Recovering from identity theft scams is a tremendous amount of work. It’s like playing a game of whack-a-mole. You whack one problem down over here, and three more pop up over there. The cycle repeats, over and over.
Dealing with identity theft is not a fun game, though. When Internet crooks are masquerading as you, obtaining bogus credit cards, making massive purchases and sucking money directly out of your checking and savings accounts, you feel just as violated as if they had burglarized your home or robbed you at gunpoint. I’m currently helping a local couple work through the processes involved, and it is stressful, intimidating, frightening and very time consuming. I predict they will not be through with the struggle for many months.
Years ago, a wise man told me, “Dave, most people will never believe you until they feel the pain.” He was right. Most people visit hazardous websites, post all of their personal details online, open sketchy emails and click suspicious links like they were invulnerable superheroes.
To them, the Internet is their personal ponies-and-rainbows playground, and they are immune to all problems. Only when things go south do they wake up and realize their behavior is dangerous to themselves, as well as their friends and loved ones.
In the hope that you will take due care and diligence to stop identity theft before it happens, here is a list of things you can do to be protected now, instead of trying to clean up the mess later. It is a long list. I urge you to accept the challenge, buckle down and follow it in its entirety. Then, enjoy a quiet and peaceful life, afterwards.
1. Get in the habit of keeping written records of all important or suspicious phone calls. Don’t depend on your memory to recall things weeks or months later. Write it all down: who, what, where, when, why. Keep paper copies of all correspondence, bills paid, account statements, etc. Stop using online paperless billing and statements. Don’t depend on email to keep track of these things. Written documentation is extremely important if things go wrong. Believe me, the tiny amounts of paper you save with paperless billing and statements with be nothing compared to the mountains of paper you will generate if trouble comes your way.
2. Login to all online accounts: phone, bank, email, Amazon, Facebook, credit cards, all accounts. Use unique passwords for every account. Never reuse passwords. Change passwords, security questions, and add multifactor authentication sign-in measures. Add extra security PIN numbers and alerts for all activity, especially charges, password changes, persons or numbers added, transfers and cash withdrawals.
3. Order copies of credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.com, and other current financial statements. Get a copy of your Early Warning Consumer Report. Closely review credit card and bank statements, credit bureau reports and other bills you pay for anything unusual.
4. Put a “Freeze” (not a “lock”) on your accounts at all four major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, Transunion and Innovis).
5. Remove unnecessary personal information from all social media accounts. Do not post birthdays, family member names, addresses, phone numbers, email, employment or school information, etc.
6. Contact your phone carrier and find out about porting and/or “port out” security. The security of your cell phone number is critically important (read last week’s column about phone hijacking). All major carriers have extra security that can be set up, such as unique PIN numbers/passcodes or security questions.
7. Never answer unexpected “alert” text messages from anyone, especially from “Fraud Departments” alleging to be from your carrier, email providers or financial institutions. If you get a voice call, ask the caller for their name, phone number and extension and tell them you will call them right back. Find out the real phone number of the business and call them with a voice call to see if they are actually trying to reach you. Keep written records of everything related to calls like this.
To be continued next week with Scams and Identity Theft, Part Four: More prevention.
Dave Moore has been fixing computers in Oklahoma since 1984. Founder of the nonprofit Internet Safety Group Ltd., he also teaches Internet safety community training workshops. He can be reached at 919-9901 or internetsafetygroup.com.