Identity Theft Services: Is ID Theft Monitoring Worth the $$$?

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Product Review: Are identity theft monitoring services worth it?

Yes, identity theft services can be well worth the investment, especially if you ever become a victim. Imagine that your Social Security number is part of a national breach like Anthem or the Office of Personnel Management. Or it’s stolen out of your tax preparer’s office, scavenged from your trash or skimmed from your iPad as you surf on a free Wi-Fi connection. In most cases, you have no idea that your digital identity has fallen into unethical hands, usually those of organized crime, who replicate and resell it in seconds.

Next, your identity is used by an undocumented worker to get a job, and now you owe taxes on their earnings. A second user applies for credit in your name and skips town, leaving behind your decimated credit score. Another uses your SSN to drain your health insurance benefits and append the wrong blood type to your medical file. You have no idea that any of this is taking place behind the scenes until the day that the tax bill arrives in the mail, you are denied medical coverage and a collection agency shows up at your door. Because the discovery process doesn’t happen for an average of 18 months after the initial theft, your losses are substantial and your innocence difficult to prove. Obviously, I’ve combined many forms of ID theft here into a single scenario, but everyone of them is real and common.

If I told you that there are ways to automatically detect the exposure of  your SSN online (allowing you to request its removal), to prevent the trafficking of your ID on the dark side of the web and to be notified about even the smallest use of your credit profile by criminals, would you be interested?

Every one of these preventative measures is possible, and detecting the abuse of your identity is made much more convenient and less time consuming by identity theft services that monitor your ID online. Are they a perfect solution? There is no such thing as a perfect solution, and if someone says there is, they are working too hard to sell you something. The key to protecting your identity is to layer on many forms of prevention and detection, thus persuading the criminal to move on to another target. One key layer is provided by identity monitoring services.

Monitoring your identity is much like installing a burglar alarm to protect your home – it’s a no-brainer if you are willing to invest a little to attain much more peace of mind. The most common question I get asked after my speaking engagements is which service I use personally. I have to say, despite their clever marketing, I am not a huge fan of the most popular providers, because they promise too much and deliver fewer tools than some of the better options. The identity theft services provided by the credit card companies are even more limited and less effective. I recommend doing your homework and comparing the different features of the various services.

Here are some features you’ll want your identity theft service to include:

  1. Convenience: The identity theft monitoring service should email you any time a red flag appears (changes to your credit, mailing address, bank accounts, loans, etc.) , so that you don’t have to do any extra work to keep track of your identity.
  2. Depth of Monitoring: Utilize a company that monitors your credit report at all three credit reporting bureaus (a tri-bureau report), which is vital, because the bureaus often don’t share information as much as they claim to share.
  3. Cyber-Agent Scanning: If you are worried about your private information being circulated in criminal chat rooms, carding sites, newsgroups and other digital venues where cyber criminals buy, sell and trade your data, make sure your product scans known rogue sites and alerts you to problems.
  4. Breadth of Reporting: Your identity monitoring service should also scan non-credit loan applications in case someone is using your identity to run a pay-day loan scheme.
  5. Public Document Surveillance: Your service should monitor your public records on the internet (court documents, legal agency filings) in case your information is published for any reason by the government or your Social Security number is found in public records.
  6. Restoration Services: It is vital that the identity theft monitoring service you choose provides restoration and repair if your identity is stolen. In fact, this is probably the most useful and effective part of the monitoring services, as it makes it much easier to recover from ID theft if you are a victim.
  7. Dashboard Access: I like the services that provide one easy to monitor dashboard across all aspects of your identity – that way, if something is a threat, you see it with a big red warning sign.

If a company promises you identity theft services or credit monitoring for free, run the other direction. Like anything else, identity theft services are an investment, and paying nothing means you are getting nothing other than having your name and valuable information sold to other marketers. Remember, you are protecting a digital asset (your identity) that is worth more than all of your bank accounts, mortgages, investments and net worth combined. Spending a little to save a lot is like immunizing yourself against the disease of identity theft before it strikes.

 

Internet Privacy Expert Reviews DuckDuckGo Private Search Engine

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Internet Privacy Expert - DuckDuckGoYou certainly don’t need to be an internet privacy expert to be bothered that Google and Bing track every word you type into your browser, compile that data into a meta-profile of who you are and then sell it downstream to people who want to get to know you intimately (including criminals). Cases of browser surveillance have been documented for years. So, for example, if your daughter types the word “bankruptcy” into your browser while doing a high school report, that information is sold to the credit card company you happen to visit next who serves you to a page with a higher APR since you’ve been “flagged” as a high-risk customer (thanks to your daughter’s innocuous search term).

The implications are even greater for companies, who have a lot to lose when surfing behavior falls into the hands of competitive spies, foreign governments or organized criminals. Case in point: I recently delivered a keynote address as an internet privacy expert to a group of Latin-American journalists at a BlackBerry conference. One of the most common questions the journalists asked was how to keep Google from recording their private (and potentially politically sensitive) search terms.

I told them that completely private browsing is impossible, but that there are  steps you can take to minimize the amount of your personal information being collected. One of those steps is to utilize a private search engine like DuckDuckGo.com.

Log onto DuckDuckGo.com and you are immediately struck by its simple design. Behind the clean design is a fairly sophisticated Internet search engine that emphasizes protecting user privacy. While I don’t get to see behind the magic curtain, I do believe that DuckDuckGo’s mission is to keep your surfing behavior out of the hands of corporations that want to market to you, governments that want to eavesdrop and criminals trying to crack into your net worth. Here are some of the internet privacy advantages of DuckDuckGo:

  • It doesn’t track you by storing your IP addresses (a piece of ID that lets others track your surfing behavior).
  • It does not log user information (and therefore can’t share or sell it!).
  • It only utilizes cookies when necessary. Ok, that’s vague, but solvable with browser settings.
  • It does not create a “filter bubble” based on your previous “likes” and searches, so results aren’t “one-sided”.
  • It does not serve up tons of ads bombarding you – just a simple “sponsored link” at the top of your search results

Though it doesn’t really affect your internet privacy, DuckDuckGo also focuses on getting results from the best sources, not the most sources. I like the “instant answers” box that prunes out the clutter, as well as the lack of “next” pages (it’s just a continuous list of search results). The ability to use “!Bang” commands,  (“kittens!yt” searches only on YouTube) is a nice touch.

If I have one reservation about this private search engine, it’s the graphical simplicity. The results are fairly vanilla with little to distinguish between different types of listings (social media, videos, Ads, etc.). In the images below, the first image is from Google and the second fro DuckDuckGo. Many users appreciate the quieter design, but I find that it requires me to read a bit more before I find the search result I am looking for. DuckDuckGo has said that their newest version (coming out soon) will give users a better graphical interface. In the meantime, this particular online privacy expert will use DuckDuckGo anytime I don’t want my search results tracked, and Google when I need a fancier display.

John Sileo is an internet privacy expert specializing in keynote presentations that make security fun, so that it works. His clients include the Department of Defense, Blue Cross, Visa, Homeland Security and associations of all sizes. Contact John on 303.777.3221.

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Example from Google

DuckDuckGo.com Private Browsing

Example from DuckDuckGo

Stop Check Fraud with Security Checks

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How to Stop Check Fraud and Check Washing

stop check fraudCheck washing, a highly common form of check fraud, is the practice of removing legitimate check information, especially the “Pay To” name and the amount, and replacing it with data beneficial to the criminal (his own name or a larger amount) through chemical or electronic means.  One of the many ways to protect yourself against check fraud is so important that it deserves its very own article.

A foolproof way to protect your checks from being altered, whether by washing or by electronic means, is to use security checks offered by most companies.

Here are some of the features to look for when you’re purchasing High Security Checks.  These features will safeguard you not only against check washing, but other high tech forms of check fraud as well:

  • Safety security paper (visible and invisible fluorescent fibers, chemical-sensitive)
  • Foil hologram (cannot be reproduced by copiers or scanners)
  • High resolution border elements (intricate design is difficult to reproduce)
  • True watermark (cannot be reproduced by copiers or scanners)
  • Toner adhesion  (damage is visible if toner is lifted or scraped)
  • Void element (the word void appears if photocopied or chemically altered)
  • False positive test area (instant authenticity test with black light or counterfeit pen)
  • Complex pantograph background pattern and high-security colors
  • Thermochromatic ink (reacts to heat to deter copying)
  • Original document backing (deters cut and paste alteration attempts)
  • Chemical wash detection area (shows chemical alteration attempts)
  • Security warning box (becomes visible when photocopied)
  • Padlock icon (signifies that checks meet industry standards)

One more vital tip to foil the check washers: use a dark ink, gel-based pen, preferably one that states it is a security pen. Take a look at the video to the left to see how easy it is to wash a check if you are not using a high security gel-based pen. 

Yes, you may spend a few extra dollars for security checks and pens, but compared to the staggering cost of recovering from check-washing schemes (small businesses lose more than 7%  of their annual revenue to check fraud  – over $600 billion), it’s a drop in the bucket!  Your peace of mind and saved recovery time are worth it.

Checks Unlimited provides personal Securiguard checks with 7 advanced security features including chemical protective paper, microprint signature lines, and a 2 dimensional holographic foil that is irreproducible on copiers or scanners.  Their Security Center also offers fraud prevention tips and security products!

John Sileo is CEO of The Sileo Group, and a  keynote speaker on cyber security, identity theft and business fraud prevention. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.

 

Paper Document Shredders: Fellowes Tears it Up!

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fellowes-shredderFellowes Powershred

Who cares about document shredders in a digital world? You should. We were supposed to have gone paperless by now, right? Rubbish. Paper rubbish, in fact.

You and I both know that we use as much paper as ever. We sign up for electronic statements and then print and file them, along with important emails, financial documents, etc. Paper documents are more plentiful than ever, and they pose a significant risk of workplace identity theft and data breach.

According to a recent study conducted by the ASBI: 80% of large organizations surveyed indicated that they had experienced one or more data breaches over the previous 12 months. 49% of those breaches involved the loss or theft of paper documents. The average breach recovery cost $7.2 Million!

Many businesses fail to realize is that paper documents pose just as much of a risk to an organization as electronic documents.

Shredding is the most concrete form of identity theft prevention and the only way to help ensure that all confidential information included on paper documents remains just that…confidential.

I also know how important it is to find a quality shredder and one with cross-cut capabilities that fits your offices’ individual needs. Watch the video for more tips on proper shredding.

Not all paper shredders are created equal

I only use Fellowes Shredders. Here’s why:

  • Fellowes, Inc. is the leading shredder manufacturer, which means that it has a shredder for every situation, home or office. It is an established, reputable company that stands behind their products with research, warranties and education.
  • Fellowes shredders come with 100 percent Jam Proof technology, which means that they work when you need them most.
  • I love the SafeSense feature, which disables the shredding device if human fingers get too close. That makes it safe for my young kids.
  • They provide confetti shreds that are less than 2”, making it nearly impossible to re-construct the document.
  • They last!

Want to find out which shredder is right for your unique office environment? Use this Fellowes Shredder Selector Tool.

John Sileo became America’s leading Workplace Identity Theft Speaker & Expert after he lost his business and more than $300,000 to identity theft and data breach. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer and the FDIC. Learn more about bringing John to speak at your next event by contacting him directly on 800.258.8076.