Consumer Protection | Business Protection

Back to School ID Theft Tips

August 20th, 2015

Jackie here. Before you know it, school will be back in session (for some of you, it has already happened). Let’s do a quick refresher on ID theft protection for back to school. These tips are perfect for any student, regardless of age.

Limit Use of SSNs

If your school, preschool, or daycare is asking for a SSN, ask why. Often, the number isn’t necessary and another identifier can be used. If it turns out to be necessary, ask how it will be protected. Another option is to simply skip the number when filling out the forms; you may not be asked for it later.

Give the Information Directly to the Source

When filling out forms with sensitive information, do your best to get them directly to their final destination. This can help to limit the number of eyes that see this personal information. Don’t clip your child’s form to a clipboard and pass it along, see the teacher or coach at a later time and turn it in directly.

Teach Your Child About ID Theft

Does your child know the basics of protecting against ID theft? While the information your child needs will vary depending on their age, even youngsters can benefit from a few basics. Send your child off to school prepared with these tips:

Shred- Every college student should have access to a shredder. Send one with your student when they head off to the dorms.

Lock Up Sensitive Paperwork- Your college student may need sensitive paperwork like their Social Security card or birth certificate with them at school (jobs, financial aid, etc.), but they do need to protect them. A small locking safe is a great investment.

Review Bank Statements- Teach your child to check bank statements and how to report fraud should it occur. They should also check their credit report often.

Be Careful When Signing Up for Cards- College students are often faced with their first credit card applications. Before they leave, help them opt-out of prescreened offers. Teach them the importance of using and choosing credit carefully.

Lock Your Phone and Computer- Phones and computers should always have a password

Advocate for Your Child

Child ID theft is a problem, so educate yourself and keep your child safe. This fact sheet from the Identity Theft Resource Center has some valuable tips every parent needs to know.

Help keep your kids safe this school year by talking to them about ID theft.

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Lesser-Known Ways to Steal an Identity

June 17th, 2015

Jackie here. We talk a lot about checking your credit report and bank statements for signs of ID theft, but making fraudulent charges on your accounts isn’t the only way thieves can use your identity. Thieves also love using not-so-well-known methods for theft as they can often avoid detection for much longer. Which of these types of identity fraud were you aware of?

Health Insurance

Medical care can be expensive, making health insurance a gold mine for thieves. Thieves can steal your insurance information and pretend to be you at the doctor or pharmacy. This isn’t just a financial nightmare; it can also lead to serious medical problems including cancelled insurance and conflicting medical records (which can lead to treatment difficulties).

Medical ID theft is surprisingly common. It is estimated that at least 2.3 million American adults have fallen victim to medical ID theft and the number continues to grow. Resolution is difficult too. Only 10% of respondents in a Ponemon survey had satisfactorily resolved their problem.

Criminal Record

Some thieves commit criminal ID theft by giving another person’s name, driver’s license number, or SSN during a criminal investigation. This can lead to arrest warrants in your name for crimes you didn’t commit. Although this type of ID theft is concerning, it is luckily rather uncommon. Here are some tips if you do find yourself in trouble.

Social Media Accounts

Your social media accounts are vulnerable to hacking. Thieves can gain control of your accounts and use them to solicit money from friends and to spread malware and other harmful links. Hacking your actual accounts isn’t the only way thieves take advantage of your identity on social media; some thieves create secondary accounts using your name and your pictures to trick friends into “friending” you so the scammers can attempt to take advantage of them.

Tax Refund

Tax ID theft topped the list of FTC consumer complaints in 2014, with the problem only expected to continue growing. Tax ID theft occurs when thieves file taxes in your name and take your refund. One of the best ways to fight this problem is to be sure you file early.

Your Computer

Are identity thieves lurking in your computer? Thieves use malware, ransomware, and other types of malicious software to take over your computer. Thieves can track your typing to obtain your login credentials, lock up your computer until you pay a fee, and redirect you to their websites when you browse the web. Antivirus software is essential, as is keeping up on your updates. Here are some more tips for keeping your computer ID theft free.

Other Methods

While the methods listed above are some of the larger problems when it comes to lesser known types of ID theft, they aren’t the only things to watch out for. Thieves may also take advantage of your frequent flier miles, hotel points, gift cards, chat programs, etc. If it’s valuable, odds are thieves have found a way to take advantage.

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What Does a Scam Sound Like?

May 29th, 2015

Jackie here. How do you know when a scam comes calling? The Better Business Bureau has shared a recording of a real scammer calling a consumer. Head on over to their website and take a listen. While not every scam sounds the same, many of the call-in scams will sound similar. Knowing what to look for can help you stay protected from ID theft.

What Should You Do?

If you get a call like this one, what should you do? Here are some simple tips for dealing with scammers on the phone.

Hang Up- If it sounds like a scam, it probably is. Hang up the phone. You don’t need to be nice; just hang up. If you’re worried about missing crucial information from a company you do business with, call them back using a known phone number. Scammers often use popular companies to trick you into sharing information. Just because they say they are calling from Microsoft or your bank, doesn’t mean they actually are. Don’t engage with scammers like the caller in the BBB clip.

Report the Call- After a call, report it. Any information you have may help law enforcement to shut down the scam. The FTC Complaint Assistant is an easy way to report scam phone calls. It just takes a couple of minutes and can be done entirely online.

Most Importantly…Don’t Share Any Personal Information- Don’t give the scammers any information they don’t already have. Don’t share any personal information including your name, address, Social Security number, bank information, account numbers, etc. Some scammers tell you they need your information to verify your identity. If you didn’t make the call yourself, don’t verify anything.

Have you ever received a scam phone call? Let us know what happened and how you knew it was a scam.

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4 Key Pieces to Your Identity

May 18th, 2015

Jackie here. These days, it may seem like almost any bit of personal information about you can be used by fraudsters to commit ID theft. While methods are evolving, there are some standard pieces of information that make it much easier to pose as another person. Let’s take a look at what information thieves need to capitalize on your identity.

Your Name

You use it all the time. It’s on your name tag at work, proudly displayed across your social accounts, and something you share with the doctors, repair people, and even strangers at the grocery store. Your name is a big key to your identity. That doesn’t mean you should start keeping it a secret, though. Your name might be one key to your identity, but typically it must be paired with other information for ID theft to occur. What’s more, in some instances, ID thieves don’t use your real name at all, but instead pair other pieces of your identifying information with a different name.

Your Social Security Number

Who have you shared your SSN with lately? You might not openly tell this number to friends and family, but odds are you’ve given it to doctors, utility companies, and others more times than you realize over the years.

Your Address

Your address isn’t typically a secret (friends, family, and neighbors all know it), but it is an important part of your identity. With a name and an address, thieves can often access accounts, sometimes even sensitive ones. Your address can also be used to redirect mail, giving identity thieves a treasure trove of personal information. While you can’t keep your address a complete secret, you can take steps to better protect it. Don’t share it openly on sites like Facebook or Twitter. LexisNexis found that a surprising 20% of consumers admit to sharing their addresses on social media.

Your Date of Birth

If your PIN for your bank account is the year of your birth, change it immediately. Every combination of 19XX make up the top 20% of most common PIN numbers. Your birthdate can also be the final piece of identifying information to unlock various accounts.

These four keys to your identity are things we share daily. In fact, the only thing on this list that you don’t share often is your SSN. Do your best to protect your information, but know that it is out there. Watch closely for the signs of ID theft so you can catch it quickly if it does occur.

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5 Free Tools to Protect Your Identity

May 5th, 2015

Jackie here. Protecting your identity doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Here are some free tools you can use to help keep your identity safe.

Free Yearly Credit Report

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you’re entitled to a copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus once a year. You can take all three at once, or spread them out over the year. Get your free credit reports from – this is the only website where you can pull your credit report for free under the FCRA. Your free reports won’t list a numerical credit score, but if you want to get an idea where you’re at, try the free FICO score estimator. Just answer a few questions using your credit reports and you’ll get a range that your score will likely fall into.

Fraud Alert

Are you at an increased risk for ID theft? A fraud alert makes it harder for identity thieves to open accounts in your name by requiring businesses to contact you before issuing credit. You can place one on your file by contacting one of the three credit bureaus (they will then contact the other two). This tool can protect you for 90 days and is especially useful if you’ve found unauthorized accounts on your credit. Keep in mind that putting a fraud alert on your account can also lengthen the process for you to open legitimate lines of credit, as businesses will need to contact you before issuing credit as well.
File for a fraud alert here. Remember, you only have to file with one of the three credit bureaus to get protection from all three:




Anti-Virus Software

Anti-virus software is a great first line defense against malware. You don’t have to spend a bundle to protect your computer from viruses and malware threats. Most free options have scaled back features when compared to the paid versions from the same company, but are good options to test out the service and for those on a budget. Here are some free anti-virus options:




Anti-Malware Software

For extra protection from malware (a big ID theft threat), try anti-malware software. Malwarebytes has a free version available.

Opt Out for Pre-Approved Credit

Those pre-approved credit card offers are a gold mine for identity thieves. Make sure you aren’t making it easy for someone to obtain credit in your name. Opt out of pre-approved credit offers by visiting

Which of these free identity protecting tools have you tried?

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Spring Clean Your Identity

April 4th, 2015

Jackie here. Have you been neglecting your identity? In the daily hustle and bustle it is easy to let some important identity protecting tasks fall through the cracks. Just like you spring clean your house to get caught up once a year, take some time to spring clean your identity. Catch up on those tasks you’ve been forgetting and keep your identity a little safer. Here are some ideas:

Check Your Credit (and Clean it Up)- Have you ordered your free credit reports this year? Once a year you’re entitled to a free report from each of the credit bureaus. Get your reports by visiting If you notice any errors, correct them right away. If you see signs of ID theft, take action before the problem gets worse.

Opt Out- Are you getting unwanted credit card offers in the mail? Is your number on the Do Not Call Registry? Take a few minutes and opt-out to protect both your privacy and your identity. Here are a few opt-out options to consider:

Prescreened Credit Offers

Do Not Call Registry

Top Opt Outs from the World Privacy Forum- a great list of 10 opt-outs you should consider.

Shred- Unwanted paperwork can pile up. Take some time and get to shredding. Shred any paperwork with sensitive information that you no longer need, including old bills, medical statements and records, expired credit cards, bank statements, tax records, etc. Use a crosscut shredder to ensure your documents are really destroyed.

Change Your Passwords- Even if you’ve chosen strong passwords, it’s still a good idea to change them occasionally. If you haven’t changed your passwords lately, update them today!

Check Privacy Settings- When was the last time you checked your privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social accounts? This help sheet will walk you through the process on many of your favorite sites.

Re-Read Privacy Policies- Privacy policies might not be the most interesting reading around, but they are important. Review the privacy policies at your favorite websites and be aware of what you’re sharing.

Update- Is your anti-virus software up to date? What about your favorite apps and plug-ins? Update your computer, run an extra security scan, and make sure you’re protected.

Delete Old Apps- Remember that heartbeat tracking app you installed and used only once? Now’s the time to say goodbye. Go through your apps and delete any that you aren’t currently using. In addition, double check the information you are allowing your current apps to access – many automatically request access to data they do not need.

What will you do spring clean your identity this year?

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Tips: The Legal System and ID Theft

March 14th, 2015

Jackie here. In most instances, identity theft is considered a crime and that means that your local courts and legal system may be able to offer some assistance in identity theft resolution. The availability will vary greatly depending on where you live, but here are a few resources from the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Your Local District Attorney’s Office

Many district attorney’s offices offer some sort of victim assistance for ID theft. Contact your local DA’s office and ask what programs are available. Your local office may have group meetings, victim counselors, packets of local resources, helplines, or informative websites to provide information.

File for Restitution

If you want to file for civil restitution after ID theft (especially common when the perpetrator was local), your local court is the place to start. Restitution can help cover expenses related to the theft (including postage, time off work, photocopies, faxes, etc.). In order to file a claim, you’ll need to keep detailed records and save receipts.

Get Your Credit Report

As an identity theft victim, you’re entitled to free copies of your credit report during the resolution process. Your police report and records of other legal filings can be used to prove that you’re entitled to these free reports. Just a note, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, each of the 3 credit bureaus is required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. Visit or call 1-877-322-8228 to request your copy.

Letter of Clearance

If you’re a victim of criminal identity theft and are struggling with mistaken identity, a letter of clearance from the court can be used to prove your identity to law enforcement and help you avoid jail stays due to your identity theft.

For more tips about using the legal system to your advantage after identity theft, check out this great tip sheet from the ITRC.

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5 Simple Steps for a Safer Identity

February 26th, 2015

Jackie here. ITRC president Eva Velasquez recently shared some ID theft tips we can all take advantage of. Often it’s the little things you do that make the biggest difference in keeping your identity safe.

Password Protect Your Phone- Is your phone password protected? If you haven’t taken the time yet to set up this simple, but essential identity protection, stop reading and go do it. Setting up a password just takes a few minutes and can keep your personal information safe should your phone be lost or stolen.

Keep Your SSN to Yourself- When companies ask for your Social Security Number, ask them why. In many instances, they don’t actually need it. What should you do when asked for your SSN? Eva Velasquez offers a simple solution, “You are free to tell the company that you do not give out your Social Security number, and that you’ll be happy to provide different information, such as your phone number or address.” In certain instances, however, companies do need you SSN to provide you the services you request.

Take Your Mail to the Post Office- Don’t drop that tax form or check into the mailbox outside of your house. Take it to the Post Office instead. If you’re mailing anything that contains personal information (including checks, health insurance statements, and tax documents), send it directly from the Post Office.

Change Your Password- Change your passwords often and while you’re at it, make sure you’re choosing strong ones. Hint: your birthdate or address is not a good choice.

File Your Taxes Early- We’ve told you before and we’ll tell you again, file your taxes as soon as possible. If you’re waiting to file, remember that the thieves are not. “If a thief gets there first, your legitimate return will be rejected for having a return already filed under your Social Security number.”

Take these 5 simple steps today for a safer identity.

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Is Your Tax Refund Safe?

February 5th, 2015

Jackie here. Tax season is upon us and for some people that means returns are around the corner. While you’re hard at work preparing your tax documents, thieves are busy too, filing returns and claiming refunds that aren’t theirs. How can you protect your refund this tax season? Here are some tips from Time to get you started.

File Quickly- If you haven’t yet started on your taxes, start as soon as you can. Filing quickly can protect your refund by ensuring that you file under your identity before thieves do. Waiting until the last minute to file can greatly increase your risk of tax identity theft.

Minimize Your Risk- How big is your refund? If you’re getting back thousands this year, you might want to change your withholding to reduce the size of your refund. This won’t protect you from tax ID theft, but will minimize the amount of money that you have at risk should you fall victim.

Protect Your Information- All thieves need to file a fraudulent refund in your name is your birthdate and SSN. Protect these numbers. When possible, have tax forms (like W-2s, 1099s, mortgage interest statements) sent to you electronically. At the very least, bring your mail in as soon as possible; thieves often steal tax forms out of mailboxes at this time of the year.

Get a PIN (when it becomes available)- The IRS is launching a pilot program where taxpayers can obtain a personal identification number (PIN) to protect their identities. This special number must be included on all tax documents. Right now the service is only available to those that filed a return from Washington DC, Florida, or Georgia last year or those that were victims of tax ID theft. Get your PIN here if you qualify. (Once you opt in, you can’t opt out.)

Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi to File- If you file online, use a secure computer and a secure network. Never use public Wi-Fi to file your taxes.

Avoid Scams- Tax themed scams are rampant this time of the year. Remember, the IRS isn’t going to call you on the phone – they communicate via snail mail. Be very careful with the sharing of personal information to keep your tax refund safe.

For more tips about protecting your refund, check out this article from Time Magazine.

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It’s Tax ID Theft Awareness Week

January 26th, 2015

Jackie here. It’s Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. Tax identity theft is growing at astronomical rates (levels tripled from 2011 to 2012 and its just gotten worse from there). We all need to be on high alert for signs of tax ID theft. This week gives us all an excellent opportunity to think about our identities as we roll into tax season.

Help spread the word about Tax ID theft this week and keep your friends and family safe. Here are some simple things you can do in honor of Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.

Attend a Webinar- Education is one of the best ways to protect yourself from all types of identity theft. On Tues. January 27th the FTC, AARP, and Treasury General for Tax Administration are teaming up for a great free webinar. Find the details here (webinar information is at the bottom of the page).

Share Some Tips- Are you on Facebook or Twitter? Sharing tax ID theft tips is an easy way to share this important message. Don’t worry; you don’t have to create the tips on your own. Use these from the FTC.

Start Working on Your Taxes- Filing early is one of the best things you can do to protect your taxpayer identity. Use this week to start gathering paperwork and crunching numbers so you can file as soon as possible.

How will you protect your family from tax ID theft this year?

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Medical Identities: Valuable for Thieves, Essential to Protect

January 9th, 2015

Jackie here. If you think that ID thieves are only after credit card information, think again. Medical records are highly valuable to thieves as they contain information that can be used to commit ID theft (SSNs, birth dates, etc.) and also information that can be used to obtain medical treatment fraudulently (insurance information, etc.). Thieves love medical records and this form of theft is growing rapidly (up 20% from last year, according to the Ponemon Institute).

The Problem with Digital Medical Records

One reason for the uptick in medical record theft is the conversion of medical records from hard copies to digital. Digital records can be stolen remotely by hackers and don’t take near the amount of space that actual paper files do.

There isn’t anything you can do about digital records; this is the only type of record offered by many practices and in many cases the digital records are required by law, but there are still ways to protect yourself from medical ID theft. Here are some tips to try:

Don’t Provide Your SSN without Reason- Many medical practices ask for SSNs even though they aren’t necessarily needed. If you’re asked for your Social Security number, ask why. Don’t provide it unless it is absolutely needed.

Don’t Share Your Driver’s License Number- Another number that is often requested, but rarely needed is your driver’s license number. If you are asked for it, see if there is another method of identification available.

Remove Unneeded Information from Old Records- Odds are you’ve already shared your SSN and driver’s license number with many medical providers. This doesn’t mean these numbers have to be a part of your record forever. You can ask to have this information removed.

Check Your Records- Obtain copies of your medical records from your doctors at least once a year and analyze them like you would a credit report. Look for treatments you didn’t receive, fraudulent charges, etc.

Don’t Just Toss Old Records- When disposing of old medical records, explanation of benefits forms, etc. dispose of them properly. Always shred or destroy records you’re tossing out and keep any records you need in a secure place.

Help Your Children- Young children and the elderly are especially popular targets for medical ID theft. Help those in your care to understand the importance of caution when sharing medical information and assist with checking records as needed.

Medical ID theft is a growing problem, but with a little caution there is much you can do to protect yourself and your family.

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Healthcare Scams Abound During Open Enrollment

January 6th, 2015

Jackie here. We’re right in the middle of open enrollment season for insurance and that means that scammers are out in full force looking for opportunities to trick consumers out of their personal information. Be on the lookout for health care scams this time of year and use these tips to help spot and avoid scams.

Watch for Grammar and Spelling Errors- If you receive an email riddled with grammar and spelling errors, send it to your spam folder immediately. It is very unlikely that a legitimate company will send emails packed with errors. This is a great first level screening for any spam, healthcare related or otherwise.

Look Deeply at the Sender’s Address- Even emails that appear to be from your health insurance company could be from scammers. Hover over the sender’s address to see where the email is really coming from. – if the real address doesn’t match who is supposedly sending the email, use caution before you click any links or take any action.

Avoid Clicking Links- If an email asks you to click a link immediately to input personal information, don’t do it. This is a common tactic used to direct you to malicious sites that may install malware on your computer. Avoid clicking links in unsolicited emails.

ACA not “Obamacare”- Scammers often refer to the nation’s health law as Obamacare. While this is a commonly known nickname for the law (actually called the Affordable Care Act or ACA), you won’t see it on official insurance correspondence. If you see “Obamacare” know that the email is likely spam.

Call Customer Service Yourself- If you receive a call or email from your insurance company, call them back yourself using the number on your card. This is a great way to check in and make sure your coverage is setup and working without disclosing personal information to the caller. When in doubt, call yourself.

These simple tips will help you to avoid many of the healthcare scams this year. Check out more tips from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC).

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Get Your Free Credit Report Today

December 31st, 2014

Jackie here. One of the best ways to spot ID theft early on is to regularly monitor your credit. There are several ways to do this, but if you want to do it for free, you can visit and claim your free yearly reports. Each person is entitled to one free report from each of the three credit bureaus every 12 months. You can get all three reports at once or spread them across the year.

The process is simple, but if you’re new to checking your credit it might seem a bit intimidating. Start by watching this helpful video from the FTC and then use some of the tips in this guide to navigate the process. Checking your credit is easy and is a wonderful tool for fighting ID theft. If it’s been a while, make the commitment to do it today.

The Only Source for Your Yearly Free Credit Reports

You can get your credit report from several different sources, but the only place for your free annual report that you are legally entitled to is If you don’t have reliable internet access, don’t worry; you can call 877-322-8228 or fill out an annual credit request form and mail it in.

Getting Your Report

When you visit you’ll need to verify your identity and provide some personal information before you can access your report. Have all your information handy so you don’t have to scrounge for it while you’re filling out forms. The information you will need includes: Name, Address, Social Security Number, Birth Date, and Verifying Information – to make sure you’re really who you say you are, you’ll have to answer a few questions that only you would know the answer to. These can vary from person to person, but you should be able to accurately answer the questions. Some questions I’ve been asked include balances on loans (multiple choice), previous addresses, former employers, etc.

What Do You Do Once You Have Your Report?

Getting your credit report isn’t enough. You need to check it carefully for accuracy if you want to spot ID theft and other problems early on. Here are some things to check in your report:

Correct Information- Is your basic information like your name, address, and employer correct? Check all your basic information for accuracy and report any problems you find.

Accounts- Next, check your accounts. You should verify that each account listed is one that you actually hold and that information related to these accounts is accurate. Check your balances, look at your payment history, etc. If you find any accounts you didn’t open or find incorrect information relating to your accounts, don’t ignore it.

Finding an Error- What’s the Next Step?

Hopefully, your credit report doesn’t hold any surprises, but if it does, here are some steps to try:

Tell the Credit Reporting Company- Let the credit reporting company know about any inaccuracies you find in your report. You’ll want to do this in writing (and keep a copy of any correspondence you send). They have 30 days from receiving your request to investigate. After the investigation is complete you should receive written notice of the findings. You’ll also receive a new copy of your credit report if the investigation leads to any changes.

Contact All Three- If you find an error in one credit report, make sure that you check all your credit reports for a similar problem (and take the steps to fix
it on all three reports too).

Have you gotten your free credit report lately?

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The Privacy Problems of ‘Big Data’

December 22nd, 2014

Jackie here. What can be done about data brokers? We’ve talked about the potential problems and benefits of data collection here on the blog many times, but the one thing that stands out is the limited amount of power consumers have to control their information. Even with stringent privacy practices, if you use the internet, pay with a credit card, receive supermarket loyalty points, look up health information online, etc., your data is out there.

If you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle for privacy, you’re not alone. So far, however, there isn’t a clear solution to the big data problem. I recently read an opinion piece from the NY Times that suggests that legislation is the key to resolving some of the issues with “Big Data”. What do you think? Is increased legislation necessary to protect our privacy in an online age?

A List for Everything

When it comes to data marketing there is a list for almost everything imaginable. There are lists of those with various diseases (like diabetes, depression, AIDS, etc.), lists of impulse buyers, lists of home owners, and certainly many more. These lists are filled with names of consumers and sold to interested parties including advertising agencies, potential employers, banks and creditors, insurance companies, and others. There is no way to know which lists you’re on and no way to edit the information on these lists, even if things are incorrect.

While it might not seem like a big deal if your name appears on a list of impulse buyers, should you make a list of those with a terminal illness, people with STDs, or methamphetamine dealers (yes, these are all real lists), you might find yourself struggling to get jobs, find credit, or obtain new insurance policies. Consumers cannot be certain how this data is used, so being able to control what lists.

What Needs to Happen?

There are a few things you can do now, but currently the situation needs help. Right now you can opt out of interest based advertising, block cookies, and share cautiously online, but each of these requires a lot of extra effort. I’ve personally tried to opt out from online advertising several times, but find that new marketers pop up almost daily and get frustrated that every time I clear my cookies, my opt out choices disappear to. You can block cookies, but then are unable to opt-out since the current system uses cookies.

The author of the NY Times articles suggests that data marketers be required to register with the FTC and that a requirement for notification to consumers as their names appear on sensitive lists should be required.

What steps would you like to see taken to protect consumer information?

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A Letter from Santa is a Scam in Disguise

December 19th, 2014

Jackie here. Letters to Santa might seem as innocent as they come, but in this new holiday scam letters from the man in red are actually a ploy to steal your identity. Scammers love to use current events and upcoming holidays to trick potential victims; this scam is an excellent reminder to keep your eyes open for tailored scams created just for a specific event. Here are the details:

The Scam: A Custom Letter to Your Child from Santa

The scam sells a custom written letter from Santa to your child. Right now the price is typically set at $19.95, but this could easily change. The initial sales offer comes via email with a link to click if you’re interested in purchasing.

Once you click the link, you are directed to a website selling the letters. There may be a free shipping offer that ends in just a few hours to encourage you to purchase immediately.

If you provide your credit card info, you’ve just shared some personal information with potential scammers. You’ll likely be out the money for the letter and have the potential to become a victim of ID theft or credit card fraud.

Also, be on the lookout for variations of this scam that provide free letters from Santa. While they may not need a credit card, they will ask for lots of personal information which can be sold to scammers. Learn more from the Better Business Bureau.

Holiday scams are abounding at this time of the year; be on the lookout for this letter from Santa scam and others like it.

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Report: Impact of ID Theft

December 12th, 2014

Jackie here. The Identity Theft Resource Center released their most recent victim impact study which sheds light on the many ID theft victims working to resolve their ID theft cases. We’ll share some of their findings here, but before we jump in I want to share the one quote shared on Twitter that stuck out most to me, “Behind each statistic is a person dealing with the emotional impact of identity theft.” We can talk about numbers all day, but when it comes down to it, each number represents a person who is working to restore their credit.

Now on to the study… Here are some highlights from the ITRC report (if you’re on Twitter you can also check out #IDTheftImpact for findings from the study and expert opinions on what this means for you).

No One is Immune from Birth to Beyond Death- In their 2003 Identity Theft Aftermath report the ITRC shared the quote, “No one is immune from birth to beyond death.” Although it’s been more than 10 years, this still remains true. They point out that even your finances can’t protect you. We often assume that ID theft strikes those with good credit or a bit of money, but more than a quarter of the victims in the study had household income levels below $25,000.

Check Your Credit- Experience is often the best teacher. Of the ID theft victims in the study 50% or more now check their credit regularly. Don’t wait to become a victim to take this advice. Learn from the experiences of those fighting ID theft and check your credit often.

Most Victims Learn about ID Theft from Others- Odds are you aren’t going to be the first one to know about your identity theft. Financial institutions informed 33% of victims about the problem. Other victims learned about their ID theft when receiving a bill for an account that wasn’t theirs (29.4%), after being contacted by a collection agency (26.6%), or when they were denied credit (17.5%). Just over a quarter (26%) discovered the theft by spotting unauthorized accounts on their credit report. Luckily, people are catching ID theft quicker than ever before with 48% discovering the theft within 3 months of it first occurring.

Identity theft has a real impact on each and every one of its victims. Take a look at the full report from the ITRC for more insight into the statistics.

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Give the Gift of a Safer Identity

December 10th, 2014

Have you started holiday shopping yet? This year, give your loved ones the priceless gift of a more secure identity. These fun ID theft themed gifts are perfect for everyone on your list, including that uncle that already has everything. You might not have a fortune to spend on your holiday gifts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give a valuable gift that everyone needs.

Tablet Cable Lock

Stealing devices is big business for ID thieves and others. Not only is a stolen device easy to sell, it is often packed with your personal information that can be used to commit ID theft and fraud. For the device lovers on your list, consider the gift of a tablet cable lock. These little locks allow you to lock your device to table legs, desks, etc. You lock up your bike, why not your tablet?

RFID Blocking Sleeves

For an affordable and practical ID theft gift, an RFID sleeve is the perfect option. You can buy a 10 pack for under $20. Split it up amongst a couple friends for a really affordable gift, or give all 10 to one deserving pal. These little sleeves can be used to protect everything from credit cards to employee badges and more. Best of all, you don’t need a big special wallet to use these sleeves; put your card in and slip it right into the wallet you already have for enhanced protection.

I Love My Identity Tee

What better way to spread identity theft awareness than with a cute tee like this one. One of the best ways to protect against ID theft is vigilance (with checking credit, watching bank statements, keeping personal information secure, etc.). Your loved ones will remember how much they value their identity every time they put on this shirt, helping them to find the motivation to keep their identity safe all year round.

VPN for Secure Browsing on the Go

Do you have a friend that loves Wi-Fi? Free public Wi-Fi is certainly convenient, but not without risks. Help your friend protect their sensitive information when logging in to the internet away from home with a VPN. A virtual private network (VPN) can keep others from snooping on your internet activity at home or away. If you need help choosing a VPN for your friend, here’s a great list from PC Mag. Many cost just a few dollars a month, a small price to pay for more security.

DIY ID Theft Resources Kit

For those of you that like to DIY holiday gifts, consider putting together a packet of ID theft resources and information for your friends and family. This is a thoughtful and useful gift for anyone that needs to learn a little more about ID theft. Here are some resources you may want to use:

ID Theft Fact Sheets- You can print off informative ID theft fact sheets from several places including the Identity Theft Resource Center, the IRS, and the FTC. From ID theft basics to more advanced topics, you’ll find information for everyone on your list.

ID Theft Publications- The FTC has a wide range of ID theft publications and brochures. You can print off PDFs or order free copies in bulk (they can take 4-6 weeks to arrive).

A packet of identity theft resources is a thoughtful gift on its own or can be paired with another identity protecting gift from this list to show just how important protecting your identity really is.

Crosscut or Better Shredder

Hopefully everyone on your holiday gift list has a shredder and uses it, but you’d be surprised. Shredding is an easy way to destroy personal documents before you throw them out. Everyone should use one. Don’t just buy a regular shredder; make sure it is crosscut or better (confetti cut, diamond cut, micro cut, etc.) to make it almost impossible to reassemble shredded documents.

What identity theft themed gifts will you give this year?

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Safer Holiday Shopping Without the Scams

December 9th, 2014

Jackie here. The holiday season is here and that means friends, family, hot cocoa, and of course, holiday shopping. As the holiday shopping season heats up, make sure you’re protecting yourself from ID theft and fraud. You aren’t the only one busy this time of year; fraudsters love using the chaos of the holidays to make a quick buck. These holiday shopping tips will help keep your family safe from ID theft this year.

Use Your Credit Card

If you missed our recent article on credit cards vs. debit cards check it out before you head out holiday shopping. Credit cards offer more fraud protections than other payment methods, making them one of the safer choices for holiday shopping.

Save Your Receipts

During the holidays when you’re making lots of purchases it can be hard to remember what you’ve spent and where. Save all your receipts including those for online purchases.

Check Your Statements

With your saved receipts in hand, checking your statements will be much easier. Double check amounts and purchases for any inaccuracies. If you notice a problem, report it to your financial institution quickly. With debit cards, you only have 2 business days to report fraud if you want to limit your maximum losses to $50.

Beware of Shopping Apps

Shopping on your phone is certainly convenient, but if you aren’t careful you might be sharing more information than you intend. Mobile shopping apps can collect a great deal of information about you including address, phone number, driver’s license number, and even your Social Security number. Before you install a shopping app, make sure you check the permissions and if you’re uncomfortable, find another way to buy the items you need.

Limit the Information You Share

Keeping your identity safe is all about limiting the information you share. Don’t give out your credit card number in exchange for an opportunity to win a gadget or gift card. Watch your inbox for phishing emails and don’t reply. Be very cautious about the information you provide this holiday season.

Not All Charities are Charitable

If you plan on making a donation to a charity, choose wisely. Charity scams are common year round. This guide from the FTC will help you spot charity scams and choose legitimate options for your donations. It is admirable to give back during the holidays, but you want to be sure that your generosity is actually helping those in need.

For more tips for safe holiday shopping, check out this guide from the FTC.

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Identity Theft Resource Center Radio Broadcast

November 6th, 2014

If you’re looking for a wonderful resource for all things identity theft related, head over to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). They have tons of free resources for identity theft victims, businesses, consumers, and others that are worried about ID theft. I was excited to discover that the ITRC president Eva Velasquez made a recent appearance on a San Diego radio show.

Listen to the full broadcast for yourself or keep reading for a few tips pulled from the show.

New Victim Every 3 Seconds- If you think you don’t need to protect yourself from ID theft, think again. According to Velasquez there is a new victim every 3 seconds. There are ways to minimize your risk, but there is no foolproof method to keep from becoming a victim with 100% certainty.

Some Types of ID Theft are Easier than Others to Resolve- Some types of ID theft are easily resolved while others can take much more effort. Simple credit card fraud is often resolved with just a phone call or two to your credit card company. More complicated cases can take many phone calls and several hours to resolve.

Thieves Keep Finding New Methods- Tax identity theft first became a headline-making issue in the 90s, but prior to that time, it just wasn’t something people even considered to be much of a risk. Thieves are going to keep finding new ways to use our information and data in the future. No one can predict with certainty how things will evolve going forward.

Not All Data Breaches are Equal- Some data breaches carry a larger impact for consumers than others. For example, a breach of payment information can be stopped by getting a new card (things are a bit easier with credit cards than with debit) while a breach of SSNs can lead to new accounts being opened in your name.

Use a Credit Card- If you can, use a credit card, especially when shopping online. Debit card fraud can clean out your bank account and make it hard to pay bills and access your cash while the issue is resolved. Credit cards make it a lot easier to resolve the problem and to keep access to your accounts should a compromise happen.

Ask Questions- If a company wants your SSN, ask why. Many times you won’t actually need to provide it. Ask companies how they plan to keep your information safe.

Don’t Check Email While Distracted- We are all at risk for phishing scams. Protect yourself by paying attention when checking your emails. If you’re distracted, wait to respond to emails that ask for personal information so you can take the time to research the sender and confirm that the request is legitimate.

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Protecting Your Identity – Reasons and Resources

October 9th, 2014

Jackie here. We take protecting identities pretty seriously around here, but is it really that important? Why should you protect your identity? Here are a few important reasons to keep your identity safe as well as tools you can use in the process. Let’s all renew our commitment to identity protection today!

A Victim Every 2 Seconds- Last year, someone became an identity theft victim every 2 seconds. That means in the time it takes you to read this sentence at least one person started their struggle with identity theft. ID theft can strike anyone, child or adult. To help you stay safe in all of your daily activities, check out these tip sheets from the Identity Theft Resource Center. Don’t forget to share what you learn. The millions of victims of identity theft last year were our friends, family members, and co-workers.

ID Theft Can Hurt Credit- What’s your credit score? While this little score might not seem that important, a bad one can have a negative impact on your life. Credit scores can influence your ability to find work, acquire housing, get loans, and more. Identity theft can negatively impact credit even if you always pay your bills on time. Protecting your identity will help you protect your credit score. If ID theft does ruin your credit, check out this helpful guide from the FTC about rebuilding credit after identity theft.

Scams Abound… and Are Always Changing- I’m amazed at the number of scams out there. On a daily basis I come across phishing emails, text message spam, offers of prizes (usually scammy ones), etc. Since you can’t keep up with all the current scams (and they are always changing), your best bet is to learn how to spot a scam on your own. OnGuard Online has prepared a one stop resource for all your scam education needs. You can learn how to recognize and protect yourself from many of the common scams floating around. We also post about scams frequently on our blog.

Easier to Protect than Correct- While some are able to quickly resolve problems related to identity theft, other victims aren’t as lucky. In 2012, the average victim reported spending about 9 hours clearing up issues related to ID theft, with some victims spending much more time. Of the more than 20 million victims that year, 7% were still trying to clear up issues more than a year after the problem. Keeping your identity safe from the start is much easier than trying to undo the damage after it’s done.

Only You Can Protect Your Identity Online- Much of our life is conducted online. From storing online medical records to banking transactions, and shopping, many of us keep troves of personal information online. The internet might feel anonymous, but in reality it is anything but. Marketers are constantly trying to gather information about you. It is your responsibility to protect your identity and your privacy online. If you want to increase your online privacy check out this fact sheet from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. It will teach you how your information gets out there and what you can do. The section on the risks of cloud computing is especially important for those of us that store much of our lives in the cloud.

What steps are you taking to protect your identity?

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Don’t Sell Your Personal Information with Your Old Phone

September 28th, 2014

Jackie here. When you swap your old smartphone for the latest and greatest new device, make sure you aren’t sharing your information with the world. If you sell, recycle, or trade your phone in, you may be sharing more than you want with the next owner, even if you’ve deleted old files. Here are some tips for safely disposing of your old phone.

Recently, the antivirus software company Avast reported that it was able to obtain erased files from old Android phones purchased on eBay. From only 20 phones they recovered more than 40,000 photos (including some very personal ones), more than 750 emails and texts, 250 contact names and addresses, the identities of 4 previous owners, and a completed loan application. Think about your phone for a minute; do you have information stored on it that could compromise your identity or lead to future embarrassment? The money you get from selling your phone might not be worth the ID theft hassle that could potentially follow.

Deleting Isn’t Enough

Although this investigation only involved 20 phones, the magnitude of information obtained shows just how much remains on your phone after deleting. Obviously, hitting delete doesn’t make things go away forever. What can you do?

If you really want to remove information from your digital devices (phones, tablets, computers, etc.) you need to take extra precautions to really remove the data. Here are some tips for securely deleting information from your phone (for more, check out this article from Consumer Reports).

Easy on Apple- If you have an Apple device, deleting is a breeze. If you enable a screen lock with passcode, all of your information is encrypted automatically and doing a factory reset will wipe your phone clean enough to sell safely. You can set up a passcode under ‘Settings’, then ‘General’, then ‘Passcode’. If you have iOS7, simply go to ‘Settings’ then ‘Passcode’. (To reset your phone before you sell it go to ‘Settings’, then ‘General’, then ‘Reset’).

Others Must Encrypt then Reset- The process is more complicated on other phones, but in general you’ll need to install encrypting software first and then reset your phone. You’ll find more specific details for each phone here.

Remember that even with these practices, the only way to be 100% sure all data is deleted is to destroy the device.

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Is that Debt Collector Legit?

September 16th, 2014

Jackie here. The world of debt collection is often a treacherous one, for debt collectors and those that owe the debt alike. The selling of old debts is a common practice, and once those debts are turned over to a collection company, consumers may have a difficult time spotting debt collection scams.

One common scam involves contacting those with common names and pretending that they owe some obscure debt. Sometimes people pay without even questioning. In another scam the scammers obtain the names of real debtors and pose as a collection company to collect this debt. The debt is a legitimate one, so consumers often believe the claims presented by the scammer and may choose to pay up on this old debt. As scammers steal information from legitimate debt collection companies, both consumers and the actual owner of the debt are negatively impacted. What can you do to protect yourself?

If You Pay a Scammer, You Still Owe the Debt

Consumers are responsible for their debts, even if they think it has been paid. Paying a scammer won’t eliminate your financial responsibility for the debt in question so make sure you’re paying the right collector. One important step for verifying the debt is to obtain a verification letter concerning the debt. The collector should be able to tell you who the original debt holder was and when you made your last payment.

Find Out as Much as You Can

Asking questions can help you spot a fake debt collector. Ask questions about the specific collector, including their license number (Note: all states do not require a license), their address, what company they work for, their contact phone number, etc. The more information you have, the better able you are to research this debt collector and ensure the debt is real. A quick search online can often weed out fraudulent collections claims.

If You’ve Paid, Don’t Pay Again

If you’re being pestered about a debt you’ve already paid, you may be able to find resolution by contacting your original creditor. They can often provide you with a letter that states that your original account is in good standing which can be presented to the collector to resolve the issue.

For more tips, check out this article.

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Would You Implant a Computer Chip in Your Body?

September 12th, 2014

Jackie here. We rely on our technology daily, but unfortunately devices can be stolen, key cards lost, and passwords compromised. In the search for a better way to protect sensitive information, researchers have long explored the possibility of implantable devices to connect our bodies to our technologies. If this sounds like something that will only exist in the distant future, think again. Some researchers believe that implanted microchips could become part of your body very soon.

One researcher implanted a small chip into his hand back in 2009. This chip was used to open secure doors at his job site and unlock his phone among other things. About a year later the researcher added a virus to his implant which could infect nearby computers just by walking past. To this day the researcher still wears the chip with no plans to remove it.

An Implant for Everyone

Implantable technologies don’t just have a place with researchers. Implanted devices have long been used in the medical community to treat various ailments. The technology could also be used by all of us to make devices more secure and to expedite payment and transactions. Technologies like Google Wallet could easily pair with an implant, making the need to carry cards practically obsolete.

These types of implants would likely be very small. The technology already exists to create them and they are about the size of a grain of rice. DIY implant kits are also being produced—although they may be illegal in some states.

What Are the Risks?

There is the risk of hacking and compromise with any new technology. Yes, chips could make our lives much more convenient, but would they compromise our privacy? How would hackers and thieves utilize this technology to their own benefit and how can we protect ourselves?

Don’t expect to be offered an implant at your next smartphone upgrade, but don’t be surprised if we start seeing this technology become more available in the next decade or two. What do you think about implanted microchips? Would you be willing to have one?

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Do Russian Hackers Have Your Information?

September 10th, 2014

Jackie here. More than a billion username and password combinations were recently stolen by Russian hackers along with more than 500 million email addresses. Here are some tips for protecting yourself in the aftermath of this heist.

Change Your Passwords Today

If you haven’t yet changed your passwords, do it today. You should change all of your passwords (and possibly your usernames) to your most sensitive accounts including bank accounts, email, and health insurance sites. While you’re at it, make sure that the new passwords are strong and unique. Include upper and lower case letters, symbols, and numbers when possible. Avoid words found in the dictionary.

Watch for Signs of a Problem

In instances such as these your information may have fallen into the wrong hands so keep a close watch on your accounts looking for signs of a problem. Don’t just be vigilant right now; you never know when your information might be compromised so always be aware. Unfamiliar charges, emails that appear to be from your bank or financial institution, and emails asking for personal information should be closely examined. Never click on links or reply with personal information to an unsolicited email. Instead visit the website of the company in question yourself using a known web address.

Check Your Credit Report and Card Statements

The best ways to deal with this hack are the same simple tactics we should use every day to protect against ID theft. Check your bank statements often and report any discrepancies to your bank. Also check your credit report at least once a year. You can get a free yearly report from
Learn more about the Russian hack here and get some tips from the FTC here.

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Back to School – Backpack Safety

August 26th, 2014

Aaron here, AllClear ID Investigator. It’s that time of year again; summer is coming to a close. Many parents are going shopping for their kid’s school supplies and that perfect new backpack. However, most parents probably aren’t thinking about what personal information is being stored in this new backpack, nor would most be thinking of identity theft if the backpack was stolen.

Identity theft is at an all-time high; it seems almost everywhere you turn you are hearing something about a data breach and resulting identity theft. If an identity thief was to steal your child’s backpack would they find the key to your credit history? These days, children have all sorts of personal identifiable information stored in their backpacks and it’s important to take the time to learn about how that information could be used if it got into the wrong hands.

Below is a list of what most identity theft suspects would be looking for if they were to steal a child’s backpack, as well information on how to protect yourself in case this does happen.

  • 1. Child’s Smartphone
  • Most carriers have a simple code to access the actual account information. If a suspect were to get a hold of your child’s device they would potentially be able to order new services and wreak havoc on the account. Not only is the account at risk, but think about the contact information that your child may have on this device, and what risk occurs if this information was to get in the wrong hands. This type of intrusion causes issues like phishing emails, grandparent scams and malware installation. Not to mention the amount of notes and even passwords that parents and kids store in these devices.

    Ways to avoid these issues: Make sure you educate your child on the potential danger of this type of technology. Inform them about creative alpha numeric passwords. Also explain why certain types of sensitive information should not be stored in their device (like their SSN or any passwords). You can have your child set up the Find Me app, this app erases all content should someone ever steal the smart device your child has.

  • 2. Childs Laptop
  • Most everyone knows the risk of a laptop if it were to fall into the wrong hands. The same issues explained about the Smartphone can apply to this device as well. Now think about all the accounts that are tied to the parent and are also set up on the child’s laptop, apps like Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and social media and most of these apps have it set to automatically log in once the child opens the device.
    Now think about all of the files, and emails that maybe saved on the child’s laptop, all of this PII (personal identifiable information) is a scammers dream. Everything from credit card information, addresses of family members, as well as birth dates.

    Ways to avoid these issues: Have your child make sure to log out of every online account that they have when they are done using it. Always make sure that no sensitive information is stored on a child’s laptop, and if it was handed down from the parent to the child, make sure to have all sensitive documentation deleted from the system. Make sure to educate on the importance of not storing user names and passwords on the device as well. Make sure that whatever password the child has up on the laptop is also shared with you.

  • 3. Name Tags and Keys to property
  • Most children will use a Karabiner attachment for the backpack to store keys and identifying name tags showing ownership. The problem that this causes is the potential risk of having a thief /robber show up at the home while away working. The best way to avoid this problem is not to put any address information and just to put a work contact phone number with the child/Parent’s name on it, no other information is necessary.

    Overall, child identity theft is a large issue and one we have done studies on in the past. While the options for protection are limited, the best protection starts at home, with you.

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    Are You an Identity Theft Expert?

    August 15th, 2014

    Jackie here. When it comes to identity theft are you an expert or a novice? Check out this fun quiz from and see how you rank. If you’ve been reading our blog regularly you’ll probably score pretty well. After the quiz, come back here for additional resources that can help you if you struggled with some of the answers along the way.


    Passwords are the key to all our most sensitive online accounts. Your bank (and the money you keep in it) is only as secure as your online banking password. How secure is your password? This article from our blog will give you tips for making your passwords stronger.

    Social Security Numbers

    It seems like everyone wants your Social Security Number, from the doctor’s office to the electric company. Are you required to provide your SSN to everyone that asks? This fact sheet from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse will help you determine when you must share your SSN and when you can safely decline. It’s usually a good idea to ask if another form of identification will suffice to limit how many people know your SSN.

    The IRS

    The IRS uses mail as their primary method of contact. If there’s a problem with your tax return you can expect to hear about via US Mail. Tax identity theft is a growing problem, so be on the lookout for scams related to your tax return. Anyone can fall victim to tax ID theft, even someone with extensive identity theft knowledge.

    Protect Personal Information

    “Big Data” knows a lot about each of us. We need to learn to safeguard our personal information, not just to protect from ID theft (although that is important), but also to preserve our privacy. Learn to read privacy policies so you know what information is being shared and collected about you.

    Is This Call Legitimate?

    When you get a call, don’t automatically trust the caller ID. This article from our blog will help you understand caller ID spoofing and how to avoid it.

    Credit Reports

    When was the last time you checked your credit report? Check as often as you can, but at least once a year. You can get your free annual reports from, the only source for your free yearly report.

    How did you do on the quiz? Do you have some brushing up you need to do? This quiz could be used as a tool to introduce id theft to teens and older children.

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    Predictive Scores- How Do They Impact You?

    August 7th, 2014

    Jackie here. We talk a lot about credit reports here on the AllClear ID blog. After all, they are an essential tool for discovering and fighting ID theft. We all know that credit reports have other purposes too; they are the gateway to our credit and play a big role in what loans we can obtain and what interest rates we receive for those loans. Similar to the credit reporting industry is another less discussed industry that also compiles information to create a personal score for you. These specialized scores are known as predictive scores, and unlike your credit score, they can’t be seen, modified or changed.

    Some believe these scores are a help to consumers, providing tailored ads and personalized services, while others worry that these scores are a huge privacy violation (and a risk since they aren’t open and accessible). What do you think?

    How Are Predictive Scores Created?

    Credit scores compile information like your payment and account histories to create a score that showcases your credit worthiness. Predictive scores operate similarly, but they gather information differently. These scores use information like your purchasing patterns, online browsing history, public social media posts, public records, etc. to create specialized profiles of information. There isn’t just one predictive score out there; marketers have created a variety of different score profiles including those that determine your health status, profitability, predicted lifetime earnings, spending patterns, and more. With the huge amounts of data we share online each day, these scores can and do reveal a lot about each of us and are highly lucrative to both marketers and companies alike.

    The Risks and Benefits of Predictive Scores:

    As with most things, predictive scores carry both risks and benefits. Since the scores are used for marketing purposes, not borrowing eligibility, they aren’t governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This means that consumers have no right to access their information and no way to correct any inaccuracies. One of the biggest risks carried with these scores is a loss of privacy. In efforts to gather information, various marketing companies track your every move, monitoring the websites you visit (using cookies), gathering purchase information, and more. Opting out is possible in some cases, but can be a difficult process. If you want to opt out, we’ve shared some tips on our blog you might want to check out. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse also has a great piece on information brokers.

    As far as benefits are concerned, consumers can receive discounts, personalized marketing information, and more from these companies. For example, you may receive a huge discount offer from a company after viewing their products online or see ads for hotels you regularly frequent. The troves of information gathered allow marketers to reach out to individual consumers with more precision.

    Where Can I Learn More?

    If you’re interested in learning more about predictive scores, here are a few resources to get started:

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    Eight Numbers to Protect from ID Thieves

    July 18th, 2014

    Tamara here, AllClear ID Investigator. It’s a common occurrence for an individual to be notified that their personal information has been compromised in a breach or a data incident. Within each notification, the consumer is usually informed as to what type of personally identifiable information was involved in the incident. Sometimes, consumers wonder how a particular piece of information will be of any use to an identity thief. Here, I will outline why thieves might seek out different types of data, and what you can do to help protect that piece of information.

    Phone Number:
    You might be thinking to yourself: what’s the big deal about my phone number being out there? Well, there are a number of things a thief can do with your phone number. One thing that can be done is to use your phone number on websites when trying to get the best rate for a mortgage, insurance, or an auto loan. Rather than the applicant receiving calls from agents responding to the quote request, you get those calls. There can be multiple calls a day, for an extended period of time. In that case, ask the caller to remove your number from their database. You may be able to contact your carrier to see what options you have about blocking certain numbers, but usually the calls come from different numbers. Another thing that can be done, which can directly affect you, is by using your phone number to access and take over your existing accounts. There are ways phone numbers can be spoofed to make it appear as if that is the number the caller is calling from. In this case, as with others in this article, it is recommended to set additional security factors on your existing accounts, as in a PIN or a password that would be required if any changes (such as a change of billing address, phone number, adding an authorized user, etc.) were requested.

    Dates and ZIP Codes:
    Dates, dates, dates. All sorts of dates. Dates of employment, residence, birth, account duration, and education are sought by identity thieves. What can those dates be used for? Verification. ZIP codes, also. Many times, an identity thief may have some missing information, so a creditor will ask further questions to help verify the applicant’s identity. In some cases, the questions are based on this information. This information can be easily obtained, sometimes, just by going to the victim’s social media profile. To help protect that information, exclude it from your publically accessible online profiles.

    PIN Codes:
    PIN numbers may be one of the more obvious numbers you should protect. If you’re using a machine where there is a skimming device attached along with a camera recording you keying in your PIN, then you’ve just given it away. While it may be difficult to determine if such a device if in use, it’s best to use machines located in the actual bank. If you’re ever in doubt, hide your strokes and/or change your PIN.

    Social Security Number:
    Your Social Security number can be used in a number of different fraudulent ways. Whether it is to open a new line of credit, obtain government benefits, file taxes, for employment or to sell to other thieves, it is one of the most widely used numbers out there, but one of the bare bones of required number when it comes to identity theft. To help protect your Social Security number, one thing you can do is to be cautious of giving it out or putting it on forms. You could also set fraud alerts with the three credit reporting agencies.

    Financial Institution Account Numbers:
    When a criminal has the full account number for any one of your accounts with a financial institution, it is pretty direct line into that account. Usually, once that is provided, only a couple of other personal identifiable factors are required to be verified (hence the mention above of the addition of further security factors to the account). If you ever discover that one of your account numbers was compromised, it is best to change that account number, or to at least notify your financial institution.

    IP Addresses:
    IP addresses are sought after for a couple of different reasons. One is that your IP address can be spoofed by scammers, phishers, and other criminals to make it appear as if their activity is actually coming from you. Another is that your IP address can be targeted by scammers. A common scam is the Tech Support Scam, where you’re called up and notified by someone claiming to be a tech support rep from Microsoft (or some other company) who requests that you download a ‘fix’ for malware that is supposedly on your computer (they will also have you pay a fee). In that case, it’s best not to provide any information, and call the company via a verified number on their website or one of your statements to see if the request is legitimate.

    Driver’s License and Passport Numbers:
    If your driver’s license or passport number is used for replication, criminals can then use it to commit fraud or other illegal activities. If they provide either number to police if they are caught, you might be linked to these crimes you did not commit. When informed either number was compromised, it is good to notify either the issuing state’s department of motor vehicles or to report it to the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

    Health Insurance Account Numbers:
    These types of account number can be used fraudulently to receive medical care. The first step to take to help protect this number is to review any insurance statements and your accounts carefully. If you are charged for services you do not remember receiving, contact your insurance provider and whoever provided the services. In addition, inquire if there are additional security measures you can use to protect your account and have another account number issued.

    All of this being said, data incidents and identity theft happen every day. The best way to protect yourself is to be vigilant in reviewing your credit reports, your existing accounts, explanations of benefits, online profiles, and keep an eye out for suspicious activity. If something seems a bit off kilter, dig a little deeper to determine whether or not it was fraud, and take action from there. The best thing you can do is take the precautionary measures to help prevent these numbers from being compromised in the first place.

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    A Deeper Look at the FTC Report on Data Brokers

    June 13th, 2014

    Jackie here. We recently shared a collection of links highlighting some important points from the FTC’s report about data brokers. The insightful report provides a unique look into an industry that is often shrouded in secrecy, unknown and misunderstood by many consumers. Let’s take a deeper look at the report and learn more about how the data collection industry gathers and uses our information.

    Where Does the Information Come from?

    Data brokers have a lot of information about consumers in their files. Where does this information come from? Brokers gather little snippets of information from a wide variety of sources; each piece of information alone is almost worthless, but when the many pieces are compiled together, they provide a much more insightful look into a person’s life. Some potential sources of information include bankruptcy filings, voter registration, web browsing activities, warranty registrations and consumer purchasing information.

    You might be surprised to learn that data brokers even obtain information from the government. Six of the companies studied obtained information directly from the federal government, including census records, postal service information and even terrorist watch lists. State and local governments also provide information like professional licenses, property records and court records.

    Interestingly, much of this data comes not from the original source itself, but from other data brokers. Of the nine data brokers studied, seven shared information with the others.

    Not all of the information comes from outside sources. Data companies also use information people share online about themselves in blogs and social media profiles.

    Do Data Brokers Have Information About Me?

    Odds are your information is being collected by data brokers. One data broker has approximately 3000  data points for almost every consumer in the U.S. Another broker adds 3 billion new records each month.

    How is the Information Being Used?

    Data brokers use the information they gather to create sophisticated profiles for consumers. They assign them to broad categories of interest to advertisers and others. This information is then used to provide targeted advertising and screening both online and offline. Brokers often combine information obtained about you offline with your online identity through the use of cookies. To learn exactly how companies match up consumers with their online activities, read the full report.

    This does carry the potential for risk to consumers. The report shares a few powerful examples of how this information has the potential to cause harm to consumers. One potentially negative consequence of data brokerage could occur if a consumer flagged as potentially having diabetes is targeted by an insurance company for having an increased risk.

    Furthermore, information in your file isn’t currently viewable or editable by consumers. Errors cannot be found, corrected, or remedied.

    Who are the Data Brokers?

    We often hear about “Big Data” and data brokers, but who are these companies specifically? The report shares information about nine of the data companies, the ones that were studied for this report. While not a comprehensive list of all the companies out there, this list provides a broad spectrum look at large, midsized, and small companies covering a wide range of data collecting activities. You can read more about each company in the report.

    The FTCs new report provides a startling look into an otherwise secretive industry; hopefully the proposed regulations and industry changes will help consumers to have more control over their data and how it is used.

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    Resource: Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

    June 3rd, 2014

    Jackie here. Sometimes it feels like our privacy is being assaulted on many fronts. And it can all be very confusing. You may have questions about your privacy rights or the best way to handle a privacy concern. When you have privacy questions or complaints, turn to the privacy experts at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. They offer an Online Complaint Center to address privacy questions, concerns and complaints.

    If you plan on submitting a question, be aware that all requests must be submitted online. They take each question seriously and need time to research before replying so you can’t call in, even if you think the question is a simple one. Their focus is consumer privacy, basically how companies handle your information, not the government. They also can’t provide legal advice or take action for you, but they may be able to direct you to resources and others that can help.
    If you don’t have a specific question, but do want more information about privacy in general, take some time and browse their website. They have a comprehensive set of Fact Sheets available that cover everything from cellphone privacy to data marketers and even debt collection. Check it out!

    I’m excited to share this great privacy resource with you today. If you give it a try, comment and let us know how this tool works for you.

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