Stay alert for identity theft

This was originally published on Monday, October 10, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

With security breaches becoming more prevalent and with most of our identities being stored online, it’s imperative that you stay alert for identity theft. Identity theft can ruin your credit score and can cost you money if you do not catch it early.

If you do become a victim of identity theft, act quickly to start repairing the damage. The sooner you act, the better chance you have to minimize the loss of financial accounts and to repair your identity.

Contact the Federal Trade Commission and report that you are a victim of identity theft. You can do this online by going to http://www.consumer.ftc.gov. You can also call toll free at 1-877-ID THEFT (1-877-438-4338) or contact them by mail at Consumer Response Center, FTC, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C., 20580.

Place an initial fraud alert with one of the three national credit reporting companies. You only need to contact one. By law, the credit monitoring agencies must share with the other two companies. A fraud alert will last for 90 days and can be extended once a police report is filled. The fraud alert will make it harder for the thief to open more accounts under your name and is best for those who are unsure if their identity has stolen.

  • Equifax: Call 1-800-525-6285 or write to P.O. Box 740250, Atlanta, GA, 30374-0250.
  • Experian: Call 1-888-EXPERIAN or 1-888-397-3742, fax to 1-800-301-7196, or write to P.O. Box 1017, Allen, TX, 75013.
  • Trans Union: Call 1-800-680-7289 or write to P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA, 92634.

Order a copy of your credit report. When you place an initial fraud alert, you are entitled to a free credit report even if you had requested a free one in the last year.

Contact the companies at which your account has been tampered. Send a letter explaining the identification theft. Send the letter by certified mail and ask for a receipt. Dispute any errors on the account.

Create an identity theft report by filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and print your identity theft affidavit. Take the affidavit to the police and file a report. Your identity theft affidavit and police report make your identity theft report.

Contact the Department of Revenue and Taxation to report violations if you believe that your identity theft may impact your taxes.

Contact the Social Security Administration if you feel that your Social Security number is in jeopardy or was compromised. You may need to request for a new number.

Contact the Postal Inspection Service to change your address if you believe your identity theft happened by mail.

Contact your banking institutions as soon as possible. If the theft happened due to a lost or stolen credit card or ATM card, you will need to get a police report stating what happened before going to the institution. You should go through all your account statements and search for any unauthorized or suspicious activity.

Keep records of all your communications. If you fax or mail documents, be sure to get confirmation that you sent the documents and that the company received the documents. It may take a while to get your finances back in order after the crime. You should change all of your online passwords and debit/credit card PINs.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

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A true story of identity theft

This was originally published on Monday, May 2 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Identity theft is something very real even to residents of Guam. I recently discovered that a person very close to me is a victim of identity theft.  I thought this real life situation could assist other people if they discover they are a victim.  We sat down and discussed the experience.  The following is what we talked about.

I was most curious about the first red flag that alarmed him to possible identity theft.  He was completely unaware of the identity theft.  One day his wife pointed out that their Social Security income had been reduced.  They called the Social Security Administration  and were informed that there was a levy on their Social Security income and that it was being garnished due to delinquent payment of taxes.  The Social Security agent told him to call the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

He called the IRS and informed the IRS of what had occurred.  The agent asked for his full name, Social Security Number, and mailing address for verification.  The agent told him that the mailing address he provided did not match the address that was on record.  Upon further investigation the IRS agent informed him that his W2 from his employer was not included in his 2012 tax forms.  The agent asked him if he had his 2012 tax forms to verify the amount of the missing W2.  The amount reported on his W2 and the amount reported to the IRS was the same amount.  The agent then asked where his 2012 tax forms were filed.  My friend replied that he and his wife had been filing their taxes here on Guam for thirty years. The agent then asked how long they lived in Guam, how long they lived at their current address, and if they ever worked for a company based in Texas.  He answered he has been a resident of Guam for many years and that he and his wife never worked for a company in Texas.  The IRS agent then told him that he was a victim of identity theft and someone in the United Sates filled a tax return using his name and Social Security number.  The IRS agent gave him instructions on how to go about reporting his identity theft.

His first reaction was shock. He wondered how could this happen to him. He thought that if this could happen to his Social Security information what else was compromised?  He became worried about his savings and checking accounts and credit cards.

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s, FTC, identity theft website, https://www.identitytheft.gov , the first thing you do right away is call the companies or agencies where you know the fraud occurred.  Next, place a fraud alert and get your credit reports.  Then report your theft to the FTC.  Lastly, file a report with your local police department.  Depending on the type of identity theft of which you are a victim  will determine your next steps.  Visit the website for complete and compressive checklists on steps to take to report and recover from identity theft.

My friend says it is not easy and he has realized that working with the IRS is a major challenge.  It has taken him hours on the phone talking to several different agents and numerous phone calls.  He has filed several forms with the IRS to lift the levy on his Social Security income.  He was told that it could take up to 180 days to resolve the issue, but it could take longer to receive the reimbursement.  I can’t imagine if this were to happen to a person who solely relies on Social Security as the source of their income. This would be devastating.

My friend’s advice is that you should ensure that your personal information such as your bank accounts and credit cards be safeguarded. Set up notifications on your credit card if a transaction over a certain amount is made.  Check your credit scores regularly and consider enrolling in an identity theft protection system.  Just remember, even if you do safeguard your personal information, identity thieves have many different ways of stealing your identity. Be diligent with your bank accounts and personal information and monitor everything closely.

My friend may never find how or who stole his identity or if criminal charges will ever be filed.  He does know that it is a long and tedious process to fix and that identity theft impacts you in many ways.  Stay on top of your financial transactions and make it a habit to keep your personal information safe.  I am truly sorry for what has happened to my friend and I appreciate that he shared this information with me and allowed me to share it with my readers.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at http://www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Don’t be an easy target for identity theft

This was originally published on Monday, April 25 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Having your identity stolen is one of the hardest things to repair because you are never sure how extensive the damage is. Perpetrators of identity theft may not even be in your area. They could be hundreds of miles away or halfway around the globe. They do not have to physically come in contact with you.

So how do you minimize the risk of being robbed of your identity by a thief you can’t even see?

It takes some extra steps and new habits and being aware of what you do with your personal information.

  • Credit Report. One of the biggest signs that you have had your identity stolen is the use of your financial accounts. Your credit report contains a lot of personal and financial information. Look for accounts that have been opened in your name or monthly bills for which you are not responsible. If you have been in a situation where your information has been compromised, monitor it closely. You can receive three free credit reports a year, one from each of the reporting agencies. Request your free credit report at http://www.annualcreditreport.com.
  • Be nosy. When giving your personal information don’t be afraid to ask questions. Why do you need my Social Security number? What is the information for? How do you secure or dispose of it? Be very careful with whom who you give your information.
  • Secure your information. Place your passport, Social Security card, birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies, and financial statements in a safe or file cabinet. Do not leave that information lying around for prying eyes to view.
  • Mailbox protection. Purchase a mailbox that has a durable lock. Check your mail frequently do not let your mailbox get too full that mail cannot be placed in it. If you are utilizing home delivery place your mailbox in an area that is well lit and visible to everyone.
  • Destroy documents. Be sure to cross-shred your bills, financial statements, medical information, or any documents containing personal information. Look for a shredder that cross-shreds papers and can shred old credit cards.
  • Shopping. Be sure to use secure websites that start with “https” in the web address when shopping online. Some web browsers utilize little green locks to show that the site is secure. When shopping in a store keep your wallet on you at all times. Try to keep your credit card in sight at all times. Always get a customer copy of your receipt.
  • Protect your passwords. Nowadays there are passwords or PINs for everything we use. Try not to use the same numbers or words. Do not use birth dates, names, phone numbers, or other personal information for your passwords. Change your passwords at least every six months. If possible use lower and upper case letters with symbols and numbers. Always remember to log off from your accounts.
  • Do your homework. As technology changes so do the methods that identity thieves use. Keep abreast of the new ways hackers and identity thieves operate. Utilize new software and techniques that companies invent to protect you. There is a lot of useful information online.
  • Use your gut. If you feel that something is not quite right, trust your instincts. If something is too good to be true it probably is.

Protecting yourself requires a bit of work but it is a lot less than the many hours needed to repair the damage of getting your identity stolen.

Create habits that help you and you family protect your personal information.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Be proactive in protecting your identity, learn how to spot fraud

This was originally published on Monday, April 18 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Q: I recently received a letter in the mail from my employer stating that my personal information may have been compromised.

They tried to ease my anxiety by informing me that they will be monitoring my information for the next five years looking for any signs of identity theft.

I want to be more proactive but do not know where to start.

Could you offer some advice?

A: Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes worldwide. Technology has moved us into a whole new world when it comes to finances, socializing and shopping.

We place so much personal information online that we are very susceptible to having our identity stolen.

The United States Department of Justice defines identity theft and identity fraud as “types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.”

Identity theft can cause a lot of stress and lost hours trying to correct it, not to mention a strain on your job and credit.

There are several types of identity theft.

  • Financial identity theft. This theft is the most familiar and most heard of. Financial accounts are compromised and money is taken from accounts and unauthorized purchases are made on credit cards.
  • Tax-related identity theft. This type of theft occurs when a Social Security number is used to get a job or for tax purposes or when a Social Security number is used to file for a tax return in another state.
  • Medical identity theft. This occurs when health insurance numbers or policies are used to receive medical attention, prescription drugs or to file a claim with an insurance provider.
  • Child identity theft. A minor’s Social Security number is misused to open bank accounts or credit cards, or to apply for a loan, utilities, or government benefits.
  • Criminal identity theft. A crime is committed using another person’s name.

Many people do not know that their identity has been stolen until it is too late and the damage is quite extensive. There are several red flags that one can spot that could indicate that you are a victim of identity theft. Some include the following:

  • Credit score. Your report shows inaccurate personal information or unfamiliar accounts and/or your credit score is lower than you think it should be. Take a closer look at what is bringing your score down. If you see unusual activity, start repairing it right away. Contact the company or companies that are reporting to the credit agencies.
  • Mail. Not receiving your mail, especially your utility bills and bank statements, or receiving mail from banks or services from which you did not apply are both signs that you may have had your identity stolen.
  • Unauthorized purchase/debt. You are receiving phone calls from debt collectors regarding debts that are not yours or unauthorized purchases on your debit/credit cards. Medical providers are sending you bills for services you did not receive.
  • Loan application. You apply for a loan or credit card and receive a very high interest rate offer or you are denied.
  • Tax return. The IRS has called to inform you that you filed more than one tax return in a year or you failed to file in a particular year.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at http://www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

What to do when your identity is stolen

This was originally published on Monday,July 21, 2014, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Question: I recently looked at my credit report and noticed several credit cards with outstanding balances that had been opened in my name without my knowledge. How do I go about correcting my report?

Answer: It is unsettling to know that your identity has been stolen. According to the TransUnion website, “there’s a new identity fraud victim every two seconds.” The steps you need to take to recover from identity theft can take some time depending on how long and the type of fraud. The sooner action is taken, the better.

Place an internal fraud alert with one of the three credit reporting agencies. By law once an alert is filed, the reporting agencies are mandated to report it to the other two agencies. An internal fraud alert puts a freeze on your credit report for 90 days and automatically entitles you to a free copy of your report from each of the reporting agencies. The alert is free and can be extended past the 90 days. To call: Equifax 1-800-525-6285, Experian 1-888-397-3742, and TransUnion 1-800-680-7289.

Create an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission. Go to www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov and complete a report of the theft. This will be your identity theft affidavit. Next, take the affidavit to a local police station and report that your identity has been stolen. The two forms, the identity theft affidavit and the police report, make up your identity theft report.

Contact the businesses that have the fraudulent accounts or transactions. Send a letter to their fraud department along with the identity theft report. The letter should be sent by certified letter to ensure the company received the letter. Keep a copy of the letters for your records. Each company or financial institution will handle the repairs differently depending on their policies. Take time to change your passwords and PINs.

Consider placing a seven-year credit freeze on your report. Depending on the extent of the fraud, you may want to file for an extended fraud alert. This differs from the internal fraud alert. The seven-year alert stops all access to your credit report. It also requires creditors to contact you personally before a new account is opened in your name. Depending on local laws, there may be a fee associated with placing or removing an extended alert. To place an extended fraud alert, contact each of the three credit report companies. A copy of your identity theft report will have to be submitted.

Start working on repairing your credit. Dispute the fraud by writing letters to each of the three credit reporting companies. In the letters, explain that your identity was stolen, what errors are in your report, and that you are requesting to have them removed. You should also include any documents that justify the errors and include a copy of the identity theft report. Each credit reporting company has to investigate the errors and send that information to the businesses that reported the information in question. If the business chooses to remove or to keep the errors in question, the reporting agencies are required to send you the outcome.

Lastly, if errors on your credit report are the result of identity theft, request the reporting companies block the fraudulent charges. The information has to be blocked within four days and the businesses will be notified of the block. The businesses must stop reporting your charges to the credit reporting agencies and not sell or transfer a debt for collection.

The credit reporting company may deny that your errors are from identity theft. If that is the case, work with the reporting company on what other information is needed to reverse the decision. This must be done within 15 days. The reporting company must tell you why they won’t block the information. Once the reason is given, you may then resubmit the claims.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Technology brings risk, but offers protections

This was originally published on Monday, July 14, 2014, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Technology makes our lives easier. Many errands that we had to perform in person can now be done online or even on your phones. This convenience is wonderful, but it also makes it convenient for people who want to steal your identity. There are some precautions that you should heed while online:

•  Firewall: A firewall is like large concrete walls around your computer. It protects your computer, allowing or blocking specific outgoing and incoming traffic. Some firewalls can even prevent other computers from connecting to yours. Although firewalls are not foolproof they do make it more difficult for your computer to be hacked.

•  Anti-virus/Anti-spam: Many threats that attack your computer can come from emails, websites or pop-ups. Anti-virus/spam programs can identify if a virus or spyware is downloaded to your computer. Most will scan your emails and attachments and let you know if they are safe to open.

 Social media: Be careful of what you post online. Don’t disclose personal information such as birthdays, telephone numbers or addresses. Adjust your privacy settings to control what can and cannot be shared or who can see your information.

•  Email: Never open an email from someone you don’t know. Be leery of emails that request your password, date of birth or Social Security number. Many of those emails may look legitimate, especially if it comes from a bank or company you do business with. Many financial institutions don’t ask for sensitive information by email. Create a second email address for shopping, gaming and other recreational accounts. Use your primary account to email friends, family and business you know and trust.

•  Passwords: Create strong passwords that use upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Don’t use the same password for other accounts and change them frequently. Keep your passwords in a secure place.

•  Online shopping/payments: Use encryption software that codes all your information you send from your computer to online sites. Before entering payments online, look for a “lock” icon or “https” at the beginning of the web address. This verifies that the website is secure. Sometimes these sites still can be hacked. Monitor your credit card statements regularly to ensure your account has not been compromised. Be sure to read the company’s policies and agreements before making payments. Sometimes companies use a third-party vendor and the company that is debiting your account doesn’t carry the same name. Usually the site will inform you of this situation.

•  Wi-Fi: Many places now have complimentary free Wi-Fi for public use. Although convenient, these connections aren’t secure and are easily hacked. Don’t conduct banking or personal business using public Wi-Fi.

•  Shoulder surfing: When you are in public, it is easy for someone standing in line or sitting beside you to watch you enter your password or PIN. Be aware of your surroundings when using your smartphone, tablet, computer or ATM.

•  Disposing of a device: Before you sell or get rid of your old computer, tablet or smartphone, completely erase the hard drive. The hard drive keeps all the information you stored on your device. By erasing your hard drive, you are ensuring that your information will not be passed along. Look at your owner’s manual on how to wipe the device clean. You also could purchase a utility wipe program for your computer.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Protect yourself against identity theft

This was originally published on Monday, July 7, 2014, in the Pacific Daily News. Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Question: My sister recently found out that her identity was stolen. She has been informing me of how difficult the process is to rectify the situation. Are there any tips you can provide that can help prevent this happening to me?

Answer: Identity theft is a serious problem and continues to grow worldwide. People are affected by it every day. There are numerous ways an identity can be stolen. It can be done using technology through online “phishing” scams or emails or through unsecure Wi-Fi spots. Other ways are more traditional like using information from a lost or stolen wallet or dumpster diving in your trash.

According to investopedia.com, identity theft is defined as “the crime of obtaining the personal or financial information of another person for the sole purpose of assuming that person’s name or identity in order to make transactions or purchases.” Consider every aspect of your information a puzzle piece. Once identity thieves collect enough pieces they can start putting it together to know more about you. The more pieces they collect the easier it is for them to steal your identity. Once your identity is stolen it can ruin your credit rating, personal reputation or even chances of getting a job. Although you may not be able to keep all the puzzle pieces out of the hands of identity thieves, you can make it more difficult to obtain. Here are a few tips:

• Social Security: Your Social Security number is one of the most important pieces of personal information you own. Think about what you have used your Social Security number for — jobs, college, banking, licenses, taxes, health care and much more. Think twice before giving anyone that information. Never carry your original card or any information with your Social Security number in your wallet or purse.

• Wallet/purse: Because we carry these items everywhere the chances are that one day it will be lost or stolen. Our wallets carry a lot of information about us. Photo copy everything in your wallet and keep it safe. This will help you remember what was in your wallet and who you will need to contact. It is hard to remember the user names, passwords and pin numbers for everything but do not keep that information in your wallet or purse.

• Mail: You receive and send a lot of financial and personal information in the mail. If possible ask banks if you can pick up checks and credit cards at the bank instead of mailing them to you. Use security envelopes for important documents. If the document is really important, consider spending a little more money on sending it certified. Pay attention to your mailing cycle. If your bills arrive late, contact the sender.

• Trash: We throw away a lot of personal information. If someone was to rummage through your trash, they could find credit card and bank account numbers, health insurance and more. Before throwing away anything with personal information, destroy it. Using a cross shredder works best. Shred receipts, old credit cards and statements. Black out your name and other personal information on medication bottles when disposing of them.

• Financial account: Keep current on all your financial accounts. Review your monthly statements and check them against your receipts. With today’s technology you can check your accounts a lot more frequently and in real time. Look for irregular withdrawals or charges or for companies that you have not had transactions with. Keep your receipts and always ask for a copy of the credit or debit card transaction, especially those that were entered incorrectly or voided.

• Credit report: Review your credit report at least once a year. All three credit agencies are required to provide a free review of your report once a year. Stagger your request so that every four months you can review your report. Consider using a secure and reputable credit-monitoring service, which can alert you when there is a change in your report. Correct fraudulent or suspicious activity as soon as possible.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.