need? 

Image courtesy PxHere
2.      Have you ignored the warning signs? – While cyber thieves work in the dark, the results of their nefarious efforts seldom go unnoticed.  By that I mean, if a cyber thief applies for a credit card in your name, there will be a record of it on your credit report.  Or, perhaps you recently received a credit card or bank statement that showed transactions you don’t remember making.  These are sure signs that your data has been breached.  Another is if you realize you haven’t received your monthly utility or cellphone bill.  One of the first steps an identity thief will do before applying for new credit cards is to submit a change of address form.  If you fail to pick up on the clues, it won’t be long before creditors start harassing you for late payments on cards you never knew you had or the IRS denies your tax return because someone else beat you to it.

3.      How risky is your behavior? -  What surprises most victims of cyber theft is that they never realized until after the fact that their online behavior made the thieves job easy.  That’s because most people divulge way too much about their lives online nowadays.  Social nets are a feeding ground for cyber thieves.  Once armed with the information many people post openly, it doesn’t take much for a hacker to crack passwords or call service providers to trick them into thinking that they are you.  Another online habit most people need to break is surfing suspicious websites or clicking on questionable links.  Even if you think an email or text has come from a relative, a trusted friend or a familiar service provider, never, EVER click on a link.  Better to call the sender to find out if they really communicated with you.  I once almost fell for a phishing link I thought was from GoDaddy only to learn after I called customer support that the url actually read Godadddy,com.  Lesson learned.

Image courtesy wikimedia
4.      You don’t have to be a tree hugger to save some trees. – The key to protecting your data is to eliminate as many hardcopies as possible, while securing the one’s you need most.  This means investing in a safe, a lock box or safe deposit box to protect your social security card, passport and other vital documents.  It also means going paperless wherever possible, as well as buying a shredder to eliminate any documents or copies of documents that include personal and/or financial data.  When you realize a shredder only costs around $20, this is a small investment to secure your financial future.

5.      It takes money to make money. – It also takes money to protect your money.  That’s why most of us put our money in a bank instead of hiding it under the mattress.  For around $10 a month, you can invest in a service like LifeLock or Identity Works to secure of your financial data.  Since most people don’t scrutinize their credit report each and every month, these services will do it for you.  Plus, they’ll notify you if any new credit cards or loans are taken out in your name, or someone uses your credit card to make any unusual purchases.  It’s a small price to pay for financial peace of mind.

6.      What to do if you suspect your credit has been compromised? – If you suspect your financial information has been compromised or your identity stolen, you should immediately report the suspected breach to the credit bureaus.  They can set up a fraud alert at your request or even freeze your credit at all 3 credit agencies.  This way you will make it all but impossible for anyone to obtain new credit in your name.  Just bear in mind that once you activate a credit freeze, you won’t be able to obtain new credit as long as the freeze remains in effect. 

7.      Did you know your kid’s identity can also be stolen? – While having your identity stolen can be bad, having your child’s identity stolen can be worse.  That’s because all too often when a child’s identity is compromised it may go unnoticed for years.  This could later in life affect your child’s ability to buy a car, rent an apartment, acquire a credit card or receive a student loan.  If you suddenly start receiving credit card offers in your child’s name, this is a warning sign that someone may have stolen your child’s identity.  If you ignore this sign, you could soon be besieged with calls from collection agencies or even the IRS looking for you to pay up.  If you have even an inkling that your child’s identity may have been stolen, your first course of action should be to run a credit check using their social security number.  If there’s a report, you need to contact all three credit bureaus to explain to them the situation and tell them to place a freeze on their credit accounts.  Then you need to report the theft to the police right away.  While this is one way to close the barn door after the horse has left the stable, a more proactive approach is to add your child to any identity theft protection program you subscribe to.  Paying a few dollars a month now is better than spending thousands later.

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at


  1. Ignore the threat of cyber theft at your own peril. This menace is spreading like a wildfire, but most people are asleep at the switch.

  2. Cybercrime has increase every year over the last ten years. Taking every precaution you can could prevent a financial catastrophe from entering your life.


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