Tag Archives: Identity theft

Affordable Care Act calls may be attempt to steal your identity

Prescription medicationsThe final details are being put together for the health insurance exchanges that will start next January. The applications have been released, and processing of them will begin in October. Already, the Better Business Bureau says scammers are trying to use the program to steal your personal information. 

The BBB says the callers are claiming to be from the federal government. Consumers are told they’ve been selected to be a part of the initial group of Americans who receive insurance cards through the Affordable Care Act. Before you can get the card, you need to provide your bank account information and social security number.

socialSharing personal information with an illegitimate source puts you at risk for identity theft. You should always initiate the call before providing such sensitive information. You should always question the legitimacy of any organization who calls you requesting that information. Instead of giving the information, ask for a call back number. Research the company and call it back.

If you did your research, you’d realize the application process doesn’t even start until October. 

Scammers are slick, and you need to be careful even with caller ID. There are ways to spoof a caller ID number to legitimize a fraudulent call. So, the thieves could prompt a government number to show up on your caller ID. That doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. 

Be careful who you tell what, as these ripoffs will only increase as we get closer to this new insurance program. 

Apple iPad 3 and Gmail scam warning

It’s been an exciting few weeks for Apple fans with the iPhone 5 hitting the market and expectations of an iPad Mini by months end. If you’re on the hunt for an Apple product, don’t fall for a free iPad 3 giveaway making the rounds through email. It could cost you money or your identity.


The Better Business Bureau warned about a bogus email that claims to be from a Google Gmail provider.  The email says random Gmail users have been selected to receive a free Apple iPad 3. To claim, you need to clink a link. The link takes you to a survey site that requests personal information.


The BBB said if you complete the survey, you are inviting the scammers to sign you up for SMS services which will lead to more fees on your cell phone bill. The worst case scenario is that your information is used for identity theft.


These scams may be tempting because so many businesses give away iPads in promotions. To win a prize, though, you need to enter. In this case, you didn’t enter anything which should be the red flag. Only do business with legitimate companies to minimize your risk.


Securing your identity in 3 easy steps

Shredding! How frustrating it can be. My shredder and I have a love hate relationship. If I put too much into it, it jams. If I don’t use it enough I’ll compromise my identity. This weekend, you can ditch your tiny at home shredder for the giant mobile shredder that will destroy boxes of documents in seconds.

NewsChannel 5 is teaming up with the Better Business Bureau to offer Secure Your ID Day at the Strongsville and Westlake Rad Air locations.

Shredding is my number one tip to protect your identity.

Check your credit report
Second, check your credit report. You can check it once a year for free at Annual Credit Report. It’s the only truly free site. Don’t fall for imposters. You’ll be asked for personal information like your social security number, previous addresses, and asked to verify information like the last place you banked. While it seems like an intrusion of privacy, you’re asked all this information to verify you are who you say you are.

While the site advertises that you can check your report once a year for free, you can really keep tabs on your credit year round. There are three credit reporting agencies available through Annual Credit Report. Check one every four months. That way you can keep tabs on your credit year round. Just make sure you access the report every four months through Annual Credit Report.

There are 10 other consumer reports that are also kept on you including your insurance and rental history. It’s also a good idea to check these once a year. Click here to learn how

Reduce junk mail
Third, opt out of pre-approved offers for credit and insurance. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT.  You can also opt out online by clicking here.  When you opt out online, the opt out will last for five years.   If you want to permanently opt out, you need to mail in a form that you can find online on the website above.   If you opt out, and want to opt back in so you can get competitive credit or insurance offers you can opt back in online.

You will have to give your social security number because your social is linked to your credit score.  Someone asked me a few weeks ago why the service can’t just use your address. While it seems like it would work, addresses change so often it would be hard to guarantee the opt out for several years, and it’s not your address but your social that definitively links you to the pre-approved credit offers.

You also need to reduce junk mail from direct marketing lists like catalogs, magazines, etc. by signing up for the DMA Choice Mail Preference Service. You can enroll online or by mail. The mail option will cost $1.

Then, sit back and wait. Within six to eight weeks, you should begin to notice less mail.   DMA can take ninety days to take effect.

After three months have passed, begin saving any junk mail that’s slipping through the cracks. If it really bothers you, call that company and request that your name be removed from their mailing list. In not time, you’ll have no junk mail.

Related links you may like:
Free identity theft protection services
Top identity theft services
“Google” to protect your good name

Free identity theft protection

Modern Social Security card.

Image via Wikipedia

Identity theft protection is becoming a big business, but you don’t have to pay money to protect your good name. There are free ways to get protection. 

Keeping tabs on your identity
The best way to keep tabs on your identity is to check your credit report year round. The government tells you to check it once a year for free at Annual Credit Report, but there’s a way to keep tabs on it year round. Click here for more on this feature, and yes it’s free and legit through Annual Credit Report.

There are lots of others ways to protect your name with simple steps. I’m not going to go into each one here, but click on the hyperlinks to learn more. You can do a lot by keeping tabs on your credit, reducing your junk mail, shredding, googling your name to make sure private information is not publicly posted, and browsing privately online.  You don’t necessarily need a company to do what you can do on your own.

Hiring a company
If you prefer a company doing the work for you, ask the companies you currently do business with if they offer the service. Banks, credit unions, and even insurance companies often offer their customers identity theft protection for a small cost or even free.

If you still want a third party to look after your name, there are free options appearing in the marketplace. TrustedID and AllClearID are two newer products that offer free protection.

TrustedID offers ID Safe. There’s not a free trial; it’s a free service. You get a free score updated monthly as well as monitoring of Facebook and known online black markets where thieves buy and sell personal information.
If your purse or wallet is lost or stolen, there’s also built in protection along with Identity Restoration Assistance that helps if your identity is compromised.

AllClear ID is another free service that provides internet surveillance, ID attack reporting, and identity repair. AllClear ID says it works with law enforcement to find personal information online.

The company also says it gets information from over 600 major US companies and government agencies about attacks. The companies report the attacks to a central clearinghouse. If your information is found, you’re alerted. You get a monthly status report on your identity. Finally, if your information is stolen, the company will work with you to repair it.

Both companies also offer premium services for a fee. Even with a free service, weigh the pros and cons of protecting your name yourself versus giving your sensitive information to another company.

Related links you may like:

Top identity theft services

Identity theft is a worry that never goes away. Even if you protect your good name, there are so many ways someone else can trash it. So, what’s the best way to protect your name? Javelin Strategy & Research released a review of 24 ID protection services, and found significant variations in the service provided.

The advertising for these companies will lead you to believe they’ll do everything to protect you, but some companies have gotten in trouble with the feds for their advertising campaign. It might pay to look beyond the hype, because the survey found victims who found the fraud with a credit monitoring or other ID service usually lost less money.

“Promote value, not hype,” James Van Dyke, President and Founder of Javelin advises. “Don’t aggressively market to consumers and don’t lure them with promises of free credit reports that aren’t really free or Internet scanning, which varies according to the quality of the database used. Our report helps vendors attract and retain more customers, by highlighting specific strengths or weaknesses.”

The Javelin report surveyed more than 25,000 consumers, and named the following winners:

  • Best Overall: Identity Guard Total Protection (Intersections)
  • Best in Prevention: LifeLock Credit Score Manager; LifeLock Command Center
  • Best in Detection: IDEssentials (TrustedID); Identity Secure (Affinion)
  • Best in Resolution: Identity Force (Bearak Reports); Royal (EZShield); AllClear ID Pro (Debix)

Consumer Reports points out a good caveat — this typically involves new account fraud meaning someone opens a new account in your name rather than measuring the fraud on existing accounts.

Before you provide a company your sensitive information, make sure you research the company and read the privacy policy. Make sure you can truly trust the company, as you’re giving yet another company your personal information.

There’s another way to protect your identity for half the cost or even free. Some of the companies named in Javelin’s study, also offer a FREE option or you may be able to avoid a third party altogether. Check in for those money-saving tips tomorrow.

Related links you may like:

Grave mistakes: living Americans declared dead in government database

An old Social Security card with the "NOT...

Image via Wikipedia

Our social security number has become a lifeline. If someone steals it, your credit can be ruined rather quickly. So, you might be surprised to know the Social Security Administration is posted social security numbers of living Americans online.

When you die, your social security number and other personal information are put online in what’s called the Death Master File. The government made this public after a lawsuit. Businesses interests said it would prevent fraud, but it can cause fraud when a living American’s social security number is posted.

The government doesn’t deny they’re inadvertently posting living Americans socials in their database. This grave mistake is most often caused by a data entry error. Our partners at the Scripps Howard News Service found 31,931 Americans who were declared “dead” and later found to be “alive.”  All those people were at risk for identity theft when their number was posted online until the mistake was caught.

The Social Security Administration added a disclaimer to the DMF saying it can’t confirm the information is completely accurate. However, an Inspector General report found the government is going against it’s own policy when posting confidential information that they know could be wrong.

I called many of these victims in Northeast Ohio for NewsChannel 5. Many report that when they tried to report a spouse as deceased, they were mistakenly killed and their social security number was placed online for anyone to steal.

I also found the consumer sometimes makes the mistake. I found a woman who mistakenly killed herself when she clicked on the wrong box while preparing a tax return. It took her two years to fix it.

To see if you are a victim, check your credit report regularly.  You can get one once a year for free at Annual Credit Report, but there’s a trick to keep tabs on it all year long. There are three credit reporting agencies. Check one every four months. For example, check Experian in January, check Equifax in May, and check Experian in September. You can access all three through Annual Credit Report.

You can also check the Death Master file to make sure your information is not listed. It’s sold to businesses by the Social Security Administration, but the genealogy site Ancestry.com makes a version available to the public.

Tell me what you think of this. Click comment.


FCC cracks down on spoofing: faking caller ID

Caller ID is a great service that allows you to talk when you want and let voicemail go to work when you don’t have time to talk. It makes you wonder how we lived without it.

Next time you see someone calling on caller ID, don’t assume it’s who the ID says it is. There is a technology called spoofing that allows you to manipulate caller ID and make it look like someone else is calling.  The problem is it’s being used for illegitimate reasons. That’s why the Truth in Caller ID Act was passed last year to prohibit ID spoofing that’s harmful or has fraudulent intent.

Spoofing is used to trick you into falling for a scheme whether it’s identity theft or something else. The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules that allow signficant fines for spoofing. The FCC can fine someone $10,000 per violation and up to $1 million for an ongoing violation.

You can still spoof a number without breaking the law, but only if it’s not harmful or for fraudulent purposes. There’s not an all out ban because domestic violence shelters or doctors may want to spoof their real number to maintain their privacy.

If you catch someone using spoofing for illegitimate reasons, report it to the FCC.

Related links you may like:
Free long distance phone calls
Cramming and slamming

Citigroup says security breach impacts 360,000+ customers

Citigroup Centre, Sydney

Image via Wikipedia

Citigroup says 360,083 U.S. Citi-branded credit cards were compromised in the recent security breach. The breach happened May 10th and impacted about 1% of North American cardholders. In Ohio, 5,547 customers were impacted.

The company posted an open letter to its customers on its website. It reads as follows:

“To Our Customers: You may have recently read in the media about a compromise to Citi Account Online impacting credit card accounts in North America. We wanted to share more specifics with you regarding the event. First, we want to confirm three things: 1. From the moment Citi discovered the breach we took immediate action to rectify the situation and protect any customers potentially at risk. 2. Customers are not liable for any fraud on the account and are 100% protected. 3. Every decision made throughout this process was in the best interest of our customers.”

Citi says its Citi Cards’ Account Online system was effected, but the main card processing system was not. Citi says it knew within seven days the majority of accounts that were impacted.

Citi says account names, numbers, contact information, and email addresses were viewed. The credit card company says social security numbers were not accessed which is a key factor in stealing someone’s identity. Citi says the card’s expiration date, customer’s birth date, and card security code (CVV) were also not compromised.

Related links you may like:
Checking your credit report
10 consumer reports you should check
What to do if you’re an identity theft victim

Tighter government restrictions for social security numbers?

Modern Social Security card.

Image via Wikipedia

The Federal Trade Commission wants Congress to do something to make social security numbers harder for identity thieves to obtain.  The FTC gets 15,000-20,000 consumer calls each week about ID theft.  Once you’re a victim, it’s hard to recover.

The FTC outlined four legislative topics to a House subcommittee:
1. PROVE YOU ARE WHO YOU SAY YOU ARE: The FTC thinks Congress should establish national consumer authentication standards for verification of a social security number.  With this approach, you would need more than just your social to open an account or access an existing one. It’s an extra layer of protection to verify you are who you say you are.

Consumer authentication is already alive and thriving when you request a consumer report.  If you’ve read, 10 consumer reports every consumer should get, you’ll notice that you need your driver’s license, utility bill, etc. to get the report with your information. Some consumers complain about this, but it’s a way for the company to verify who you say you are.

When you request your annual credit report, you have to answer multiple choice questions about previous addresses, bank accounts, etc. It’s all a way to make sure the information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

2.  NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR PUBLIC DISPLAY OF SOCIALS: The FTC wants Congress to create national standards to reduce the number of socials we publicly see on documents and ID cards.  They also think the data should be transmitted differently.

3.  NATIONAL DATA-SECURITY STANDARDS: The FTC wants national data-security standards that would set minimum standards for organizations that hold sensitive consumer information like socials.

4.  ALERT PUBLIC TO SECURITY BREACHES: The FTC wants it to be a requirement that companies notify consumers when their data is breached. Many currently do this, but something needs to be done to hold companies more accountable because we’ve had far too many breaches

It’s a good first step, and I hope some of the government’s own departments are listening because they are part of the problem by using socials as the identification of individuals.  Medicare recipients are extremely vulnerable as their social is right on their ID card. Up until now, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have said it’s too expensive to replace the cards without social security numbers on them.  Let’s see if the FTC can nudge the agency now that it made it’s point to a Congressional subcommittee.

Related links you may like:
Social security numbers on government documents
10 consumer reports you should check
Checking your annual credit report

Social security numbers on government documents

An old Social Security card with the "NOT...

Image via Wikipedia

We hold our social security number sacred so it won’t land in the hands of an identity thief.  I always tell people not to give their social to people or organizations that don’t really need it like your doctor unless you have no choice and have Medicare. Then, your social is your ID number.

Your social is also your ID with some insurance companies including the company I have for dental.  It infuriates me when I call the 800 number and have to give a call center representative my ID which is essentially telling a stranger my social security number.

Most public companies are changing their policy, and very few still use your social. Unfortunately, I have one of the few remaining insurance plans that uses socials.  I have no choice but to use them because it’s a group policy, but I hope they’ll change their policy soon. Even the government is changing. At least some branches of it.

The Department of Defense is removing social security numbers from IDs in a phased approach.  It started in 2008 and will last until 2012.  The latest phase starts this June, and removes printed social security numbers from common access cards. Plus, all new ID cards will not have a social security number on them as of June.

While this may not affect you, it’s a great step forward, and there’s still something for you to fight for because your tax documents come with your full social. I understand there’s probably not much that can be done about this, because your social is the direct link to your taxes. I’d at least like to see companies stop sending year-end tax documents in envelopes that say “Sensitive Tax Information.” That’s basically telling an identity thief that the documents inside are all they need to wreak havoc on a person’s life. I got a tax document half opened this year, leaving me to wonder if someone has my information.

For several years, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported on the dangers of the government’s use of socials.  In 2004, GAO estimated there were 42 million Medicare cards, 8 million Department of Defense (DoD) cards, 7 million Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) cards, and 830,000 federal employees with health insurance cards with full socials on them.  The federal agency managing the health insurance cards, DoD, and VA are all taking action, but the agency with the most cards is doing nothing citing cost concerns. So, Medicare card holders use caution.

While most local municipalities that put records online have taken steps to safeguard socials on sensitive documents, an investigation of mine in May of 2010 found documents with personal and private information are slipping through the cracks.

In Jackson County, Missouri, you have to personally request your personal information is removed.  However, I found socials for well-known politicians including a Congressman, Mayors, and State Representative. None of these key public officials knew about the redaction form they had to request. Did you?