Rebecca Herold

The Privacy Professor's
Tip of the


Someone trying to take your pot of gold?


Pot of gold 

When you think about identity theft, what comes to mind... credit card, bank account and social security number misuse? Those certainly are real issues to be concerned about, but what about more obscure schemes? Emerging as increasingly numerous and crafty scams, crooks have crossed the line, getting into the medical and mortality businesses.


Sound creepy? You haven't heard the half of it. In addition to criminals using others' identities to assume insurance benefits and/or seek healthcare, or open credit lines with a deceased person's social security number (way too easy for crooks to do, by the way), some ill-intentioned parents have even tapped into their kids' identities for various bogus account activities. Let's just say I certainly hope luck runs out for these people and they trip on their shillelagh! 


There are so many ways thieves can access your personal information that I wanted to devote this month's tip to helping you head off some of the most current and rampant threats.  




Bad guy 


You may have heard some of this before, but even if so, these steps are worth repeating, knowing, learning and doing!


Ten steps to thwarting identity theft:



1.    Use different passwords based on the sensitivity of the websites you're using. For example, use complex and longer passwords on your banking and financial sites than you use on your social media sites.


2.    Check credit reports from the three big credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) twice per year -- I like to check at different times for each. Address any discrepancies immediately. Also, change your notification preferences so that you are contacted when someone tries to access your information.


3.    Cross-shred sensitive documents to minimize dumpster diving threats. A few years ago, I actually caught people digging through dumpsters early in the morning behind a neighboring office building, collecting all the papers they could stuff in their large garbage bag, looking for valuable information!


4.    Check to make sure that personal webpage views (medical, financial) are secure -- look for a padlock image and/or HTTPS in the URL, as well as a link to a valid privacy policy, usually at the bottom of the page.


5.    Beware of too-good-to-be-true messages: don't click the links or fill out surveys promising free money, free iPods, iPads, etc.  And I mean really, how many people have relatives they've never heard of in countries they've never heard of who would leave them fortunes?  Very, very few, if any; just delete that message!


6.    Always use reputable, secured websites. Research a company's reputation on the web by searching for the company's name and "complaint" or "scam."


7. Cookies are often used when doing transactions on sites, but if you aren't buying anything, turn off cookies whenever possible.


8.    Remove your name from credit reporting agency and credit company promotional/marketing lists (1-888-5-OPT-OUT).


9.    Be safe online and don't post any more information than necessary -- birth date, workplace, address.  If you really want someone to wish you happy birthday consider putting a different month, day and year; you'll still get the well wishes, just on a different day, which would still be okay!


10.    Carefully review financial and medical statements to check for unknown line items. Be sure to look for small transactions, often around $15 or $25. Fraudsters often commit their deviant crimes a little bit here and a little bit there and no one catches them, but it accumulates to quite a large pot of gold for them!


... and just for luck, a bonus tip:


11.  Give yourself an online audit. Search for your name, phone number, family members, email address, etc. Set up Google alerts for your name and check social networking sites for accounts with your name.


Did you know...


Facebook is now dictating what goes on your feed with a new algorithm based on those with whom you have interaction. If you want to see all your friends' statuses and wall posts, and not just those that Facebook determines would be best for you to see, scroll down to the bottom of your feed page, click on Edit Options and make your selection from the drop-down bar.


If you use Gmail, you should know that Google monitors keywords in your email messages to refine the ads they put on your pages. They monitor your email use, what time of day you're online, what you're doing and with what entities. Then, using this information along with where you live and where you are checking your email from, their partner companies target YOU with their offers right there on your Gmail page.


Just because a Twitter account name sounds familiar, that doesn't make it so. Here's a perfect example, my Twitter account is PrivacyProf, but there is someone in Germany who is "ThePrivacyProf" even though I have The Privacy Professor name trademarked. Even if the account is certified (to be a celebrity, for example), there are exceptions. This isn't identity theft that involves stealing money, but it sure can be damaging to online reputations, depending on the intentions of the account holder.


What do you think of the new Facebook photo format? The big black box around all of your photos may be unsightly, but worse than that, the new format gives Facebook another forum to inundate you with targeted advertisements. Just for fun, I frequently change elements of my own profile, such as my current location, to see what types of marketing I'll receive. (For the record, no, I don't live in Kofu, Japan!)


Thanks for reading. Whether you celebrate St. Patrick's Day or not, I wish you a fun, safe, luck-filled month!






Rebecca Herold & Associates, LLC
Mobile: 515.491.1564, Business: 515.996.2199