Surprising though it was when the news broke late Friday, learning that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court’s identity had been stolen served as a reminder that none of us – even if your name is one of the most recognized in the country – is immune from falling victim to identity theft.
You may recall a few weeks ago when several other familiar names became victims, too. Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and even the director of the FBI had their identities compromised. In this instance, it was their credit reports that were stolen and then promptly published on a website out of Russia.
Cash and Coffee
This is different, though. Roberts, while picking up cup of joe, told the clerk that he’d be paying cash because his credit cards had been stolen. Whoever overheard it quickly retold the tale, which was then picked up by the media and then confirmed by a spokesperson with the Supreme Court. It wasn’t sure if he was waiting for new credit cards to arrive or if he’d just noticed it and hadn’t had time to report it to the credit bureaus.
Most of us have these images in our minds that those who are making decisions on the Supreme Court level have some kind of impenetrable cases they carry with all of those important documents and records, whether it’s their credit cards, their Sam’s card or their bank statements. A story such as this serves as a reminds that if Roberts’ identity can be compromised, we are all at probably a greater risk than we first realized. We don’t stand a chance right?
The fact is, no one is immune and if we’re being honest, there are no security protocols strong enough. Even when analysts and code writers present new technology or tools that will shore up the security associated with our identities and finances, you can be sure there are ten more who are ready and waiting to raise the ante with some phishing scam or fraud that will bypass the latest efforts. And it can happen anywhere and in any circumstances.
Look at this way – two people lose their wallets at an event. Both of these people stand to be victimized by having their credit cards and cash stolen. It could be the event has nothing but moral-minded people who do the right thing or it could be one thief thanks his lucky stars and through dumb luck, hits the jackpot. That’s an extremely simplified example, but it shows the many dynamics associated with these types of crimes (or good Samaritans who do the right thing).
Always Present Risk
Unless you’re ready to shred your credit cards, close your bank accounts and live on a cash only basis – which, by the way, is quite challenging – you’re always at risk. Remember too – Roberts could have been walking through the park and had someone approach him for a photo op or he could have forgotten to sign out of a website. When the human condition is involved, all bets are off when it comes to certainty. Which brings us to the whole ball of wax: it happens and it happens to people who are doing all of the right things. It happens to those who keep their online virus definitions current and it happens to those who guard their wallets and handbags carefully.
What to Do
Not sure if you’re doing everything you should or maybe you’re wondering if there are new tools available? We checked with several of the go-to agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Communications Commission to be sure we covered all of the bases. Here are the recommendations each encourage consumers to follow:
- This first suggestion is perhaps the one that’s most overlooked, though it makes the most sense. Known as two step verification for your email, providers like Google recognized not long ago that if someone was able to hack into an email program, they likely had instant access to all other accounts, including banks and credit cards for that particular user. First, all they have to do is figure out who you bank with or which credit card companies you do business with by scanning any emails in your inbox. From there, they can request a new password; after all, they know which email account you use for those accounts and because of that, they know the banks and credit card companies will email the password change steps to the email address they have on file. A two step verification adds another layer of security. If someone tries to access your email account from a different computer than you usually use, the second step is triggered, meaning an additional and temporary password is sent to your mobile phone. This is great for a couple of reasons – first, it will alert you that someone is trying to access your account and second, unless your phone has disappeared too, you know that the hacker will get no further.
- Remember several years ago when the Do Not Call list was activated? It was a great tool, but most of us forget to register new phone numbers. This is a great reminder. You not only can add three phone numbers, but you can also ensure you’re not being plagued with marketing and sales calls. But you’re also not being plagued with calls from scammers and thieves hoping you’ll be the one who gives them the information they need.
- We always encourage our readers to request a copy of their credit reports. Every. Single. Year. Without fail and with purpose. This is the only surefire way you can keep the kind of watch on your financial health to ensure no one is using it to their advantage. This is important because it might be the only way you know a new credit card account has been opened in your name. You’d be surprised to learn how many consumers have their social security numbers and identities stolen and then new credit card accounts opened that remain active for months or even years. You’re the only one who will know if an account on your report is legitimate.
- This one may come as a surprise to some, but think like a celebrity and set up Google alerts for your name. If your name hits the web, say because you’re named in a lawsuit from a creditor or if you’ve had a warrant issued for writing bad checks (it happens – trust us), you can take action to remedy the situation. Also, don’t underestimate the power of your privacy settings, especially on Facebook. They’re frustrating, especially when it seems as though the rules change every other month, but it’s part of having an online presence. The same thing goes for your Facebook fan pages too if you own a business. Assume nothing and cover the bases. It really is that simple.
Odds are, you won’t have the luxury of making a quick phone call for someone to handle your compromised identity the way Roberts or Biden or even Beyonce can, but you can become your own best ally as you seek to stay a step ahead of criminals, hackers and computer hackers.
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