Travel Safety Tips Part 2

This is part two of our four-part series on travel safety.  Yesterday we covered “Planning Your Trip” and in the next few days we’ll discuss “On the Road” and “When You Return”.  For today, we’ll look at steps to take after your trip is planned, but before you go.

Photocopy the contents of your wallet/documents: Or make a list of all the contents and all your travel documents to carry with you in a protected place as you travel. It’s also a good idea to leave a copy at home with a trustworthy person whom you can contact. It will save you hours of frustration if anything is lost or stolen.

Protect your accounts: Place a travel alert on your credit card accounts so the bank will know why charges from some lovely resort are suddenly showing up.  You can also freeze your credit so no new accounts can be opened while you are away.   Finally, turn on automatic account alerts on your credit card to easily monitor all transaction (via smartphone) without having to look at statements.

Hold the Mail: Your mailbox is an identity jackpot. Before you leave, place a “postal hold” on your mail so that your mailbox isn’t susceptible while you are gone. Arrange with your post office that you (or your spouse) are the only people allowed to pick up your mail. Don’t have it “mass-delivered” the day after you return, as this puts everything at risk all at once. Instead, pick it up at the post office once you return.  (Hold your newspaper, too, so you’re not publicizing that no one is home.)

Social Networking Sites: Don’t post your “Going on Vacation” status on your social networking sites just as you wouldn’t tack a note about it to your front door. Broadcasting this news opens the door to criminals using that information while you are away. Think twice about anything you share on social networking sites.

Secure your home: Of course you will lock all your doors and secure your windows, but make sure you also check your office and other places where you might have identity-rich information sitting around. Store all important documents and items, maybe even your external hard drive with all of your files backed up on it, in a locked safe. 

John Sileo is an an award-winning author and keynote speaker on identity theft, internet privacy, fraud training & technology defense. John specializes in making security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Travel Safety Tips Part 1

Today I begin a four-part series on travel safety to protect your identity before during and after your trip.  I’ve tried to make this series comprehensive for all stages of travel.  Today we’ll cover Planning Your Trip  , to be followed in days to come by:  Before You GoOn the Road and When You Return.

While you may be aware of the basics, the lists in these blogs show you how to think like the criminals think.  Be proactive and outwit them at their own game!

Use a legitimate agency: Verify the business you are booking your trip through. If you are going to use a travel agency or online booking company, make sure they are authentic first. Go online and do your research – if people have been swindled before by the company, the Internet is the first place they will go to vent. You can even ask the company for references so you can check up on some satisfied customers.  Also, investigate the travel companies with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) and the attorney general’s office in the state where the company does business. (www.naag.org).

Read everything carefully before you sign: Sometimes there are concealed fees or clauses where they can change the airport you are flying into or out of without telling you – even up to 100 miles away!  Make sure you know the airline and hotel before signing. This way you can confirm their legitimacy. Feel free to contact them and make sure that this is a great deal.

Always pay with a credit card: Reputable credit card companies allow you to dispute fraudulent charges so that you are not held liable for the money. If the company requires you to pay with cash or check or money order, GO SOMEPLACE ELSE! Legitimate travel companies will let you use a credit card.

Make sure you get EVERYTHING in writing: If your unbelievable deal does turn out to be a rip-off, you will need something to show the credit card company in order to dispute the charges.

If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is: If they are offering you a flight to Mexico that is regularly $500 for $100, then chances are, it’s a scam. While there are great ways to book your hotel + flight + food + drink together to save money, most don’t offer an 80% discount!  Don’t be afraid to try a website like TripAdvisor.com to do some background investigation.

Buy directly from the companies themselves: This includes airline, hotel, transportation, tickets, etc. Many times the actual companies promise the cheapest possible fare on their own website (United does this, for example). Even if it does cost you a bit more, you will sleep better at night knowing that your trip is booked and confirmed.

John Sileo is an an award-winning author and keynote speaker on identity theft, internet privacy, fraud training & technology defense. John specializes in making security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Medical Identity Theft: A Modern Day Plague


When you read an account of the devastating “Black Death” Plague that spread across Europe and Asia in Medieval times, it’s impossible not to be awed by the statistics.  In just five years, one-third of Europe’s population, 25 million people, were dead.  It hit so fast and so unexpectedly that people were unable to protect themselves.  As one writer summarized, “A terrible killer was loose across Europe, and medieval medicine had nothing to combat it.”

While experiencing medical identity theft isn’t always as devastating as dying from the plague, it’s easy to draw some parallels.

  • Both affect people in such a way that they are completely unaware of it until it is often too late? Check.
  • It can spread unexpectedly fast? Check.
  • The victims are not limited to one group, whether by country, age, race, or socioeconomic class? Check.
  • People can die as a result of itCheck!

I don’t mean to get too melodramatic, but this topic is on my mind today because of the results of recent reports using data gathered by the Ponemon Institute in which they revealed some equally incredible statistics:

  • Nearly 43% of all record breaches in personal information in 2014 involved health records. (That’s more than those involved with banking and finance, education, the government and the military AND THIS WAS BEFORE THE ANTHEM BREACH!)
  • Since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services started keeping records in 2009, the medical records of 27.8 – 67.7 million people have been breached.
  • Of those, there are an estimated 2.32 million Americans who have become victims of medical identity theft. Again, those statistics were compiled before the Anthem data breach, which may affect as many as 80 million more!
  • Cyber attacks on health care providers have doubled since 2010.

Medical ID theft is the fraudulent acquisition of someone’s personal information–name, Social Security number, health insurance number– for the purpose of illegally obtaining medical services or devices, insurance reimbursements or prescription drugs.

Understanding the importance of medical identity theft can not be over-emphasized.  Some important reasons:

  • The information taken in a health care breach is non-alterable (you can’t change your Social Security number or birth date) and is therefore valuable forever on the black market.
  • It can be significantly more expensive to recover from a medical data breach.  Unlike credit card fraud, which has a liability limit of $50, the Ponemon study suggests that 65% of medical identity theft victims had to pay an average of $13,500 to resolve the crime.
  • In addition to the cost, it took victims more than a year to successfully dispute the charges, clear up their medical records, and repair the damage to their credit.
  • When your credit card is stolen, you are notified quickly of suspicious activity.  Healthcare providers may not even know about your information being used, let alone advise you about suspicious activity.  On average, it takes up to three months for medical identity theft victims to learn of fraudulent activity.

I’ve addressed this topic before so rather than repeat myself as to the methodology of the criminals and how to be preventative, I’ll send you back to a Burning Questions episode I did back when the last survey was released.

If you don’t think it’s important to be well-informed on this topic, consider the words of James Pyles, a Washington, D.C. lawyer who has dealt with health issues for more than 40 years: “It’s almost impossible to clear up a medical record once medical identity theft has occurred.  If someone is getting false information into your file, theirs gets laced with yours, and it’s impossible to segregate what information is about you and what is about them.”

For now, medical identity theft is a plague with no readily available cure. It will take legislation, technological leverage and a lot more attention on the part of health providers to eliminate this nasty virus.

John Sileo is an an award-winning author and keynote speaker on keeping your organization from becoming the next data breach headline. John specializes in making security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Top Tips to Stop Tax-time Identity Theft – Part 1

“Tax Time ID Theft – Part 1″ href=”https://sileo.com/top-tips-for-tax-time-security-peace-of-mind-part-1/”>Part 1 – Tax Preparers | Part 2 – Protecting Computers | Part 3 – IRS & Tax Scams

Tax season can be a stressful time of year for individuals and business owners alike, especially those who fail to plan in advance and then sacrifice focus and performance as they race to meet the filing deadline. But that stress is nothing compared to the potential destruction of your financial reputation brought on by tax-time identity theft. And tax-related identity theft is on a precipitous rise.

An audit published on July 19, 2012 by the U.S. Treasury Department, found that the IRS paid fraudulent tax returns to identity thieves worth a total of $5 Billion in 2011. The study also predicted that the IRS (and therefore, you as a taxpayer) will lose an estimated $21 Billion in fraudulent claims over the next five years. Tax-related information is the Holy Grail of identity theft because it contains virtually every piece of information, including a Social Security number (SSN), which a fraudster needs to defraud you.

Tax-related identity theft affects individuals in a couple of ways:

  1. Refund fraud. In refund fraud, an identity thief illegally uses a taxpayer’s name and SSN to file for a tax refund, which the IRS discovers after the legitimate taxpayer files. The legitimate taxpayer is then forced to spend time and money proving her innocence, setting the record straight with the IRS and protesting fines and penalties assessed because a refund was given where taxes were potentially owed. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “The National Taxpayer Advocate, an IRS watchdog group, got 55,000 requests for help with tax-identity theft in 2012.  The group has seen a 650% rise in the number of identity theft cases it handles since 2008.  And the IRS since last year has doubled to 3,000 the number of staffers working on such cases.”
  2. Employment fraud. In employment fraud, an ID thief uses a taxpayer’s name and SSN to obtain a job. When you as the employer report income for the employee to the IRS, the legitimate owner of the SSN appears to have unreported income on his or her return, leading to enforcement action.

There are steps that you can take that will minimize your chances of being affected by this growing crime. It is your responsibility to protect not only your own tax-related information, but also the sensitive data you handle on behalf of your business, employees and customers if you work in a job that requires you to handle such data.

This is the first of a three-part series in which we’ll provide you with practical checklists to help prevent tax identity theft and/or deal with it once it’s happened.

Today’s Tax-Time Identity Theft Tip: Choose a security-minded tax preparer.

Your greatest risk of identity theft during tax season comes from a surprising source: a dishonest or disorganized tax preparer. Ask yourself (and your preparer) these questions:

  • Does your tax advisor have an established track record and years of satisfied clients? Google them to find out.
  • When you visit your tax preparer’s office, are client files well protected? Do they leave tax-related folders in the open for the cleaning service to access, or are they locked in a filing cabinet or secure office? Do they meet with clients in a neutral, data-free, conference room?
  • Have you interviewed them on how they protect your private data, whether or not they have a privacy policy and if they provide employee data security training?
  • Have you expressed your desire that they take every precaution to protect your data? Asking professional tax preparers these questions sends them a message that you are watching!
  • Is your tax preparer working on a secured computer, network and Internet connection?
  • When filing W-2/W-3 and 1098/1099 tax forms, have you obtained them from a reputable source to make sure that they aren’t fraudulent?

Tax Time Identity Theft: Part 2 – Protecting Computers | Part 3 – IRS & Tax Scams

John Sileo is an author and highly engaging speaker on internet privacy, identity theft and technology security. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on 60 MinutesAnderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

3 Key Protections for Anthem Breach Victims

What’s the Anthem breach?

  • More than 80 million patient records were stolen out of Anthem’s servers.
  • If you are an Anthem, Blue Cross or Blue Shield customer, now or in the past, you are probably affected by the breach.
  • The data stolen included at least Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses, email addresses and employment information.
  • Not included in the breach (or at least disclosed as being part) were credit card numbers or medical data.

Why is the Anthem breach so serious?

  • When breach includes so much data on each victim, especially your Social Security number, it makes it fairly easy for cyber criminals and identity thieves to create new accounts in your name or takeover existing financial accounts. In other words, they can bank as you, borrow as you and pose as you in order to financially exploit you.
  • The loss of medical ID can be devastating, as criminals can potentially cash out your medical benefits, append your medical records with dangerous information (e.g., a different blood type) or apply for loans or services in your name.

What STEPS SHOULD I TAKE RIGHT NOW to protect myself?

1. Monitor the breach and take advantage of the two years of ID theft monitoring they are providing at www.AnthemFacts.com.

2. Monitor your credit reports for free on www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

3. Freeze your credit to keep criminals from taking advantage of your buying power. This is the most powerful step you can take, but it does make it slightly less convenient when you apply for new credit.

4. Call all financial institutions you work with and have them put a “phone-password” on your account so that the thieves can’t simply use your SSN to gain access.

5. Turn on Two-Factor Authentication on all financial accounts to further protect your account.

6. Monitor your financial accounts and health insurance Explanation of Benefits (EOB) for transactions you don’t recognize. Alert the provider if you suspect foul play.

John Sileo delivers keynote speeches designed to make security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact The Sileo Group directly on 800.258.8076.

Anthem Phishing