Identity theft is a hot topic not only for those consumers who have become victims but for companies who struggle to keep your information safe in a high tech world. Whether your data was stolen from a large database servicing companies like Master Card and Visa or small databases servicing medical billing companies, what happens to your data depends on who stole it.
It is important to remember that a high percentage of identity theft is done by someone the victim knows or is known by the family. Relatives, friends, and service providers have access to your private information within your home unless you have “secured” your information under lock and key. Most of us don’t. We think our home is safe and would never suspect someone close to us to violate our private data. Our best protection is to make sure our important information is kept in a safe and passwords secured so prying eyes cannot see.
Identity theft done through hackers
Some hackers just want the thrill of compromising a database. They really crave the recognition from their community that they “broke” the code and gained entry into something that was supposed to be secure.Your data may not be used or sold so consequences of this type of theft may not really affect you.
Some hackers do it to make a point: no information is safe and it is only a matter of time when your information will be breeched not if it can be breeched. They can be an activist group trying to make a point concerning a specific company or even data security in general.
There are a group of hackers that steal data for a living. While some may want your information to open up accounts in your name, the big boys are going to steal your credit card numbers to sell. They make money by selling large amounts of information to other third party criminals. The third party buyers are the ones that utilize your data to open new account. Selling bulk information several times makes it more difficult to trace the original theft and reduces the risk of getting caught for the thieves who steal the information. Does that mean your stolen information will be used by criminals? It depends on how much corresponding information is also taken. A credit card account along with DVV codes and expiration date will bring a higher price then just an account number.
Identity theft done through stealing information in the workplace
Companies are responsible to keep your information safe and secure. There are encryptions, passwords, screening of employees and other security precautions companies take to protect your confidential information. Companies hire security specialists to review company policies and built in controls in hopes of staying ahead of the game. Periodically we see where one or two employees tap into sensetive areas and either directly steal money from accounts or steal personal information to sell. You have the right to question any company you deal with as to their security policies and how they protect your information. Companies are required to give you their policy and procedures on how they handle your personal information.
Stealing information through scanning the identity chip in your credit card.
As you walk down the street, eat in a resturant or wait in an airport, there is now technoloy that can scan your new card with the smart chip imbedded that will be done without your knowledge. Scanners have been placed on gas pumps, ATM machines and other places that make the stealing of your information invisible. If your new credit card has a smart chip in it, you can take it to the bank and ask for one that does not have the chip.
Reduce your risk
The best way to reduce your risk of identity theft is to check your accounts on a daily basis. Review your bank statement and credit card statements online to check for fraudulent purchases. Report any suspect transactions to your card issuer and replace the card. You should also change your passwords for your online accounts. You may need to place a fraud alert on your credit report to make sure additional accounts cannot be opened. Of course, contact your bank if your personal information like social security number, date of birth or insurance information is compromised. The FTC recommends that you have one card for regular use and one card for online purchases only. You may want a separate card for travel as well, keeping your use level down to specific purchases. Contact us at Family Life Resources, Inc. should you have any questions concerning identity theft. We can give you step by step information on what you should do if your information is compromised.
HURRICANE WARNING (ARE YOU PREPARED?)
It's here. Hurricane season officially begins June 1st and the Eastern US knows it by name. Sandy, Katrina, Hugo, Andrew. These storms have wreaked havoc in the lives of millions of people and destroyed property in amazing demonstrations of power. Your only defense is to be prepared. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) each year presents hurricane preparedness week at the end of May with a website devoted to resources and advice on preparing for tropical storms and hurricanes (click here for NOAA Preparedness).
In addition to bottled water, canned foods, batteries and flashlights, there are other considerations in getting ready for the storm. The biggest question: Do we stay or do we evacuate? Heeding local authorities directives are always the best policy, but whichever you choose, you need to consider how to preserve and protect your most important documents. Birth certificates, passports, important records (such as insurance papers) and general identification documents are difficult to replace and need preserving. Especially in an evacuation, you need to have these records with you.
THE LIFEBOOK AS A LIFEBOAT (FOR YOUR DOCUMENTS)
The Family Lifebook from Family Life Resources is an all-in-one storage vault for your important papers that can be quickly retrieved in case of emergency or evacuation. Think of it as a lifeboat for your documents.
The Family Lifebook has places to record vital information and over 40 storage sleeves for bank accounts, insurance policies, titles and deeds. You'll know exactly where everything is and won't have to be searching multiple locations when trying to prepare for the storm.
For waterproofing and extra protection, place your Lifebook in a plastic storage container along with other valuables that need to be shielded from the elements. Being prepared is your best defense against disaster and your best chance of getting back to normal once the storm passes.
For a more detailed description of the Lifebook and its many features, click on the video below:
photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
YOU CAN GIVE YOUR CLIENTS THE GIFT OF ORGANIZATION.
Legal, financial, real estate and other professionals now have a great new gift that they can present to their most valued clients...the gift of organization. The LifeBook is a high quality bound portfolio that tells a client that yours is a special relationship.
Many professionals assist their clients in various types of life planning and as part of that service they are helping them to gather information, documents and important papers. Estate planning attorneys, CPAs, financial planners, funeral service providers, insurance agents and others can now give key clients a way to store and organize deeds, titles, wills, directives, passports and all documents important to their lives.
The FamilyLifeBook has eight tabbed sections, over 40 storage sleeves and complete instructions on how to safely organize legal and financial records. It has pages to list critical information, service contacts and special directives.
The FamilyLifeBook is an executive-level gift that is directly applicable to the service that you are providing. It instantly connects you and your clients in a way that ordinary incentive products cannot. The leatherette binder and your ability to personalize the first page with your client's name will send a message that you consider them a valued customer and want to present them with a high quality gift that they will treasure for a lifetime.
GIVE A GIFT.....NURTURE A RELATIONSHIP
CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE (quantity discounts available):
photo courtesy of Ambro-FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Your LifeBook....Don't Flee A Disaster Without It.
Is this guy carrying his LifeBook? If he's going to be rebuilding his life or if he plans to apply to FEMA for relief, he just might need it.
Hurricane season begins here in Florida in just a couple of months and, along with purchasing bottled water and flashlight batteries, people begin thinking about the possibilities of having to evacuate. Disaster experts all agree that having a good plan is important to your safety and security. Making sure that you and your family are physically safe is the first priority and your local emergency management agency can provide you with tools for that kind of planning. The Florida Division of Emergency Management can provide information on all types of preparedness issues. Contact them at www.floridadisaster.org.
WHAT DO WE TAKE WITH US?
Along with cash and items for consumption (food and prescription medicine) and personal comfort, most people will be concerned about their important and irreplaceable documents....birth certificates, ID cards, passports, etc. But most of us don't know where all of these documents are located and couldn't gather them quickly in case of emergency or evacuation. The LifeBook will give you a convenient, organized way to store and locate those papers necessary to conduct your life affairs in times of crisis. Start by thinking of those things that you will need while you are away. Contact phone numbers, banking information, medical access cards and passwords for websites are just a few.
WHAT WILL WE FIND WHEN WE RETURN?
Some victims of hurricane Sandy returned to find that their homes had sustained very little damage. Others returned to find that their homes were not at the same address where they left them. Still others never found them at all. Recovering from such a calamity is tough, but made all the more difficult if important documents have been lost. Insurance information, proof of identity, proof of ownership and access to financial assets will all be necessary as you begin the process of rebuilding. If you are under-insured or have little in the way of financial resources you may have to turn to the government for help. But don't think that you're not going to need documents. In fact, you may need more.
DEALING WITH F.E.M.A.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is where many people will turn in the aftermath of a disaster. There is funding available for temporary housing and assistance with restoration of many other aspects of life. Requirements must be met to qualify and many of those programs require documentation. For example, you can get assistance for a damaged car (you'll need proof of ownership and insurance information). There is help for rebuilding your home, but as the FEMA website describes "Below are a few types of documents that may be provided to prove ownership: Deed or Official Record, Title number, Mortgage payment book, real property insurance and tax bill." Speaking of taxes, counties can provide property tax relief, but you'll need those records. For information on assistance available please contact the FEMA website at www.fema.gov The point is: you need to make sure that you can get your hands on important papers and that they are preserved and safeguarded. The LifeBook does exactly that.
The LifeBook has eight tabbed sections that allow you to organize important papers and store them for quick reference. You'll always know where to locate passports, insurance papers, marriage licenses, bank information and titles & deeds. With everything in one portable portfolio, you'll have the peace of mind that everything can be taken with you and that the process of rebuilding will be that much easier.
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ORGANIZING AND PROTECTING YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS
Quick, where is an original copy of your car insurance policy? Could you lay your hands on your birth certificate or passport within the next half-hour? Where are the mortgage papers located? In case of an emergency, do you know where your most important documents are stored? Does your spouse have any idea of how to access your retirement funds or life insurance if you suddenly die?
These questions can come at the most inconvenient times and even in the midst of crisis. Most families know that these important papers are somewhere around the house, but usually not in one place. The Family Life Book can help you assemble, organize and store those documents so that you or your family can gain instant access to them.
Family Life Resources, Inc. has created THE FAMILY LIFE BOOK, A WAY TO PROTECT, PROVIDE AND GIVE A LEGACY TO YOUR FAMILY. This book gives you instructions in how to organize your papers and a place to store them. It is organized into 8 tabbed sections that cover the different aspects of your life that need to be documented for your family in times of emergency, death or incapacitation. It's also very handy for just finding your papers for everyday access.
The Family Life Book is beautifully bound in a leatherette folio with three-ring construction so that you can add and delete items to fit your personal situation.
Sections include: What You Should Know In The First Six Hours, Your Legacy, Insurance Policies, Bank/Investment Statements, Personal Family Information, Personal Financial Information, Loan Statements and Titles-Deeds-Home Inventory. There are 6 forms for recording critical information (also available electronically on our website). You'll find 8 pages of written instructions and over 30 storage sleeves for policy copies, statements, deeds, passports and other important documents.
The Family Life Book is offered now from Family Life Resources, Inc. at $149.95 plus shipping. (quantity discounts are available).
You can call 1-800-553-8621 or email Steve Smith at email@example.com for more information or simply click here to purchase now:
This is a great way to make sure that those papers most important to you and your family can be preserved and located at any time.
CREDIT REPORT SURPRISES? Go Ahead, Take A Look.
Admit it. You haven't looked at your credit report because you fear what you'll find. You probably won't open that bottom drawer in your refrigerator for the same reason. It's time to open both and let them air out.
WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW CAN HURT YOU.
Knowing the contents of your credit file is one of the most important moves you can make in improving your finances and making good money decisions. Your credit report is like your old school report-card, except that it includes just two subjects. It reports on the subject of history (have you paid your bills on time in the past) and on the subject of math (did you send in the right amount). Just like when you were in school, a bad report card can have some serious consequences (your parents won't ground you for life, but your creditors might). So it is in your best interest to know what your report says about your financial behavior. What you don't know can hurt you and your financial future.
START WITH A CREDIT REPORT REVIEW BY A CERTIFIED CREDIT COUNSELOR.
Many people pull a credit report and try to analyze it on their own, but quickly become confused with the format and content of the information. First are the codes... J, T, B, 063,141, OMG! Then there are the abbreviations.... GEMB, CPTL, EETU, EIEIO. You have to figure out what bold face type means and how to read the "grid" that contains dates opened, last date reported, how many times delinquent and for how long, ...you get the idea. I believe that most people would be better served with a credit report review by a Certified Credit Counselor. The adviser's can explain the jargon, decipher the codes and help you understand the different sections found in the report. But, more importantly, the Counselor can give you valuable advice about how all of the entries either help or hurt your ultimate credit score and how you can take the actions necessary to improve your credit. A new credit review service is now being offered by Family Life Resources, Inc. at
6 THINGS YOU CAN LEARN IN A CREDIT REPORT REVIEW SESSION.
1. How your credit score is determined by the various agencies. Scoring models use a set of criteria based on repayment history, outstanding debt and several other minor factors.
2. Positive and negative issues on your report that most strongly affect your credit score and how you can go about correcting them. You can't solve a problem until you can define the problem. A counselor can pinpoint problem areas and help you develop a Plan of Action for addressing those issues.
3. Rank where your score stands among the national benchmarks of other borrowers. Statistics are available to tell you how you are doing versus your neighbors (I bet they aren't doing as well as you think).
4. Get an idea of minimum credit scores required for various types of borrowing. This can be a very helpful tool when you're trying to borrow. The score needed for certain lenders varies by market and economic conditions and are constantly changing, but you can get a rough idea of the likelihood of obtaining a loan.
5. Help determine if you have been the victim of Identity Theft. These days spotting identity theft may be the single most important reason to keep track of your credit file. Law enforcement agencies report a skyrocketing incidence of fraud in credit cards, tax refunds and false identification documents.
6. Reveal errors in the report that may be drastically lowering your score. Many credit reports contain mistakes, although, in fairness to the bureaus, most are minor in nature. Still, a misreported delinquency or other accounts not belonging to you could drag down your score. You, and only you, are responsible for monitoring your file in order to keep it accurate.
NOT A DO-IT-YOURSELF PROJECT.
So, get some help in understanding your credit report. It is far too important a document to take on as a Do-It-Yourself project with serious consequences if you get it wrong. Once you've cracked the code and know what you're looking at, then you will be ready to tackle it on your own with future reports. But you have to take a look first. Go ahead, take a look. And while you're at it, would you clean out the bottom of that refrigerator. Yuck.
Photos credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Identity theft can happen to anyone. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has published numerous pamphlets that provide information about what to do to protect your identity and steps you should take if you think you are a victim of identity theft. These pamphlets are free to the public and we encourage you to contact the FTC to have them mailed to you to place in your business or other places to help disburse this information.
Red flags that your personal information may have been compromised.
- Bills that do not arrive to your home or P.O. Box
- Unexpected credit cards or account statements show up in your mail
- Denials of credit for no apparent reason
- Calls or letters about purchases you did not make
- Charges on your financial statements that you do not recognize.
- Accounts on your credit report that you do not remember
What can you do if you suspect identity theft?
1 - Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Call one of the credit bureaus to inform them. You will be required to provide proof of your identity. That bureau will contact the others concerning your alert. You might consider placing a credit freeze on your credit file. It is easier than you think. It will not affect your credit score.
2 - Order your credit reports to get a base line of accounts shown or see if new accounts have been added. You can obtain a free report from www.annualcreditreport.com. FLR also offers a Credit Report Review Session so that you can meet with a Certified Credit Counselor to review and explain your report and scores to you.
3 - Create an identity theft report. To do this, submit a complaint about the theft to the FTC by completing the FTC affidavit, file a police report, attach the affidavit and police report which creates the identity theft report. You will need this report to work with the credit bureaus and businesses in future to resolve the situation.
If your worse fears are realized and your credit, accounts or identity have been compromised, contact the businesses involved and the credit bureau to dispute the error. You may also ask the credit bureau to block any identity theft information from appearing on your report.
Most identity theft is perpetrated by someone you know so be careful who you trust your personal information with. You can get a copy of Taking Charge; What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen from the FTC or by contacting us - www.flrministry.com.
PAGES IN THE LIFE BOOK: USER NAMES AND PASSWORDS
We at Family Life Resource, Inc. are preparing a new offering that we are calling The Life Book. It is a tool to organize your finances and assist your loved-ones in the event of your death, incapacitation or an emergency. You can get information about The Life Book by reviewing the FLR Blog, Inside The Love Book: A Read Me First Checklist to learn about those items that will be included (the "Love Book" was a previous working title). This series of articles goes into greater detail about each section of the book.
One of the most important elements of the book will be a page devoted to the recording of user names and passwords. Think of how much of your financial life is now found on your computer. If you don't routinely retain copies of bank statements, retirement accounts and insurance policies, your family will have no way of quickly determining what resources are available to administer your business and meet your obligations. A listing of your on-line financial relationships, through a chart of user names and passwords, will allow others to get a quick, accurate and helpful look at your affairs.
We would recommend that this page be located near the front of the book, especially if your family will be relying on your assets to take care of final expenses. Those issues normally need to be addressed and finalized within the first few days of your passing. Your financial provider website will give them real-time information on balances and availability of funds and will be necessary when dealing with funeral arrangements and expenses. In the longer term, the website locations are very helpful if your supporting documentation (policies, titles, statements, etc) cannot be found. The page is a covenient and central location for those who are hesitant to keep the information in a digital form and want a hard-copy listing.
Most sites today will include extra layers of security beyond user and password. Your page needs to include answers to challenge questions (What Was Your Mother's Maiden Name?). Give special instructions should entries be qualified by the use of upper and lower case letters. Update the list often as you should be regularly changing your passwords, especially on financial accounts.
It is extremely important that this sheet (as well as the remainder of The Life Book) be safeguarded. A list of your passwords opens up your digital world and your financial life to anyone who views it. Protection of personal information is the key defense against identifty theft, unauthorized use of accounts and loss of your assets.
Image Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Identity Theft...it can happen to anyone. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft continues to grow each year despite the push to educate the general population and the increase in technology to overcome such scams. Those who have been affected by identy theft often feel victimized. The rest of the population is wondering if there is truly a way to protect their information. The good news is that the public is only as helpless as their lack of knowledge. YOUR information can be protected but you will need to take the necessary steps to do so.
To get started, keep in mind that there are three major ways to combat identy theft. They are deter, detect and defend. This blog will address the first step DETER and in following stories we will address detect and defend.
According to the FTC "While nothing can guarantee that you won't become a victim of identity theft, you can minimize your risk, and minimize the damage if a problem develops, by making it more difficult for identity thieves to access your personal information." Deter is, simply stated, your need to minimize your risk. Here are six things you can do to protect your personal information:
- Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them. That includes all offers you get in the mail for credit cards, checks you receive with your credit card statements and any offers for services you receive that someone could set up in your name at a different address.
- Protect your social security number. Don’t carry your social security card, your Medicare card or any paper with your social security information on it. Do not give it out over the phone or to anyone you do not know. If you are asked for your social security number state that you do not have it with you and you do not remember it.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, over your cell phone or over the internet unless you are certain of who you are dealing with. Even then, each time you release your information you run the risk of that information being compromised. Be wary of the companies that offer to protect your identity. No one can give you a 100% guarantee. Check out the company with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for any complaints.
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; If you did not enter the lottery you did not win it either. Scammers use spyware to access your personal information found on your computer and you probably won’t know it. Install a firewall, anti-spyware and anti-virus software to protect your computer. You can visit www.onguardonline.gov for more information. Of course there are scammers that offer to protect your computer, make it faster and monitor it. If that is the direction you want to take, make sure you check the company out with the FTC and BBB.
- Don’t use the same password for everything or an obvious password like PASSWORD. Your birth date, mothers maiden name or the last four digits of your social security number are not good alternatives either. Passwords are required for a reason…to protect your information. Look at it as a necessary evil. Word of caution: Watch where you keep your list of passwords.
- Keep your personal information in a secure place at home. Also be careful what information you keep in your desk at work. Try to think like a criminal. Where would you look to find sensitive information?
Do not over react to the threat of identity theft. There are things you can do to protect your information. The above information helps to protect you in the areas you have control over. In most cases personal information is stolen by some one you know and trust. By taking these precautions you reduce your risk of your identity being compromised.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS ON COLLECTION OF AN OLD DEBT
When you have debts that you have stopped paying on, you have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Often times the debts are sold to a consumer debt buyer that will pay pennies on the dollar then call the debtor several times a day to collect the full amount. There are things you can do to protect yourself depending on where your debts are in the process.
30 to 180 days late:
Your credit card debt is still with your original lender in their internal collection department. The collector calling you can do things that a debt collection agency cannot. They do not fall under the protection clauses of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act because they represent the original lender. The important thing to remember is that once you stop paying on the debt, a clock starts. This clock represents the time it will take for your debt to go beyond the statute of limitations. That statute of limitations for credit card debt can be as short as three years or as long as ten years. State law determines how long the statute lasts, but varies state to state. The state law applies either to the state you live in or the state specified in your credit contract. The type of debt is also a factor. You can check with a legal aid lawyer, an attorney or your State Attorney General’s Office to see how your state law applies to your type of debt.
Six months to ten years
Once a credit card debt goes to an outside collection agency, an attorney who regularly collect debts, or a company that buys old debt to collect on later, your debt is considered a write off for the original lender. These other debt collectors now fall under the Fair Debt Collection Practice’s Act. You can click on this link to read about the protections this act allows you. Once your debt falls beyond the statute of limitations it is considered a time-barred debt. In other words, you cannot be sued in order to collect the debt. That does not mean you do not owe the debt and collection agencies can continue to try to collect. It simply means they can no longer sue you ( file a judgment) in order to collect.
If you decide to start making payments on an old debt, understand that resets the clock. Even a partial payment or a commitment to make a payment will reset the clock. Make sure you are able to repay the debt before committing to a payment plan. It may be best to try to settle the debt for less then full balance and pay it off instead of agreeing to payments. You can negotiate the settlement yourself; don’t hire a company to provide that service.
Should you have questions on issues arising from old debt, Family Life Resources can assist you. We can teach you how to settle your debt or whether a payment plan is a good option for you. We can also help you understand how all of this affects your credit report. You can contact us at 800-553-8621 Monday- Friday 9:00AM to 5:30 PM. Our initial counseling is free. See our other blogs on this subject, like us on facebook and follow us on twitter for our updates.