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Al's Column: Protecting your identity against theft

February 13/20, 2017: Volume 31, Number 18

By Roman Basi

 

(Second of two parts)

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 3.41.25 PMIn part I of this series, I talked about the various ways business owners can protect themselves from identity theft (FCNews, Jan. 30/Feb. 6). In this installment, I talk about the telltale signs that your identity and personal information may have been compromised and what to do to rectify the situation.

How to determine if your identity has been stolen. Two words will guide you here: “seek” and “watch.” One thing many people neglect to do is to monitor their credit report. Credit reports are available either online or through the mail with the three major reporting bureaus. They can be provided to you once a year at no cost to you. Even if you do not suspect identity theft, it is a good idea to get and view your credit report each year. In doing so, you can check to see if anyone else is using your social security number and you can have erroneous items removed.

More importantly, get into the habit of monitoring your credit on a regular basis—not only in situations where you anticipate having to take out a loan, for example. You can even sign up to receive automated texts or e-mail alerts. If you notice errors in your credit report, the best thing to do is make a complete list of them. Look at your personal information as well as your credit history. It’s estimated about 75% of consumer credit reports contain at least one mistake, and it’s likely a majority of those contain multiple errors.

The second thing to do is to watch for any suspicious activity. Do you receive your bills late? Are there any erroneous or fraudulent charges on your credit card? Are your bills coming at all? Do you have excellent credit but get denied requests to extend your credit line? Has the IRS stated that your income is higher than what you reported on your most recent tax returns? If so, it is possible and even likely that your identity has been stolen or contains substantial errors. If any of this happens it is time to get on the ball and find out the source of the problem. It could simply be an error, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

What to do if your identity is stolen. Again, two words should guide you here: “report” and “counter.” In the event of a breach and confirmation that your identity has been stolen, you need to report it immediately. First, contact all of your credit card companies; they will know what to do. Also, have them send you a credit card statement so you can determine what is correct and what is not. Next, contact all three credit bureaus and have a security hold placed on your accounts. Then, contact the local police and Federal Trade Commission. In the event you received information through the Internal Revenue Service, contact them and explain your story. These organizations will aid you in stopping the thief from going any further or doing more damage.

Lastly, contact other relevant financial institutions. As soon as you’ve begun the process of disputing incorrect credit report entries, contact the affected financial institutions, in writing, to apprise them of the situation. A letter similar to the one you send to the credit agencies, including copies of police reports and other documentation is best.

Don’t let a thief enjoy the fruits of all your labor.

 

Roman Basi is an attorney and CPA with the firm of Basi, Basi, & Associates at The Center for Financial, Legal & Tax Planning. He writes frequently on issues facing business owners.

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Al's Column: Guarding against identity theft

January 30/February 6, 2017: Volume 31, Number 17

By Roman Basi

(First of two parts)

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.49.34 PMAs consumers, we’ve all been warned about the perils of identity theft and the havoc that it can wreak on our personal lives in the event our identity is compromised. But as a business owner, the effects can be multiplied exponentially as the financial condition of the operator of a business is inextricably tied to the business.

In part one of this article, I discuss what businesses owners should do to guard their financial lives and make sure they do not become victim to this growing trend.

First and foremost, safeguard your personal and business information. Identity thieves not only access your information through machines, but through means as simple as your trash can or mailbox. Accordingly, make sure you prevent identity thieves from gathering your information before it even comes into your hands.

Watch out for unknown callers or phishing scams. Never give out your computer passwords, credit card numbers, social security number, address or any private information about yourself to an unsolicited email. Also of extreme importance, have your virus software updated frequently. One cyber security expert even recommends purchasing an inexpensive computer to do specifically bank transactions only and nothing else. There are so many viruses, the sad truth is virus software can only catch a percentage of them.

Secondly, view your information in a private manner. Thieves have come up with ingenious, “low-tech” ways to view your information alongside you to have access to it. Sometimes looking over your shoulder when you have information opened on your computer, when you swipe your credit card through a machine, listening in when you read a credit card number or social security number over the line, etc. can be a simple way to obtain your data. Always view and speak your information in private. Locate your computer away from public viewing areas and windows. Also keep your machine off when not in use.

When using a credit card, be careful when you display it. Telephones can take high resolution photos now. If you see someone with a phone around you, be sure to cover your credit and social security cards when using them. Even if you don’t see telephones around, still cover your numbers when the card is out and never leave it in a public area.

Next, “hide” your information. No, I don’t mean under the couch. Keep all critical documents and cards in a secured location after and between viewing them. No system of hiding is fool proof, but naming computer files something other than “Here is all the information you’ll ever want to know about me and my customers” is a good start. Name the files something you would know to look under, such as your dog’s name or something else non-specific to a thief.

Finally, destroy your information. Just because you threw the information out, does not mean thieves are no longer interested in it. Trash cans can be a gold mine to thieves when it comes to robbing you of your valuables. Credit card statements, social security statements, bank statements, customer files, etc. can all be very valuable to a thief. My recommendation is to invest in a shredder, one that cuts in a cross-hatch pattern.

The same principal applies to old computers you might want to discard. Just because your 2007 IBM is obsolete to you and your business operation, it is not obsolete to a thief that wants the information off of it. Bring your computer in to a technician and have the hard drive erased or removed before recycling the computer.

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 3.41.25 PMRoman Basi is an attorney and CPA with the firm of Basi, Basi, & Associates at The Center for Financial, Legal & Tax Planning, Inc. He writes frequently on issues facing business owners.