USPS Mail Identity Theft: What You Need to Know

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As our world becomes more and more saturated with technology, it’s now possible to do almost anything online. You can check your bank account balance, transfer money and pay your bills. Heck, you can even run a business online these days.

Even as we move deeper and deeper into the Information Age, there are still a number of people (and companies) who send and receive important information the “old fashioned way” – via the US Postal Service. Most of us still check the mailbox regularly, and it’s fair to say that the majority of Americans receive at least several pieces of “snail mail” every day.

What, then, should you make of your mailbox being empty for several days in a row? While not receiving any mail isn’t really that unusual once in awhile – if the trend continues beyond a single consecutive day, you should look into the reason.

As it turns out, there is a new identity theft scam making its way around the country that combines the use of both technology and old fashioned “snail mail” to take advantage of unsuspecting victims. The first clue that you may have been a victim is simply an empty mailbox.

While you may celebrate when there’s no mail (after all, no mail means no bills, right?) – the real reason may be quite sinister, and one that requires immediate attention. Ignoring your lack of mail may lead to a ruined credit report and a plunging credit score.

Here’s how this particular identity theft scheme works:

  • The identity thief typically applies for a credit card in your name, using your personal information, including your mailing address.
  • The thief then uses the USPS website to place a hold on your mail. The thief pretends to be you, but no authorization is ever required.
  • You stop receiving mail, as your identity thief plans to act as you and retrieve your mail from the post office when the credit card arrives. Again, no identification is required for them to pick up your mail from the USPS.
  • If the thief is successful, they will have a credit card in your name. The mail hold will be removed so that you will begin receiving mail at home again, and (they hope) you will be none the wiser.

This identity theft scheme has been just recently brought to light, and the lack of security surrounding the USPS electronic hold system is being investigated, according to representatives from the postal service.

In this technology-driven world, we all have to prove our identity online multiple times a day – even signing into Twitter can be difficult if you use a different computer or device. Accessing our most valuable personal information, (bank accounts, PayPal accounts and credit card statements) requires that we prove our identity through the use of complex passwords and security questions. Hopefully, the US Postal Service will soon have similar security measures in place in order to prevent just anyone from picking up “their” new credit card, all the while pretending to be you.

Until then, we want you to be aware of this problem so that your identity is not used by someone else. If this has happened to you (or you suspect that it has), acting quickly is of the utmost importance. Report the fraudulent activity, file a police report, and get in touch with a New Jersey credit repair attorney immediately.

Image credit: Matt

My SS Number was Compromised; What are my Options?

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There have been many reports in the news lately about personal information being stolen or compromised. This can happen in a number of ways – not just via POS locations in big box stores, which are the stories most often broadcast in the news and across the internet.

Be Aware: How Your Information can be Accessed

Aside from the aforementioned “skimming” that happens when identity thieves use tiny devices that steal your information when you use your credit card at a store or restaurant, there are a number of other ways in which your personal information can become stolen.

  • Pick-pocketing: Perhaps the most old-fashioned form of identity theft, it still happens today! When you are outside of your home and carrying a purse, be sure to choose one with zippers or another secure closure. Keep your bag close to your body at all times. Men (and women) carrying wallets – find a better place to keep it than your back pocket.
  • Mail Tampering: Although it may be hard to believe, there are people out there who will go from mailbox to mailbox, looking for anything that contains your credit card number(s) or other identifying information.
  • Trash pickers: This is the reason we advise our clients to shred all important papers before placing them in the trash or recycling receptacle. Identity thieves make a practice of digging through outdoor trash bins and trash dumps, looking for anything from receipts to your Social Security Number.
  • Information Phishing: Much different from Fresh Water Fishing, this type of phishing involves a fraudulent email message made to look official, prompting you to respond with some very sensitive information.
  • Wireless tapping: Identity thieves are often very technologically savvy, and can easily tap into a wireless internet connection that is not secured. Make it a practice to only use secured wireless networks to keep your information safe.

If your Social Security Number becomes compromised, you have reason to be concerned. Your SSN is essentially your personal identification number, and once stolen, thieves can do a lot of damage to you. This is even truer for business owners who depend on their ability to keep their business running.

Often times, a business owner’s Employer Identification Number will be linked with his/her Social Security Number. Once their SSN has been compromised, the business owner will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles attempting to get loans as are often needed to run a business.

The first step to fixing a compromised Social Security Number is to check with your insurance company about identity theft coverage. This may help you recover any damages that have already been incurred.

Business owners can request that their EIN, LLC and SSN be separated. A new Employer Identification Number can be assigned. You can also talk to Social Security and explain that you’ve been a victim of identity theft. Request that a new Social Security Number be assigned to you and that your old SSN be cancelled.

 

Image credit: Got Credit?

Why Do I Need an EMV-Enabled Credit Card?

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Although it may seem impossible, credit card fraud still continues to be an ever-increasing problem, and more than 50% of the entire world’s credit card fraud happens right here in the good ol’ US of A.

Credit card companies have stepped up to address this problem by creating a technology that will make it much more difficult for your personal information to be stolen. The technology comes in the form of a small chip that is implanted into consumers’ newly issued credit cards, called an EMV chip. EMV stands for Europay, Mastercard and Visa because these were the companies that initiated the new technology.

Many Americans have heard about the EMV chip and may feel a lot more secure now; however, it’s important to know the whole story before you let your guard down. Simply having a card with a security chip won’t help you at all unless the stores you patronize have upgraded their credit card machines to be able to actually use the chip.

Swiping your credit card through a retailer’s card reader is like dangling your personal information in the face of a data thief. Magnetic stripe card readers are easy to bug and, in turn, easy to commit fraud through. It has been predicted that credit card fraudsters are in the process of targeting as many magnetic stripe payment machines as possible, while they still can.

Those retailers who have switched their payment terminals over to include a card reader will benefit greatly. If any data breaches occur in stores with card readers, the stores will not be held responsible. This is a huge incentive for retailers to get with the program and update their payment machines.

If a breach occurs while using an EMV-ready machine, the bank (who owns your credit card debt) will be responsible to remedy the situation. Luckily, data breaches are much less likely on EMV-ready machines because the consumer’s credit card is inserted into a card reader that will generate a code that is totally unique to that shopper.

This all sounds like a fantastic step toward lowering the amount of credit card fraud that is currently taking place in the US (and around the world). The problem is that stores are not required to implement the EMV readers. Magnetic strip cards will still be processed the same as before – by swiping.

What you should know:

As a consumer, you should protect yourself by using only credit cards with data chips installed. If your bank has not issued you an EMV card yet – get on the phone and request demand one. Once you have received a new card, try to do all (or at least most) of your shopping at stores that have updated their sale terminals to be able to read EMV chips. Insert your card into the card reader; avoid swiping at all costs!

Naturally, you’re never going to be 100% safe, especially if you do a lot of online shopping. The best way to protect yourself online is to limit web-based purchases to sites that have a solid reputation. We will delve into how to safely shop online in an upcoming blog post.

Image (used with permission) by Aranami

How to Recover from Identity Theft

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Although we strongly believe that the best defense against identity theft is a (virtually) impenetrable offense – if you let your guard down even for a second, your personal information can be stolen.

Some behaviors that will increase your risk for identity theft include: shopping online, using an public wireless internet connection, putting pieces of mail that contain personal info into the trash bin, and giving out your personal information to anyone  you don’t explicitly trust – whether over the phone or in person.

I suspect someone has accessed my personal info. What now?

If you have reason to believe that your private, financial or otherwise personal information has been stolen, there are some things that you can to do lessen the damage to your finances and credit report.

Remember, once someone accesses your personal information, they can then proceed to act as you, making a huge mess for you to clean up. The important thing here is to have a quick reaction time.

In order to stay organized during this stressful time, start writing down  everything you do that relates to the identity theft. Write down phone calls you make, including who you speak to and what was said. Make note of any discussions with the police, your bank(s), and your NJ attorney.

Keep track of all of the time you spend and any money you have to spend in order to clean up the mess, because expenses related to identity theft are tax deductible.

Place a ‘fraud alert’ on your credit report with the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This alerts them to the fact that any financial activity that occurs while the fraud alert is in place is not done with your permission.

Just as important as contacting the credit bureaus is talking to your bank and any credit card companies. You must move as quickly as possible to alert your banking institution to cancel your debit or banking card. As soon as your bank knows there has been a theft of your information, you won’t be held responsible for anything the identity theft does thereafter.

If you realize your financial information has been stolen because of strange activity on your credit card or debit card, you once again must act fast to protect yourself. You’ll need to report the fraudulent activity within two business days of the date that it took place. This is why it is always a good idea to stay on top of the activity in your bank account and credit card accounts. If you check your activity online every day, you’ll be sure to spot an identity thief before much (or any) damage is done.

Next, you’ll want to make this event official by creating a report of the identity theft with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). By reporting the identity theft, you’ll have a much higher chance of getting any negative marks removed from your credit report that were caused by the fraud artist. This action will also stop a company from coming after you for debts that were incurred by your identity thief – not you.

You may also wish to file a police report and contact a local attorney. Your attorney can help make sure that you’ve covered all of the right bases regarding the information breach, and will help you take legal action against any creditors that attempt to collect money from you that was part of the identity theft.

Image credit: Sebastien Launay

 

How to Put a Stop to Familial Identity Theft

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Identity theft is a crime, regardless of who is doing it – and it’s important to know how to put a stop to it if it’s happening to you. There have been reported cases of identity theft among family members who share the same name. A father and son, for example, even if they are Jr and Sr, still for all intents and purposes have the same first and last name.

A recent case came to light wherein a man’s father was essentially manipulating his son’s credit rating by posing as the son to apply for a multitude of things, including a mortgage loan – complete with forged signatures! A situation like this can be extremely detrimental to family ties, but must be dealt with accordingly.

Anytime someone knowingly poses as another person in order to make use of their credit, action must be taken. If this has happened to you, it may feel very conflicting to report your family member to the authorities. In that case, you should attempt to talk to the person in question first and let him/her know that what is occurring is illegal and very damaging to you personally and financially.

You can also investigate whether or not the Consumer Reporting Agencies are at all at fault for combining both of your financial identities.

If, after a proper discussion and investigation, your family member continues to use your personal information for his/her own financial benefit, your next step would be to connect with a credit repair attorney in your area. An experienced attorney will know exactly how to help you take back control of your identity, and will be able to send a formal cease and desist letter to the family member in question.

Your attorney will help you make contact with all of the Consumer Reporting Agencies to report what has happened and to demand that corrections are made to your file so no further damage is done to your credit score. At this time, legal action may have to be taken against the identity theft in order to stop them from using your name and other personal information. It is never pleasant when we have to take legal action against a family member or friend, so make sure that you’ve made every attempt to mediate the situation before taking it to an attorney.

After your current situation gets resolved – either through the court system or via mediation – you’ll want to take steps to prevent something like this from happening in the future. If you get the feeling that the behavior may repeat itself, you may want to think about legally changing your name. This will eliminate any confusion about your identity being separate from that of the perpetrator.

Remember: identity theft is illegal! Using a family member’s identity is NOT OK, and needs to be stopped, regardless of how emotionally difficult the process may be.

Image credit: Nellie Mckay

 

Free NJ Workshop: How to Build a Better Credit Report

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Having a good, solid credit score is important for so many reasons. A mediocre or low score can prevent you from becoming a home owner because lenders look closely at potential borrowers’ credit reports before approving loan applications. A less-than-stellar credit report can even make it difficult to find a landlord who’ll allow you to rent. Your credit report and score say a lot about your financial stability, and even if all of your money missteps are behind you, improving your credit score and cleaning up your credit report will take some time and concerted effort.

Since you’ve landed on this post, you’ve probably already acknowledged that your credit report needs help. Reaching out for help is a great sign! One word of caution is that there are a plethora of companies that will promise to clean up your credit report in record time, offering you a virtually “new credit identity.” A vast majority of these companies are fraudulent, and should be avoided at all costs. Often, they are engaging in illegal activities that can potentially get you in serious legal trouble if you give them your information.

All hope is not lost, though! Building a better credit report is possible with the help of a qualified and NJ licensed credit repair attorney like George Veitengruber, Esq.

It may seem daunting to consider hiring an attorney to help you improve your credit report. Pay out even more money in order to fix your money mistakes? Lucky for you, Veitengruber Law is offering up a TON of FREE pertinent information that will help you start improving your credit score.

There’s no catch, we promise. You can come out and ask all the questions you’d like. Bring a recent copy of your credit report if you have one, so that you can ask all of the right questions while looking directly at your report – free of charge.

The Details

What:   ‘Building a Better Credit Report‘ – a FREE informational workshop

When: January 29, 2015; 7:00 – 8:30pm

Where: Howell Public Library; 318 Old Tavern Rd. Howell, NJ  07731

Why: You’ll learn: how to start improving your credit score, your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, how to better deal with debt, tips about avoiding $$$ scams and identity theft.

Who: Presented by George E. Veitengruber, Esq.

Cost: FREE

RSVP: To reserve your space, call The Howell Public Library at 732-695-3303.

Wisdom Wednesday: How to Avoid Identity Theft

 

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In recent years, identity theft has become a much more common problem than it used to be. It is a very serious crime, and the perpetrator(s) can serve jail time if caught. Offenders who commit aggravated identity theft (those who use another person’s identity without legal permission and then commit a felony act) will get an extra two years tacked on to their prison sentence automatically. Aggravated identity thieves cannot receive probation.

The point being: identity theft is not a fun little game for either the perpetrator or the victim. The repercussions can be severe, damaging, and highly stress-inducing for the victim. Probably the most important thing to know about identity theft is that it can happen to literally anyone.

What is Identity Theft, Anyway?

Identity theft happens when either a person you know or a stranger somehow accesses your private information without you knowing about it. Once the thief has accessed your personal information (bank account number, credit card number, Social Security benefits information, etc), s/he will act as you in order to take possession of your money, resources or benefits.

This means that your bank account may be drained, your credit card could be charged for multiple expensive purchases,  your Social Security or other benefits may be stolen, and more. Since the perpetrator will be acting as you during these offenses – your name, reputation, achievements and credit score will all be put at risk.

If the perpetrator is experienced, s/he may be undetectable or untraceable, leaving you to clean up the mess that was made. Your finances can potentially be ruined, as can your reputation.

Can I Protect Myself Against Identity Thieves?

The answer to that is a complicated “Yes.” Protecting yourself against identity theft is possible, but you must be diligent. The most important first step in protecting yourself is to recognize the behaviors you engage in every day that put you at risk of having your personal information stolen and misused. Being aware of how and when thieves get ahold of your information will enable you to use more caution during certain situations.

Some of these behaviors include: online shopping, sharing your personal information with staff members at a place of business or office, using a cell phone or laptop with a public wireless connection, tossing the wrong things (pre-approved credit cards or other mail that contains personal info) into your trash can and using your debit card to withdraw money from an ATM.

During all of those activities, your personal information isn’t secure. However, there are things you can do to make sure your information is as protected as possible.

If you use the internet as your own personal shopping mall (and who doesn’t, these days?), make sure all of your account passwords are complex and different. Make it your practice to shop only on websites that begin with https:// – the added -s means they are a secure site. Never use the internet to shop, pay bills, or do any banking when you’re in a public place using an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Any number of people will likely be sharing that public Wi-Fi connection, which means that they can easily “see” any personal information that you may be using.

Never give out personal information over the phone or via email. In fact, you should only provide someone with your Social Security number if absolutely necessary, and ideally only face-to-face. If you receive mail that contains personal info – shred it before tossing it in the bin. Delete any emails that request your personal info.

In order to maintain the safety of your personal information, make it your practice to check your bank and other account statements carefully and regularly. If you see any charges that you didn’t personally make, you will know that your information has been wrongfully accessed, and you’ll need to take immediate action.

If you have been a victim of identity theft and a creditor is attempting to collect a debt from you that was incurred by an identity thief, you may need to contact an attorney to ensure that you will have an excellent defense against any and all debts that were not made by you personally.

Image credit: Don Hankins