Recommended actions to protect yourself from Identity theft

This item was originally posted on November 23, 2012.  As we enter tax season this has become a popular topic once again and we are re-posting this for your convenience.

It took a couple of weeks for the public to be notified of the theft of South Carolina tax information and a couple more weeks for useful information to begin to trickle out.  With that as the foundation of this issue it is apparent that speed is not going to save the day.  So there really is no need to get into a panic and rush through anything.  For those of us who have had our tax information stolen this will be a race of endurance, perhaps a lifelong struggle to secure our identity.

The SCDOR cyber theft heralds the end of a world where there is even a semblance of privacy.  If it ever did exist, privacy is certainly a thing of the past.  South Carolina is simply the biggest fish to get caught so far.   Even before the SCDOR hacking was announced to the public, a major insurance company contacted authorities regarding the theft of several thousand social security numbers in a similar cyber theft incident.  Folks, we are simply not in Kansas anymore.

Before we provide our list of recommended actions to protect yourself from these crimes, I would like to ask you a few questions.

  • Why is it that we have to take specific affirmative action to stop the credit bureaus from giving our private information to whoever is willing to pay them for it?
  • Why doesn’t the system require us to take some action to authorize the use of our information?
  • And if it is our information and it belongs to us why do they get paid for it?

While you are chewing on that let’s explore the grassy knoll a bit more and list a few things that I think you can do to protect yourself not only from the criminals working outside the system but also from the fine upstanding corporations who trade our identities like so many marbles after school at the neighborhood playground.

  1. Yes, by all means, sign up for the ProtectMyID/scdor free year of credit protection, as woefully insufficient as it may be and as complicit as the credit bureaus may be in causing you to need this protection.  Hen house meet fox!
  2. Credit protection will not protect your bank account.  Therefore you will need to determine how best to protect any account that was used to receive a state of South Carolina tax refund or pay a South Carolina balance due on any efiled tax return since 1998.  I struggled with the wording of this recommendation but I think the best thing I can say is “contact your financial institution and let them help you determine whether or not you need to close your bank account.”  There is an interesting article here that discusses the bank account issue.  One point raised in the article is that your bank account information is on every check you write so that information is already out there.  To which I would reply A. Who writes checks anymore and B. If we do write a check it is usually not written to Russian cyber criminals (unless you count birthday checks to the grand kids).
  3. Monitor your bank accounts daily or at least weekly.  If you are afraid of online banking it is time to educate yourself and overcome that fear.  It simply is not sufficient to wait until the monthly statement comes in the mail 30 to 40 days later.  By then the damage is done.  Sure the bank may replace all of your stolen money a few days or weeks later  but you are still the one that will have to go all over town explaining why your checks bounced if your money is stolen.
  4. Review every item on every credit card on every statement every month. And don’t let them talk you into getting online statements instead of paper statements unless you are a college student and your address changes every 9 months.  Online statements can easily get caught up in the rush of all the other junk email that comes into your in box. If you plan to be at your address for the next 20 years request the paper statements.  Besides, the post office needs the work.
  5. Purchase a high quality cross cut shredder and shred those bank and credit card statements after you have reviewed them for accuracy.  Do not let your information leave your house by way of the garbage.
  6. Promptly open and read every piece of mail that comes to your mailbox even if it looks like junk mail.  Some of that mail may hold clues that something strange is happening with your credit information and allow you to nip it in the bud.
  7. Go online and Google yourself (ask your grand kids if you don’t know what that means).  You might be surprised at all of the information about you that is already floating around out there for anybody willing to look for it.  And its all legal.  Available data include your birth date, the price you paid for your house, a picture of your house (both aerial and street view) with a map to your house, a list of your relatives, your arrest records, your occupation, your education and who knows what else.  And this is for anybody with an internet connection.  Just imagine what can be found by people with special tools, training and a bit of larceny in their hearts.  The point is that there is no such thing as privacy.  Govern yourself accordingly.

This list is still evolving and may grow as we find new information so check back often.

If you need assistance with the issues raised in this post please feel free to contact Tax On Wheels, LLC at 803 732-4288.