In 1978, The Who released the song “Who Are You?” asking that question over and over, because, as the song said, “we really want to know.” Thirty six years later, that very same question is asked of us, on a regular basis, as our very identity has come under constant assault. We are regularly asked to prove that we are who we say we are because, unfortunately, there are those that want to be us, but not for good reasons.
Identity theft, in all of its many forms, has become one of the biggest challenges and negative outcomes of the technology revolution. Week after week, there is a headline about a breach of data: Target, the Pentagon, and many more. In the past six months alone, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has logged 342 breaches, and over 9,015,970 individual records exposed. Data theft has become big business, and hackers seem to stay three steps ahead of the innovators, which means that we all need to be vigilant with our own personal information.
I have worked for over 20 years to help people become financially secure, and I can think of nothing worse than to watch personal wealth or reputation destroyed when data is compromised.
So what is Identity Theft? It is unlawfully obtaining, possessing, transferring, or using identifying information of another person without the other person’s consent and with the intent to harm or defraud another.
How do thieves get to our data?
- Where they work: Obtain customers credit reports by abusing their employer’s authorized access to them
- Other businesses: steal records, bribe employees, hack into business records
- In person: Pose as landlords, car dealers and others who have legal access to your records
- Phishing: Steal info thru email by posing as legit companies.
- By phone: Con you over the phone with sophisticated scams to obtain information.
It can happen to any of us. Here is a true story I want to share:
One morning, I was talking with a client and we were reviewing what was coming up for them and what they were going to need my help with. About two hours later, I got an email from the same client (legitimate email address) telling me that they were set on their plans to go overseas (did not specify where) and would be following up with me to let me know how much and where they would need funds transferred to, to pay for the trip. Because of the earlier phone call, and my relationship with my client, I immediately knew this request was false. No harm was done and the incident was reported.
The client contacted their email service provider, and it turned out their email had been hacked. From the information the identity thieves found, they were able to pose as my client, so it all “appeared” normal. Luckily, we take care to stay in regular touch with our clients and typically follow up any email requests with a phone call. What would have happened in this case if my client had an account with a roboadvisor or large institution, instead of an independent advisor like me?
When Jesse James robbed banks, everyone in the bank probably knew what was happening, as he yelled, “This is a holdup!” Today’s robberies of money are much more subtle, to the point where you probably don’t even know it is happening.
TIP OF THE DAY
Make a commitment to check your credit report. Federal law entitles you to one free report from each of the three nationwide reporting companies per year: you could contact one every four months for your free report. Regular monitoring could help you discover possible fraud.
Feel free to send us an email request for a list of credit reporting companies and contact information.
I leave you with this visual: If you have ever spent a few hours building a sand castle at the beach, and stepped back when you were done to admire your creation, only to have a rogue wave come through and wipe it away in an instant… that is the potential damage that an identity theft incident might have on your financial security. Be aware, be careful and be safe.
Jeffrey R. Karp CLU,ChFC,CASL