Monday, April 2, 2018

Who Are You? An Identity Theft Guide by Jan Nirri

Who Are You?
By Jan Nirri

Over 500 million identities have already been stolen. This has become the most pervasive crime of our day. Nearly half of the US population has already had an identity theft issue to some degree.

I’ve heard people say, “I don’t have much, so they won’t get much!”, but it goes much deeper than that. People tend to think identity theft is all about getting money, but there are many privileges a person can enjoy on your behalf besides taking your money and going on a vacation!

Now, before I go any further, I don’t agree with motivating people with scare tactics to get a desired response, but I have to say, if the house is on fire, I’m going to be screaming, “FIRE!!”, at the top of my lungs!! I’m a firm believer in taking stock of the facts and using them to make wise decision going forward. In that spirit, let’s look at the reality of what can happen with your identity if it falls into the wrong hands.

Let’s first consider your driver’s license number. It’s connected to the motor vehicle department, your vehicle registration, and voting, no biggie, right? But think about this, criminals who have your driver’s license number are able to create fake ID’s with their picture and information but with your license number. A driver’s license is often required as proof of identity for many things from employment to loans to vehicle purchases, voting, and many other things. Imagine being stopped for a minor traffic citation only to be arrested and detained because there was an outstanding warrant for your arrest. And you learn the perpetrator got a DUI, didn’t show up for the court date which you, of course, knew nothing about but were now being arrested for. One lady was arrested 6 times by different law enforcement entities because they couldn’t get the records straightened out. Each time, she had to go through the process again to try to convince them it wasn’t her because no effort or level of documentation, even affidavits from her employer stating she was at work when the crime was reportedly committed, would convince them she was not the person who committed the crime. Think about how much distress this created for this single mother, who worked three jobs, and who had to try to fix this mess, 6 times no less, by herself.

There have been cases where a person used a stolen identity to take a job. Can you imagine trying to convince the IRS that you never worked at company XYZ and earned that income!

A mother (we’ll call her Jane) of four children was detained and questioned and her children were in danger of being taken into child protective services because a woman, using Jane’s stolen identity, checked into a hospital, gave birth and then skipped out. The baby tested positive for drugs, so law enforcement was tracking down it’s mother and instead found Jane. Jane offered to have a physical done to prove she had not given birth recently, but the officials would not believe her and would not agree to giving her a physical exam. Jane’s insurance was hit for the birthing expenses so on top of the hospital, Social Services, and law enforcement, Jane had to deal with her insurance company. Of course, this put Jane, her husband, and her children through a lot of distress and took months to resolve.

You can see how something like your driver’s license which, honestly, until recently, I didn’t really think much of as far as identity theft, can turn into a huge, hairy, green eyeball of a problem, with no easy answers.

So, what can you do? I’d like to spend the rest of the article on solutions and how to evaluate many of the identity theft plans out there to know which ones are best.

Freezes or Locks

Many companies offer “Freezes” or “Locks” on your credit report.  A Freeze is where you request the credit bureau to freeze all activity. Nothing can get approved. No credit card charges, no employment credit checks, no new accounts opened, nothing. A freeze on your credit through the credit bureau is governed by laws that protect you.

A ‘Lock” on your account is governed by the company you signed up with for the credit monitoring service. The lock is often not all inclusive, meaning that certain situations like a credit check from an employer may still be allowed, and as we’ve already seen, that’s not necessarily secure. These credit monitoring companies may also include language making them not liable if the lock does not perform as advertised. Be sure to read the contract.

Companies may advertise freezes or locks as a free service, but be aware, nothing is ever FREE! They may offer a free “Lock” but charge for freezes or vice versa, or offer the lock or freeze for free in exchange for allowing your information to be sent to advertisers… uh, still not secure!

Consumer Reports agrees that a freeze is better in general than a lock simply because it is governed by laws and not by what some company decides to put in their contract to protect themselves from liability in case their service doesn’t work.

What to Look for in Identity Theft Protection

-Make sure the company you go with will provide information regarding questions you may have about best practices, current trends, consumer privacy, shopping online, about your credit report, common scams, and so forth. And even provide support in the event you lose your wallet.
-The company should be able to consult with you and provide information about the various methods of identity theft including medical, deceased, and minor identity theft.
-Be sure you understand who the investigating authority is behind the company or how they are backing the protection services they are offering you.
-Many companies are touting that they are monitoring Black Market sites. Be sure that includes global black-market sites, IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channels, chat rooms, Peer to peer sharing networks, and social feeds for your Personally Identifiable Information (PII) which would look for matches on things like your name, birth date, SSN, email addresses, phone numbers, driver’s license number, passport number, or medical ID numbers.
-Social Media monitoring to include privacy and reputational risks
-Monitoring for address changes
-Monitoring for Credit card, bank account, store care account information activity and changes
-Monitoring court records for any criminal activity with your information on it across county, state, and federal data sources.
-Credit monitoring & inquiry alerts
-Payday loan monitoring
-Minor identity protection
-Make sure public records are monitored in all 50 states to include real estate data, new mover information, property and recorder of deed registration, county assessor/record data, internet job site providers, state occupational license data providers, voter information, public records/court proceedings, bankruptcies, liens, and judgments.

What to Look for in Identity Restoration

-Make sure first of all, that YOU won’t be the one doing the restoration!
-Make sure the company you go with is backed with licensed and experienced investigators who can deal with the issues in multiple countries.
-Be aware that you will need to authorize these investigators to be able to act on your behalf. They may request documentation from you in order to proceed.
-Be sure they will handle all the research into the depth your identity has been compromised and will handle dealing with those agencies where your records have been corrupted such as the DMV, collection agencies, local and federal law enforcement, FTC, State Attorney General’s office, Federal -Reserve Bank, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Association of Collection Professionals International, and others as deemed necessary by your case.
-As with any plan there are exclusions which may include things like: if you refuse to provide information required for the investigation to proceed or are unwilling to prosecute the perpetrator, if you knowingly participated in the deception of your identity, if you knew about the identity breach before enrolling in the program
-Financial losses as a result of the identity breach
-Be sure you understand what will be done on your behalf, what the exclusions are, and what the guarantee is. The best guarantee I’ve seen promised to completely restore your identity, no matter what it takes or how long it takes.

How much should it cost?

In general, 2018 pricing for ID Theft Protection plans range from $17-$27/month. A word of caution though: Be careful with online reviews. A top ten review of 2018 companies does not even include the company I consider to top them all. Their review of the ten companies states:

All the services we reviewed offer a $1 million recovery insurance policy. This covers any out-of-pocket costs you may incur as you work to recover from the theft of your identity.” 

“Most basic ID theft services will provide you with contact information and written instructions for dealing with identity theft.”

This kind of plan is like having a heart attack and having the doctor give you a list of instructions on how to give yourself CPR and open-heart surgery.

The key here is catching the data breach immediately. It is like a fire that starts with a spark. The longer it takes to find the smoke the more likely it will become a fire and left unattended it can burn the house down. The more pieces of your information data that are monitored and the more places that data is monitored exponentially increases the likelihood that your data breach will be caught before it has a chance to do much damage. Early detection followed by swift and thorough freezes and complete restoration are the best way to handle your identity in the event it is compromised.

So, just remember, catching the breach early is powerful, but the real strength of the plan is having the backing of an international team of investigators to deal with the issues of getting your identity restored. At the writing of this article, I have only found one plan that meets all the criteria mentioned. If you’d like to know more about plans and pricing specific to your state, please contact me or visit my Website.

Jan Nirri
(803) 767-2755

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