There’s no shortage of slime balls in this world and there are no lengths they won’t go to in order to screw you over. Here’s one story to illustrate. One little old lady came into the bank a few months back and asked for a sizeable withdrawal. Her grandson had called and was in jail and needed money for bail. She was very agitated and upset about the whole situation. One of my colleagues, having seen scams like this before, urged the lady to try calling her grandson’s cell phone to make sure it’s really him. But she was so overcome by the thought of her sweet grandson spending time in jail that she wouldn’t listen. After she left, another colleague who had worked with her for years called and begged her to call her grandson. She did, but he didn’t answer. In fact, she couldn’t reach anyone in his family, which made her even more anxious. After an hour of trying, she finally got a hold of her grandson. He had been working and didn’t have his cell phone on him. It was a scam.
I don’t know if scumbag is a strong enough term to describe people like that, but it happens all the time. To elderly people, to young families, to people already in poverty, to people like you. It’s funny, though. We never think it’s going to happen to us…until it does. And it sucks. Someone steals your identity and racks up credit card debt in your name, or even buys a house and lets it go into foreclosure. Or someone steals your bank account info and writes checks of your account. Or someone steals your credit card info and goes to town. There are so many other ways people can screw you over, and sometimes it’s not a quick fix. Sometimes it takes years to get the collection agencies to stop calling and to get your credit score back up. Getting a loan for a car or house becomes difficult; you’re constantly harassed by creditors who want their money and don’t care that it wasn’t you who did it; you can even have a hard time finding a job.
Scared? Good. You should be. I know people it’s happened to, so there’s no reason for me to believe that it won’t happen to me or you. Here are some things that you can do to keep it from happening to you.
Check your statements
Not everything is foolproof, so the best way to stop fraud dead in its tracks before it gets out of hand is to check your statements regularly. I check mine almost daily, but it takes a special kind of weirdo to be that fanatical about it, so it doesn’t need to be that often. But you should check your statements at least once a week. If you see something that seems off, you can get it corrected before it gets out of hand. I used to work customer service for a global company and one day a lady called complaining about charges she didn’t recognize from us. After some research, I found that she gave a friend her credit card number to pay for his first order with the company, but didn’t take it off the account, so every one of his orders for the next 4 years came off her card, over $15,000 worth. And the most insane part about it? She didn’t have a clue what was happening until 4 years later. She never checked her statements, and after 4 years she had no legal right to get the money back from him because she gave him permission to use it in the first place and never formally revoked it. They probably aren’t friends anymore 🙂
Sign up for an identity theft program
For just $3/month, my bank offers family ID theft protection. It includes a monthly report to show your credit activity, constant monitoring of databases like credit, Social Security, public records, etc. to keep you aware of what’s going on, access to someone to work with you specifically in case of ID theft, quarterly credit report and score access, and a $10,000 fraud expense reimbursement coverage to help with the expenses associated with restoring your identity (legal fees, lost wages, etc.) Pretty slick if you ask me.
LifeLock, the industry leader, offers up to $1 million in total service in case of ID theft for only $10/month. And if you want all the monitoring and monthly access to your credit score, it’s $25/month. I don’t have a lot to steal, so for us, the $3/month program is probably sufficient. But for you rich people, LifeLock is a pretty good insurance in case something happens to you. And the most important thing is that it gives you peace of mind.
Check your credit report and score as often as you are allowed
With some of the ID theft programs, you can check your credit report fairly often, but in the past I’ve used AnnualCreditReport.com because it’s free! You can get your credit report once a year through them and they get you a report from the three top credit reporting companies: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. You can then either view it on the site or save it as a PDF. It shows every one of your credit accounts such as loans and credit cards so you can see if there’s anything fishy on there. They also tell you who has made inquiries on your credit, for example Comcast made an inquiry on mine when we set up our cable in our old apartment. It has a history of all your accounts, open or closed and if there are any collections outstanding on any of them. It also shows if there is any potential negative information on your report.
For my credit score, I get a monthly update from Credit Sesame. The score isn’t always 100% accurate (my score is about 10 points more than what they quote it at), because they don’t get unfettered access to your credit report, but it’s a good ballpark figure and if you see it drop dramatically, you know there’s something wrong. Credit Karma is another free one I used to use, but I got annoyed with the constant promotion emails.
Lock your WiFi
Most routers come with a key code you have to enter in to get access to the wifi, so this shouldn’t be too hard, but also hide the key so not just anyone can get access to it. Hackers who have access to your wifi can get control of your computer and see when you enter information in to sites like Amazon and eBay. Make sure your computer is protected too. Antivirus software and a solid firewall do a good job at keeping people from hacking your computer, but having an internet filter can also keep you from accessing shady sites that add unwanted software that slow down your computer and can see what info you’re entering. I have a free internet filter through K9 Web Protection and it’s done a good enough job for me that I haven’t needed antivirus software. But then again, my internet surfing is pretty bland so I don’t go to any sites or click on advertisements anyway. So I don’t think that’s going to work for everyone, but it suits me just fine.
Have you ever been a victim of identity theft or fraud? Or has it happened to someone you know? What was the experience like?