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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.

2017 Was the Worst Year for Identity Theft EVER!

Javelin Strategy & Research recently released its Identity Fraud Study, and it revealed that the number of identity theft victims rose by 8% in 2017 when compared to 2016. That’s almost 17 million people, which is a record high. Despite more information and industry efforts to make people aware of these practices, $16.8 billion was stolen due to ID theft in 2016.

The study also showed a shift in how ID theft fraud was being done. Credit card accounts were the most common targets for new account fraud, we also see that there is a big uptick in other accounts being targeted, including PayPal accounts and e-commerce merchant accounts. We can also see that more than 30% of consumers in the US were notified that their information was part of a data breach, which is 12% higher than the year before. Social Security numbers also seem to be a favorite of ID thieves, as are credit card numbers. We also see that due to these breaches, consumers are becoming less trusting when it comes to companies and financial institutions that are storing personal data.

The Trends

There were four noteworthy trends that were also found in this study:

  • There was a Record High Rate of Identity Fraud – The study shows that almost 7% of all consumers were victims of ID fraud. This was almost a million people from 2016. This was mostly due to more account takeovers and more instances of fraud.
  • Account Takeover Has Grown – One of the most shocking things found in this study is that account takeover has tripled when compared to 2016 and has reached a four-year high. This is a 120% increase. It was also noted that the average victim had to pay an average of $290 out of pocket to solve these issues, and consumers spent more than 62 million hours trying to work these issues out.
  • Scammers Target Online Shoppers – The study also shows that people who shop online are most at risk of becoming a victim of fraud.
  • Scammers are More Sophisticated – Finally, the study showed that fraudsters are more sophisticated than ever before, and they use more complex methods than ever before.

Finally, the Identity Fraud Study did something new this year, too. It looked at the way news of data breaches has affected consumers. About 63% of people who responded say that they were “very” or “extremely” concerned about becoming a victim of a data breach.

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

The Term “Identity Theft Protection” is Often a Lie

If you are working for an IT security company, I have a message for you: the term “identity theft protection” is way overused and even abused as a marketing term. We know that this term is used to sell services and products, but does it really protect a user from being the victim of identity theft? No.

This is no different than labeling a food as “natural,” even though it is not actually “organic.” At best, this is incorrect information. At worst, it’s a total lie.

Every company with security solutions out there claims that they can protect identities. But, a firewall does nothing to protect a person from getting their identity stolen. The same goes with an encrypted thumb drive, antivirus software, or even phishing alerts.

Only true identity theft protection services monitor your identity. They do this by checking your credit report and scanning the internet for any sensitive personal info. It also looks for information such as the Social Security number, and if there is an issue, the service helps you solve the problem.

If you have identity theft protection right now, you might get an email like this each month:

We have been monitoring your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union, and we are pleased to inform you that we did not notice any new activity. As a user of our services, we will continue to check your credit report each day for your protection. We help to protect you from any financial losses and hassles that are associated with identity theft. You can log into our website and review your status at any time. Please click here and enter your username and password to get started. As always, our staff is standing by to assist if you notice any suspicious activity.

This is what you should get when you opt for identity theft protection. Don’t fall for the fancy marketing that security solutions companies throw at you.

At its basic level, this is what identity theft protection looks like:

  • Monitoring: continuous monitoring of your identity, privacy, and credit
  • Alerts: warning system rapidly notifying you when your personal information is at risk
  • Recovery: experts providing comprehensive, 24/7 recovery services taking care of paperwork, calls, and every detail to restore your identity

Do your research and don’t believe everything you see or read. Take the time to understand what you are spending your hard earned money on.

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.

Tips for Preventing Embezzlement and Employee Theft

If you are a business owner, you might be concerned about employee theft. If you aren’t concerned, perhaps you should be.

There are a number of ways that an employee can steal:

  • Embezzlement money, inventory or materials
  • Skimming – Diverting funds
  • Stealing business opportunities, data or trade secrets
  • Fraudulent disbursements like check tampering or billing schemes
  • Larceny – absolute theft

It might surprise you to find out that employees who steal are not usually new employees. Instead, they are those who have worked for a business for a number of years. (Three years is the average.) So, what can you do to protect your company from employee theft? Here are some ideas:

Watch Your Staff

You should be aware of the signs of theft. These include:

  • A sudden devotion to their work and/or the company
  • Working late
  • Living above their salary
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Evidence of gambling, bad check writing, or persistently asking to borrow money
  • A second job with materials available at your business
  • Strong objections to changes in inventory, financial, or supply procedures

Small businesses should always do background checks on any potential hire. Checking references is one thing, but to really understand who you are hiring, a full background check is best.

Supervise Employee Behavior

Research shows that employees are more likely to commit acts of fraud and theft when they don’t have a lot of supervision. You don’t have to supervise them constantly, but you should check on them often. It also is a good idea to have more than one person in charge of company finances.

Control All Business Receipts

Use pre-numbered sales slips and audit them frequently. This is especially the case with cash. You should not rely on a sales clerk to count and audit these receipts. Have another person do it.

Use Random Auditing

Start doing unannounced audits internally, and hire an outside company to do a yearly audit.

Use Purchase Orders

You should also use purchase orders and make sure that these are not handled by the same people over and over. It’s best to use pre-numbered purchase orders, and then always verify any orders coming in.

Keep Track of Business Checks

Use checks that are pre-numbered and make sure the amounts and recipient name is typed or in permanent ink. It’s best to produce checks from software, such as QuickBooks. If you have bank checks, make sure they are locked up.

Install Security Software on Computers

Start using security software on your computers that monitors employee activity, and restrict access to company records. You should also frequently change passwords and ensure that all of your security features are working.

Be Responsible with Accounts Receivable

Ensure that you are recording all of your incoming payments. Make sure incoming checks are marked as “deposit only.” Hire a forensics accountant at least bi-annually. Having a professional come in looking for discrepancies, or “cooked books” is worth every penny.

Use Security Systems with Inventory Management

Keep shipping and receiving as separate functions. Consider using security devices to monitor all inventory and merchandise that is coming in.

Install Security Cameras

Frankly, “trust” is overrated. It’s natural and normal to trust by default. As an “interdependent” species, humans can’t function without inherently trusting one another. But while most people can be trusted, the few that can’t need security cameras pointed at them all day.

Help Employees Report Theft by Their Co-Workers

You should make it as easy as possible for your staff to report theft or fraud by their co-workers. You want to make sure that you are doing this discretely, and you want to make sure that you don’t make it look like you don’t trust your staff.

What to Do if You Suspect Theft

If you have an employee who you think is stealing form you, here’s what you should do:

  • Use extreme caution when conducting your investigations and when making an accusation. If this turns out to be false, it could mean a lawsuit for you.
  • If you have a suspicion, investigate. If you can correctly identify the employee who is responsible, you should terminate their position immediately, revoke all network and building access and then consider contacting the authorities.
  • If theft is a complex or a large issue involving more than one employee, you should talk to a legal professional. They can help find experts who can help.

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.

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.

Man raises a Family on Dead Man’s Stolen Identity

Imagine you learn your husband (or wife) of 25 years is really a different person. That’s what happened to Mary Hickman—25 years after she married a man who had identified himself all those years back as Terry Jude Symansky. The Florida couple had a son and lead an uneventful life, with Symansky working different jobs and even acquiring a pilot’s license.

11DIn actuality, Symansky was really Richard Hoagland, who’d been married twice before, who had lived in Indiana and then mysteriously disappeared and was eventually presumed dead. He had stolen the real Terry Jude Symansky’s identity and got away with this for 25 years—until he was busted by Symansky’s nephew.

The nephew learned of the identity theft, something he never even suspected, via Ancestry.com. He reported this to the police, who then alerted Hickman.

Hickman subsequently came upon documents in the attic proving that her husband was an imposter of a man who had died in 1991 in a drowning accident. Hoagland, 63, was arrested.

So why had he vanished from Indiana? There, he’d had four kids with two wives. He had wanted to get away from one of the wives, so he up and left, though he told her it was because the FBI wanted him for the theft of millions of dollars—a claim that has yet to be substantiated.

How did Hoagland steal Symansky’s identity in the first place? It certainly helped that he had once been living with the dead man’s father, where he had found a copy of Symansky’s death certificate. He had used this document to get a birth certificate, and armed with that, he was on his way to assuming the identify of a man who had never even been married nor had any kids—which had made it even easier for Hoagland to pull off his caper.

We can probably thank those Ancestry.com commercials for causing the chain of events that led up to the crook’s arrest.

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.

Are You Part of the 70 Percent Who Are Clueless About Identity Theft?

You’d think with all the media attention regarding data breaches, hackers and identity theft, that consumers would be more focused on their privacy and how to protect their information from prying eyes. Surprisingly, almost 70% of the people are clueless about how a criminal might have got a hold of their personal information.

We all have a lot going on in our lives, and this is exactly how identity thieves like us. Ever lurking, these criminals are counting on us being too busy to give any thought to who we are sharing our information to. These people are always there, and just waiting for us to make mistakes.

The startling truth is that most victims of an identity theft crime, about 68 percent, don’t know how their information was obtained, and 92 percent of victims have no idea who stole their information. A further 45 percent of identity theft victims don’t realize they are a victim until they hear from their financial institution. There are more than 16 million victims of identity theft each year.

IdentityForce created a very informative info-graphic (nice job IdentityForce!) that shows the public are essentially sitting ducks, just waiting to be picked off by identity thieves.

identity_info

What did you do to expose your information? Consider the following:

  • Got married
  • Gave too much info away on social media
  • Responded to a fraudulent text, message, or email

Additionally, major life events put you at greater risk of becoming a victim, such as having a baby or getting a new job.

When most of us consider identity theft, we usually think immediately of credit card fraud, but there is much more to it than that. Though credit card fraud is a common type of identity theft, these thieves can use the information they have obtained to do the following:

  • Open up a new bank account or credit card…and make changes to your billing address, leaving you none the wiser
  • Take out a large loan, such as a mortgage or vehicle loan, and never pay the loan off
  • File a fraudulent tax return, and taking the money that comes from it

If you find yourself to be a victim of identity theft, you could be dealing with the aftermath for years to come, and could struggle to clear your name and repair your credit score.

Fortunately, there are several ways that you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft. Some of this includes:

  • Only give out your Social Security number when it is absolutely necessary
  • Do not allow mail to sit in a mailbox
  • Don’t respond to suspicious requests for personal information
  • Only create complex passwords for online accounts

Here’s how to be part of the 30% of informed, alert, aware and cyber smart consumers: Take the “Identity Theft Risk Quiz” here: https://www.identityforce.com/resources/quiz To further protect yourself, sign up for an identity theft service, today.

Robert Siciliano CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, 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 getting even worse

In 2015, depending on the kind and type of identity theft we are talking about, identity thieves impacted 1.5 million people or more, says the Javelin Strategy & Research report. That’s more than double than for 2014.

The move from stripe cards to chip cards has motivated crooks to fasten their seatbelts and really take off with an accelerated mode of operation. For them, your Social Security Number is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Thieves will use it to set up new accounts in the victims’ names, then go on spending sprees. This kind of identity theft is called new-account fraud.

  • This can go on for months or years before the victim realizes it.
  • Sometimes the victim never finds out.
  • These cases can also slip by the victim’s bank.

A favorite scam is for the thief to create a fake (partially stolen, partially faked) identity morphed from multiple pieces of real—and stolen—data. So we have not only a stolen identity but a fictitious identity—which could be created using your Social Security number and someone else’s home address and name. This is called synthetic ID, and banks see right past it.

Synthetic ID Crimes

  • ID manipulation: The criminal uses a stolen core identity but integrates false pieces of data to avert detection.
  • Quick synthetics: Data pieces from multiple, real victims are compiled into a single identity.

What can banks do?

  • Analyze cellphone account data to see if there’s a predictable pattern of billing details, since many thieves may use a prepaid, discardable VoIP phone.
  • E-mail history is also important to look at; a new e-mail for an old account should be suspicious for fraud.
  • Another red flag is if the e-mail address doesn’t correlate to the mobile device.

What can be done by credit card issuers?

  • Checking a person’s identity needs to be more thorough.
  • For instance, a red flag would be spotting the same address for several different names.
  • Repeat scoring of the applicant’s risk score, one to three days later, to see if there’s a change. A change is a red flag.

What can you do?

No identity theft is OK. But if synthetic identity theft happens you to, meaning some sleaze uses your SSN, but not your name, you may never know about it. And that means it may not actually affect you. But:

  • Check your credit reports at least annually
  • Consider investing in identity theft protection. Identity theft protection monitors your SSN for activity on the dark web and on most new lines of credit.
  • Get a credit freeze. A credit freeze locks down your credit and prevents new account fraud.

The bottom line is that banks and credit card issuers need to employ a multi-layer approach to screening and approving applicants. The more layers, the harder it will be for a fraudster to penetrate. Four layers are significantly better than two layers.

Robert Siciliano CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, 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.

IRS Identity Theft Prevention Tool hacked

The Identity Protection PIN tool on the IRS.gov site has been temporarily suspended—because it was recently hacked into. The tool provides retrieval of forgotten or lost IP PINs to users who want an extra layer of protection against identity theft.

9DBut some users who received the IP PINs recently via the online tool learned that a thief had used their IP PIN to file tax returns in their name.

So now, for the moment, you cannot use the IRS’s online function to retrieve your IP PIN; meanwhile, the IRS is investigating the hack.

The online tool attracts taxpayers who lost or forgot the six-digit IP PIN they were issued via snail mail. Despite the suspension of the tool, taxpayers are encouraged to file their returns without any qualms. The IP PINs purpose is to add additional protection to the user, but is not required to process a tax return.

Lesson learned: If you ever receive an IP PIN in the future…memorize it or write it down in hardcopy and keep in a safe place.

Tips from the IRS

  • There will always be someone who misplaces or accidentally throws out the letter containing the IP PIN, or who intentionally discards the document but then can’t remember the number and never wrote it down. They should call the IRS in the wake of this suspension.
  • Over the phone, they will need to verify their identity, after which they will receive a letter with the IP PIN.
  • If since the first of this year the taxpayer has moved, they will need to file a paper return, and this will take longer to process if it doesn’t contain an IP PIN.
  • The IP PIN is given out to those at risk or who feel at risk for tax identity theft. But again, it’s not necessary to use it if it’s been lost or forgotten. But for those who managed to retrieve their number, they should include it on their tax return.

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

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