Thanks to everyone who attended my identity theft seminar this morning hosted by the Department of Defense at Andrews Air Force Base. For the list of identity theft prevention tips I referred to during the speech, please proceed to the bottom of this post. But before you do that… During the workshop, an audience member asked me a simple question:
Do Loyalty Cards (like the ones you sign up for in the supermarket to get store discounts) make me nervous?
They don’t, but that is because I take precautions to protect my privacy. Here’s how loyalty cards work:
- You fill out a form to sign up for the card. The store gives you discounts on purchases or other tempting benefits that you get only if you have the card.
- In return, you give them permission to aggregate and sell your information.
- Every time you make a purchase and they swipe your loyalty card, the store logs your purchases in a database, which is attached to your name and address. So they know what magazines you read, what non-prescriptions drugs you purchase, they even know how healthy your diet is by the type of food that you buy (do you feel a bit like Big Brother is watching?)
- The stores then sell your buying-habit data to other companies who want to know more about you. For example, I can almost guarantee that your health or life insurance company is interested in knowing how often you shop in the high-colesterol chip aisle versus the health-conscious produces section.
I know what you are thinking… NO WAY! Sorry, but this is the ENTIRE REASON stores collect data on you. I hate to say it, but what did you think they were using it for? When you buy alcohol for a friend, the store sees it as yours. The copy of a popular dieting book that signals a weight problem or other health issue? On your record and up for sale. Insurance companies can assess the risks you pose as a client based on your buying patterns.
Remember, anytime a company is giving you something for “free” like a store discount, you are most likely giving them something in return (like your private information).
So how do you keep them from collecting this information while still getting the discounts? Easy:
- When you sign up for the loyalty card, don’t fill out the customer information form. Some stores (Safeway comes to mind), allow you to set up an anonymous account so that you get the discounts but don’t give your information. I usually just ask for the card and application and tell them I’ll drop of the application when I’m not in such a rush. The card is activated but is never attached to your name and address.
- If they must have a name and you want the card bad enough, sign up as Mickey Mouse with an address in Disneyland. Technically, this can be illegal, so read the contract you are signing first (it’s usually on the back).
- If neither of these are good options for you, then don’t sign up for the loyalty card and shop someplace where they will allow you to use one anonymously.
Even if you skip the discounts, you will save yourself money when the insurance company doesn’t base your premium rate on your donut addiction!
During my speech, I promised to give you easy-to-complete action steps to protect your identity against theft, as well as that of your loved ones. I’d like to deliver on that promise by directing you to a full page article I’ve written specifically for you: John Sileo’s Military Identity Theft Protection Kit. If you have additional suggestions for protecting military IDs that I haven’t covered in this article, please include your comments at the bottom of the post. With your input, this conversation should contribute to the financial stability of our armed forces – which is vital, because, as you are aware, financial readiness is mission readiness.
For those of you who asked to purchase a copy of my book, Stolen Lives, you can do so at www.ThinkLikeASpy.com. Be sure you choose the Speaking Engagement Shipping option in your shopping cart as it will give you free shipping.
Here are answers to several additional questions that were asked after my speech:
- Does freezing your credit affect your ability to make charges on your credit card? Absolutely not! It only affects new accounts being set up (car loans, home loans, etc.) using your credit profile. It will not affect any existing accounts that you have. You will still be able to make purchases on your credit or debit card without any additional hassle.
- How do I protect my kids? I recommend that you simply monitor your kid’s credit reports, much like you would your own. To learn how to get a free credit report for a child, read this excellent article from creditcards.com.
- To add children to your identity monitoring service (such as CSIdentity) visit the Child Identity Monitoring Section on their website.
- Is LifeLock identity theft monitoring service truly free to military personnel, or is it just for certain personnel? I may be an identity theft expert, but I don’t automatically have all of the answers (at least the correct ones). I had heard several weeks ago on a different base that LifeLock offered this service to all members of the military. But following my own advice to verify my sources, I thought I had better research what I had heard before I officially passed it along.
As it turns out, LifeLock is not free to all military personnel. It is only free to deployed personnel in Afghanistan or Iraq while they are actually deployed. In addition, LifeLock offers the service free to members of the Air Force Sergeants Association.
To read more about LifeLock’s service as it pertains to the military, take a look at this USA Today article.