What Does Octomom Have To Do With Identity Theft?

July 31, 2009

Octomom, Nadya Suleman, herself doesn’t have any connection with identity theft – she has enough to do already with all those little ones. However, in May 2009, the Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center in Bellflower, CA was fined $250,000 for failing to stop employees from snooping in her medical files.

Octomom’s case is so popular that the hospital employees just couldn’t resist snooping some more. So on July 21, 2009, the hospital was fined $187,500 for failing a second time to protect confidential patient information.

Now how safe do you feel about your medical records at any hospital or doctor’s office you’ve been to in your lifetime?

Besides the intrusion of strangers into your medical history, apparently almost anyone can see all your personal information that can easily lead to identity theft.

It’s pretty standard for a doctor’s office to have you fill out a form on your first visit. The form asks for your date of birth which is probably reasonable because they need to know how old you are. Another standard question asks for your social security number. I can’t imagine why my doctor needs that number since I doubt he’s going to be sending me a paycheck.

You don’t have to automatically give out your SSN when you visit a doctor. Just leave that line blank. If the office insists on getting it, ask them what they need it for. Then ask them their procedures for how they keep your files secure. Remember, it’s your information, your identity and your finantial future. In our new digital, instant credit world, we all need to adapt and start protecting ourselves.

Is Check Washing On Your Laundry List?

July 22, 2009

The first time I ever heard about check washing was some years ago from a client of mine at one of my insurance accounts. She was signing the application with her ‘special’ pen. I asked her if it was ‘special’ because it was purple. She told me it was a gel pen that had indelible ink that can’t be washed off with water or chemicals like bleach or solvents.

Check washing is a pretty simple way thieves have of stealing your money. They chemically erase the handwritten parts of your check – most commonly the Payee (who the check is written to) and the amount. Clever thieves will only change the Payee part making it payable to themselves and leave the amount the same. You’ll probably not even notice this in your banking statement. That is, until you start to get late or unpaid notices from the company you wrote the check to – like your credit card payment, utility bills or mortgage.

Mail theft is the typical way a thief would get his hands on your checks. You put your paid bills in your mailbox in the morning and go off to work leaving them unattended and exposed to any bold thief who drives down your street. It’s not hard to figure out which envelopes contain paid bills and greeting cards many times have gift checks in them.

What can you do to prevent this type of identity theft?

  • Use a gel pen preferably black ink – Uni-ball and Avery are good choices
  • Mail letters with checks in them at the Post Office – preferably at the inside mail drop
  • Get a locking mailbox for your home
  • Do your banking online on a secure computer
  • Check your bank statements right away – Banks generally give you only 30 days to report a fraudulent transaction
  • Fill in all the lines on a check and if the Payee name is short, draw a horizontal line across the middle of the space left over to prevent anything else being written there.



Identity Theft and RFID

July 16, 2009

I got my new passport a couple of weeks ago – it’s one of those new electronic passports. The pamphlet that came with it said I could be ‘assured of the fastest and most efficient processing’ when going through customs for ‘greater border protection and security’. I just go through the line with the special readers and poof – I’m done.

I thought that was a handy feature until I did some research on the ‘special readers’ and how the electronic process works. My passport has a chip in it that emits radio frequency identification (RFID) waves. This technology is in the newer passports,  PASS cards, some student or work ID cards, newer driver’s licenses in a handful of states and pretty much any card that you just flash at a reader and it processes.

Once again, technology is making our lives easier and faster. This is just another reason why identity theft continues to be on the rise and thieves can just as easily use this technology to steal our information. You can buy an RFID reader on eBay and collect information on anyone with an electronic card who are within 20′-30′. Yikes.. you might as well just put a sign on your back.

Duct tape and aluminum foil passport case

Homemade and Ugly – but it works!

So I wondered what I could do to protect myself from identity thieves while I was carrying my passport and found an article that tells you how to make a wallet that blocks RFID – It says that a layer of aluminum foil will work. I think I’ll make myself a special passport holder just to be on the safe side!

Here’s another good article on RFID and identity theft:

Keep Your Identity Safe On Social Networks

July 13, 2009

Identity theft never stops. Does your social networking page look something like this:

Hi, my name is Mary Sunshine. My birthday is 7/13/2009 and I was born in Podunk, Alabama. I have a dog named Sassafrass. I hope everyone will become my new friend."

Now what could be wrong with writing something like that? How could an identity thief possibly get your personal information from stuff this innocent?

Here’s how…

Congress recently passed legislation that approved the use of the last four digits of  your social security number on public documents. Now that may seem harmless until you realize that knowing where someone was born and their birthdate are great clues to figuring out the first five digits of your social security number. As a matter of fact, researchers have been able to accurately guess the first 5 digits about 40% of the time. And now our legislators have handed the last piece of the puzzle to thieves on a silver plate.

The other dangerous bit of information you’ve volunteered is your dog’s name. I hope that you’re not one of those people who use their dog’s name for a password – for email, online banking, etc. I know several people who do – they use it for ALL their passwords because they don’t like to think of something harder. Hey, I even remember an episode of Stargate where our ‘hero’ guessed the ‘villlians’ password by using his dog’s name. It’s that commonly done.

The internet is not a happy playground where everyone gets along and loves each other. It’s full of people with no conscience who will gladly steal anything they can get their hands on – especially if it involves little risk to themselves. Identity theft is the perfect crime for them because the odds of being caught are small. The odds of being convicted are even smaller. There’s a big payday for identity thieves without any repercussions.

Think twice before you give out so much information on social networking sites. Keep your identity safe!