The First Step to Secure Your Data

Your personal information and data are literally everywhere for criminals to target, and there isn’t much you can do to keep it from spreading. You use your email credentials on countless websites, you use your credit card number with countless vendors, and, believe it or not, your Social Security number is shared rapidly immediately after you’re born.

It’s almost impossible to give out your personal information nowadays. However, criminals know this, and they lurk around the same places that your information is used. You need to take action to secure your information so you are less of a target. Let me show you one simple step you can take today that will create one layer of security and improve your defenses.

There is one specific action you can take to secure your information, and after you do it, you’ll be much less likely to be targeted because criminals tend to take the path of least resistance. That said, if you DON’T do this action today, you ARE the path of least resistance.

All you have to do is set up a credit freeze. There are four major credit bureaus in the United States, and you need to get a credit freeze with them. Just use your preferred search engine and look for Experian credit freeze, Equifax credit freeze, TransUnion credit freeze, and Innovis credit freeze. You should freeze your credit with all four, but you should still review your annual credit reports. More importantly, you should dispute discrepancies with the appropriate bureau AND the lender. Getting a credit freeze won’t gum up your credit score or make it so you can’t use credit. You are able to “thaw” the frozen credit as needed and then freeze it again. You can literally do this in a single day. Then you’ll want to put more layers of defense in place to become an even harder target than the other guy.

A credit freeze will secure your information, but setting up multiple layers of defenses is really what will make you a hard target. Criminals are constantly probing defenses, and even while technology advances, crimes against your data are usually ahead of the curve. You don’t need to know everything about security, but you do need to take on the responsibility of protecting yourself. I’ve created a free guide that will make you a pseudo expert on your own security, and if you follow it’s simple steps, you will have more layers of defense than the average person. If you want to create even more layers of defenses, bring this guide to my next webinar, and I will walk you through each step so you can rest assured that you are creating a smart, secure, safer “me.”

How to Protect Your identity When Buying or Selling a Home

If you are in the process of buying or selling a home, at some point, you are going to have to disclose personal information when you go through the process. Because of this, a home buyer, especially, is much more likely to become a victim of identity theft.

Here are some ways to protect your identity when buying or selling a new home:

Ask if Communication is Secure

One thing to do is to make sure your mortgage and real estate professionals are using secure electronic communications. If they can’t articulate their security, such as they use two step verification, etc, then they aren’t generally secure. Otherwise, you should drop documents off in person.

Ask How Personal Info is Handled

Another thing to do is ask your lender how they will handle your personal info after the loan is complete. Are documents able to be stored securely? Will they be shredded when no longer needed?

Ask About Security Policies

You should also ask about the security policies of your lender and/or real estate professional. If they don’t have a security policy, they aren’t secure.

Get a Referral

Ask people you know for referrals for mortgage and real estate professionals. Verify that their licenses are current. Do business with those who others know, like and trust.

Choose a Real Estate Team That You Trust

Buying a new home takes a full team on both the sides of the buyer and the seller. So, you have to make sure that you trust them and that all of their credentials are up to date. You should also do your best to read reviews online.

Be Aware of Frauds

Fraudsters are always out there, and they take advantage of people looking to buy a home. For example, according to investigators, a California woman would offer to buy a home on behalf of the buyer because the buyer was under funded or an illegal immigrant. After the buyer provided the deposit, she would never be heard from again.So keep your eyes open as you go through the process.

Recognize Money Wire Scams

When looking at the home buying process, a report by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center said email fraud involving real estate transactions rose 1,110 percent in the years 2015 to 2017 and fraud dollars lost rose almost 2,200 percent.

Nearly 10,000 people reported being victims of this kind of fraud in When looking at the home buying process, a report by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center said email fraud involving real estate transactions rose 1,110 percent in the years 2015 to 2017 and fraud dollars lost rose almost 2,200 percent.

Nearly 10,000 people reported being victims of this kind of fraud in 2017 with losses over $56 million, the FBI report said. Real estate is only now tightening its belt and fighting back., the FBI report said. Real estate is only now tightening its belt and fighting back. The moment a wire transfer is requested via email, tell your agent or broker you want to meet them at the office to discuss. End of story.

Be Cautious on the Internet

During this process, you will be filling out a lot of forms and giving out a lot of your personal information. So, to help prevent any identity theft, you should only use a secure device on a secure network. You also have to make sure that you are using strong, varied passwords, and if you have to print out copies of documents, you should hide any account numbers or Social Security numbers.

Use Credit Monitoring or ID Theft Protection

When making a large purchase like a new home, you should make sure to have real time credit monitoring and identity theft protection.

Freeze or Lock Your Credit Until Making an Offer

You also might want to consider freezing or locking your credit until you are required to have your credit checked. Both options prevent a creditor from accessing your credit report, which stops a criminal from opening a new account.

Credit locks are available from consumer credit bureaus for a small fee, and you can lock or unlock your credit whenever you want. A credit freeze is free but slightly cumbersome. Go free and learn it.

Get a Copy of Your Credit Report

It’s also a good idea to get a credit report if you are going to finance a home. Checking this report will give you a good idea of what you can afford each month, and it will allow you to see if there are any mistakes or unusual behavior on the reports.

Stay Safe During the Closing Process Finally, remember that fraudsters are always out there, especially when people are using large sums of money. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that people lost about $1.48 billion to fraud last year, alone. So, it’s imperative that you keep yourself safe by avoiding things like phishing schemes, and if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Understanding and Stopping Criminal Identity Theft

The definition of criminal identity theft is a crime where the criminal impersonates the victim in order to protect their innocence. This can lead to victims getting fines or even getting arrested and charged for crimes they did not commit.

How Does This Happen?

There are a number of ways that a criminal can pull this off, and it generally occurs when the thief steals someone’s identity. This is true and pure identity theft, often involving a drivers license with the thieves picture and the victims information. Once they have that, they are pretty much free to commit crimes in their victim’s name.

Stopping Criminal Identity Thieves

If you think that you are a victim of this crime, you should first get in touch with the police department where the charges are coming from. You should offer proof of your identity, and then fill out an impersonation report. The police will often take a photo, get your fingerprints, and run your ID info through their database. When they prove your innocence, warrants will be released. If you feel like this is a complicated situation, however, it is in your best interest to get a lawyer.

Did Someone Use Your Driver’s License?

If someone has stolen or used your driver’s license, take the following steps:

  1. Get your driver’s license record. You can get this from the DMV.
  2. Identify any inaccurate information from the report.
  3. Report any discrepancies.
  4. Discuss facial recognition with the DMV and if others photos are tied with your information.
  5. Clear all of the discrepancies. The DMV will do this for you after an investigation.

Signs That You Might be a Victim of Criminal Identity Theft

Sometimes you might not realize that you are a victim of criminal identity theft, but here are some signs:

  • Your Social Security Statement may have errors.
  • There will most likely be errors on background checks.
  • You might get fired and told your criminal record is the reason.
  • You might not get a job or apartment due to your false criminal record.

Preventing Criminal Identity Theft

There are some things you can do to make the chances lower that you will become a victim of criminal identity theft:

  • Keep your Social Security number and driver’s license safe and hidden when possible.
  • If you have to get a new credit card and/or driver’s license, make sure the numbers are different. You don’t just want the same number as the thief can still use it.
  • Get a credit freeze and consider identity theft protection.
  • Frankly, be as digitally secure as possible and manage paper records the best you can. But this is a hard crime to stop on your own.
  • Criminal identity theft happens when the victim has done nothing at all to secure their identity

Should You Be Worried About Criminal Identity Theft?

All of this sounds pretty scary, but there is only a very small chance that you would be held liable for any of these crimes. The bigger issue is that someone could victimize you for years, and you would never realize it. It could become a big headache, and it could also create a domino effect that could ultimately tarnish your good name. Preventing identity theft of all kinds is a start, and as long as you know how to fix it if it happens, you should be okay in the end. Don’t worry about it, but do something about it.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

Identity Theft on the rise affecting over 13 Million

13.1 million people were stricken by identity theft last year in America, reports a study by Javelin Strategy & Research which reveals:

  • Many people who don’t trust their banks are unwittingly doing things that make crime easier for crooks. This includes not using the bank’s protection services such as e-mail alerts.
  • Oddly, there are more victims than ever, but the total amount stolen is less. But that hardly matters when you consider that in the past six years, $112 billion have been stolen.
  • 18 percent of U.S. identity fraud involving cards was carried out beyond the U.S.
  • New-account fraud is being driven by EMV.

Javelin Strategy & Research’s Recommendations

  • Every account should have a different password. Every password should be long and strong, not containing keyboard sequences or actual words or proper nouns (sorry, this means no Metallica1), and including a mix of characters.
  • Consider using a password manager.
  • Smartphone protection is a must. This means being vigilant about updates and using all security features offered by the device like passcodes or fingerprint access.
  • Sign up for account alerts. Alerts come in different flavors. For instance, you’ll be alerted for purchases exceeding a specified limit or occurring outside your state. See if your bank or credit card issuer provides alerts for international transactions.
  • Put a freeze on your credit. This will prevent anyone but you from opening an account in your name, and it’s cheap to do. But if you unexpectedly find you must open a new line of credit, the freeze can be lifted.
  • If you suspect any suspicious activity, jump on it immediately. Any delay in notifying the credit card company or bank can make it harder for them to resolve the problem.

In addition, inspect your credit card statements every month. Do not dismiss tiny charges that you’re not familiar with just because they’re tiny. Sometimes, crooks will “test the waters” and make miniscule charges to see if they can get away with it. Their intention is to then escalate and ultimately max out the card.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention

Indiana Is a Big Target for Identity Theft

As the holiday shopping season quickly approaches, identity thieves are quickly looking for their next victims. In Indiana, government officials are taking steps to stop these thieves in their tracks. Just recently, the state’s Attorney General Greg Zoeller was in Fort Wayne to announce the launch of “Freeze Identity Thieves.”

2PThis program, which is designed to protect consumers who may become victims of identity theft, allows people to freeze their credit online, for free. And it’s been around since 2008. He just figured it out.

This past year, there were reports of more than 400 data breaches in the state, which allowed for the exposure of financial and personal information. In addition, there were more than 1,000 identity theft complaints filed. Zoeller does not want this number to get any higher.

Why is Indiana such a big target? I suspect it’s due to a couple of reasons. First, I think they may simply be a bit behind on the available security upgrades. This is a simple fix, fortunately, as long as the state begins to improve their security policies. Another reason is that there could be an individual or even an identity theft ring that is wreaking havoc on residents of the Hoosier state.

Zoeller urges every resident in Indiana to assume that their information has been compromised. Agreed. Actually, if you are a US citizen, with the billion plus records breached, consider your identity stolen. Though you may not be a victim of identity theft at this point, it may be a good idea to freeze your credit information now, so you do not become a victim of identity theft later.

You may be wondering if this action will work, or if freezing your credit reports is enough to prevent identity theft. The answer is yes. This type of credit freeze is something that all states adopted in February 2008 and in my opinion, and it will lock down your credit report, which will prevent fraud.

Brief FAQ About Credit Freezing

When is it a good idea to freeze my credit?

If you are 18 years old or older and have a credit report, you should freeze your credit. You should also freeze it if you are under the age of 18 and your identity has been stolen in the past.

What should I consider before ordering a freeze on my credit?

Don’t consider anything, just do it. Your credit should be frozen across the board, even though lenders have been trying to prevent this. Why? Because they would be unable to give out instant credit, and it would “gum up” the lending system.

What does it cost to freeze a credit report?

Depending on where you live, it costs between $0 and $15 to freeze your credit report. To apply for a new line of credit, you will pay between $0 to $5 to thaw the report.

Where can I freeze my credit report?

You can freeze your credit report by contacting the three main credit bureaus by following the links, below:

Equifax

Transunion

Experian

Credit freezing stops an identity theft from using stolen information, such as a Social Security number, from accessing and racking up credit in your name. Once the freeze begins, you can lift it at any time, such as when you need a new loan or want to apply for a new credit card. Also, just because your credit report is frozen, it does not mean that you cannot use your present credit.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention.

15 Ways to protect your Identity

There are tried and true ways to protect yourself from identity theft—ways that you may not have even considered. Check them out (no specific order): PSH

  1. Evaluate your passwords. Does every online account have a different password or are you using the same one for multiple accounts? Fix this problem immediately.
  2. However, make the new passwords at least eight characters ideally, and include symbols, not just letters and numbers. Avoid using actual words or names, or keyboard sequences. Password-cracking software will easily find shorter passwords that contain words, names and keyboard sequences.
  3. Never post anything personal on social media. Yes, this includes your pet’s name, name of your kids’ school or teacher, where you’re going on vacation, the town your parents live in, etc. I don’t, why do you?
  4. Would you open your door to strangers knocking on it all day long? Of course not. So why would you “answer” e-mails from strangers? Ignore e-mails whose senders you don’t know. If the sender appears to be from a company you do business with, but you never gave them your e-mail, delete it. If they DO have your e-mail but there’s no reason they should be sending you a message, just ignore it.
  5. If that all sounds too confusing, then follow this simple rule: Never click links in e-mails or open attachments you’re not expecting.
  6. If you’re not using Bluetooth on your phone, turn it off.
  7. Set your phone up with a password. If it’s lost or stolen, you’ll have no worries.
  8. Shred all your credit card offers, medical records, billing information and other personal information before tossing.
  9. Memorize your Social Security number. Never give it out unless it’s absolutely mandatory like for a job application. However, just because someone says they can’t process your request without your SSN doesn’t mean you must hand it over. For instance, a major retail chain may tell you they need your Social Security number to issue you a charge card for their store. It’s best to just forego the charge card. The objective is to minimize how much your SSN is “out there.”
  10. Request your free credit report every year from the three major credit reporting bureaus. Refute unauthorized accounts immediately.
  11. Inspect your credit card and banking statements every month for suspicious activity.
  12. Use a locking mailbox or have your mail delivered to the post office and pick up.
  13. Before taking any trips have the post office put a stop on your mail delivery.
  14. Consider getting a credit freeze. Thgis is a no brainer to protect you from new account fraud.
  15. Invest in identity theft protection. There is no cure for identity theft. But with a protection plan in place, the restoration component will fix most of what goes wrong.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention.

Medical Identity Theft can be deadly

Every time you have a medical procedure done, including routine checkups and treatment for minor issues, paperwork is generated. You should have copies of every single paper. This is one line of defense against medical identity theft.

Review your paperwork thoroughly for unauthorized or duplicate charges, mistakes with diagnoses, dates, names, anything that looks odd. Signs of medical identity theft include:

  • Being billed for treatment or diagnostics you never received.
  • Being told you’ve maxed out your coverage limit when you haven’t.
  • A collection agency claiming you owe a debt that you don’t owe.
  • Being denied coverage for a “pre-existing” condition that you don’t have.
  • Paperwork showing you saw a doctor you never did or were prescribed a drug you never were is a red flag.
  • An e-mail from your provider that requests you reveal sensitive information like your Medicare number is a big red flag. The subject line may be urgent, such as “Your Medical Coverage May Be Terminated.” Never click links inside these e-mails or fill out forms in them; instead contact your provider via phone. However, e-mails like these are scams; the thief knows if he sends 50,000 such e-mails out with his special software, a predictable percentage of recipients will “see” themselves in the message.
  • A one-ring phone call may be a thief who just obtained your medical records to see if your number is legitimate. Never call back.

Be Vigilant

  • If you suspect medical identity theft, keep strict records of all associated correspondence.
  • Immediately obtain all records if you already haven’t, including the “accounting of disclosures”; you have this legal right, even if you get flack from the provider. Contact the provider’s patient representative or ombudsman for assistance.
  • If you spot mistakes, even small, insist they be corrected.

Nevertheless, it’s usually not easy to detect medical ID theft. So let’s look at this in more detail:

  • If a collection agency contacts you, request they provide information immediately; promptly contact your provider and carrier.
  • Examine your credit report to see if it’s plummeted due to unpaid medical bills. The three major credit reporting agencies issue the reports free.
  • If your provider offers online access to your files, sign up for this service, then inspect it for mistakes.
  • Request records of imaging procedures.
  • If no online access is available, have your doctor read the results or send a snail mail copy.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention.

How to prevent your Pics from being lifted: Part 2 of 2

There are many reasons someone might right-click on your image and “Save image as…”

Porn, Sex and Dating Sites

  • A woman might steal your blog headshot and use it for her dating site profile.
  • A perv might take the picture of your child off your Facebook page and put it on a porn site.
  • A person who runs a racy dating site might take your image and use it to advertise his service.

Scams

  • Someone might use, without your knowledge, a photo of your house for a rental scam.
  • Your motorcycle, jet ski, boat, puppy…you name it…could be used for scam for-classified sale ads.
  • Your avatar may be used for a phony Facebook account to then be posted in the comments section of news articles pitching some get-rich-quick scheme.

Fantasy Lives

  • Your image could be used by a lonely person to create a fictitious Facebook account.
  • A person with a real Facebook account may be so desperate for friends that they use your photo to create a fake account to then add as a friend.
  • Someone you know may steal your photo (such as an ex-lover) and create a social media account in your name, then post things on it that make you look really bad.

How can you protect your digital life?

  • For your social media accounts, make sure your privacy settings are on their highest so that the whole world can’t see your life.
  • Watermark your images so that they have less appeal to image thieves, but keep in mind that they’ll have less appeal to you too.
  • It’s one thing when an image of your house was stolen for a rental scam, but it’s a whole new animal if an image of your naked body or you engaged in a sex act was stolen. So don’t put racy images online. Never.
  • Explain to your kids about the risks of stolen images.
  • Make sure their social media privacy settings are high.
  • It’s possible your smartphone automatically stores pictures you take online. Turn off this feature.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to TheBestCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention.

Protect your Identity when saying “I Do”

7WWho has time to think about identity protection when planning a wedding? And why, for that matter? Well, there’s good reason: Marriage begets a change in identities. The months preceding the big day should be when the couple starts taking action to avoid identity theft.

  • If you’re using any website or smartphone application to organize your wedding, make sure it’s protected with a password—a long password that contains zero clues about your wedding, identity or anything else personal. An ideal password is upper/lowercase, numbers, long and can be remembered without keyboard sequences or actual words or proper names, and includes various symbols. Please, no HoneyBunch1 or St.LuciaWeGo.
  • Health insurance will be merged once you are husband and wife, so make sure that old insurance documentation is eradicated.
  • Wedding preparations involve a lot of spending, right down to the custom made napkins at the dinner reception. Some say pay with currency as much as possible, as checks and credit cards contain information that a thief could obtain. But really, pay with a credit card and closely watch your statements.
  • Make sure nobody can get into your mail box, because it will soon be receiving scads of documents reflecting a woman’s new last name, such as a driver’s license, credit card, Social Security card, to name a few. Get a locking mail box, and maybe have the post-wedding mail delivered to a P.O. box or to your post office and then retrieve it in person.
  • Buy a shredder. This is so that you can destroy all the reams of old documents with the previous surname. This would include old checks, the old ATM card, bank statements, driver’s license, auto insurance information and so much more.
  • Once on the honeymoon make sure your wireless devices that are connected to free WiFi are protected with a VPN to prevent hackers from snooping over free WiFi.

Now ideally, people should have already, long before meeting their soulmate, gotten into the habit of identity protection. This should be an ongoing process—as much ongoing for the chronically single person as for the gushing bride-to-be.

But it’s never too late to establish smart habits for identity protection. You will need to work with your spouse on just how very personal documents will be managed and filed. There are so many things to be aware of, including keeping monthly tabs on your credit card statements and yearly tabs on your credit reports.

And here’s a tip: Don’t assume your young child’s identity can’t be stolen. Crooks are out there stealing the identities of kids—who often don’t learn about this until it’s time to apply for a college loan or a loan for their first car.

Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft Expert to Hotspot Shield. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen See him discussing internet and wireless security on Good Morning America. Disclosures.

Identity Fraud Victim every two Seconds

Yes, identity fraud is SO common that someone becomes a victim every two seconds. The 2014 Identity Fraud Study, as reported on javelinstrategy.com, turned up some alarming results.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-identity-theft-red-words-binary-code-computer-monitor-image39907813Though the dollar amount stolen had decreased over the year preceding the study, the number of victims had increased. People at highest risk were ages 35 to 44.

Account takeover—when the thief takes over a pre-existing account—made up 28 percent of ID fraud losses in 2013. But the greatest risk factor for becoming a victim of identity fraud is the data breach. In that year, 30 percent of people who were notified of a data breach became an ID fraud victim.

Identity fraud is associated with credit cards, but this type of crime can also involve hijacking someone’s PayPal account, or account on Amazon and eBay.

How to Protect Yourself

Javelin Strategy & Research, who conducted the study, recommends the following:

  • Never use public Wi-Fi (at least use a VPN)
  • Shred old sensitive documents.
  • Change the passwords on all of your accounts often.
  • See which accounts offer two-factor authentication, then set it up. This way you’ll know if an unauthorized person is trying to access your account.
  • Use anti-virus and anti-malware software for all of your devices.
  • Monitor your accounts every week. Use mobile apps to stay on top of them.
  • Use direct deposit for payroll checks.
  • Don’t permit your Social Security Number to be used as an authenticating factor, because it can’t be changed, like a username or password can. Ninety-six percent of major credit card issuers and 80 percent of the top 25 banks will permit access to an account via the SSN. You should inform the institution to notate that you will never provide this number to verify your identity.
  • Arrange for your financial institutions to send you alerts (e-mail, text, phone call) when anomalous activity occurs, such as a purchase made in two countries only a few hours apart, or any purchase over a certain amount. Ask about additional forms of fraud detection as well.
  • If you suspect fraud, immediately report it.

If you receive notification of a data breach, you’re at higher risk for fraud; crack down on monitoring your accounts.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention.