Recently, I was asked to do a segment for The Rachael Ray Show that demonstrated very visually how many audience members face immediate identity theft risks. Watching them move across the stage as we exposed two or three common sources of identity theft was remarkable. Once we had experienced the numbers, we ventured into the house of one of Rachael’s audience members to see how to mitigate the risk. Watch the video to see if you would have joined the “at risk” group, or read the transcript below:
Rachael: We had the audience stand back here because we all carry several items on any given day, EVERY given day, that put us at risk. So John, you’re going to weed out our audience so we can all learn in how many areas we are seriously at risk if we have certain items on us, correct?
Rachael: Okay, how are we going to get them started?
John: The first one is your Social Security card. If you carry your Social Security card.
Rachael: If you have your actual your Social Security card, I’d like you to cross the room and come to this side of the studio. (Audience members cross.) A few people–not many. I don’t carry mine, either.
John: A few have got it. A lot of us do it.
Rachael: To me, Social Security numbers- they ask for them everywhere. The bank, the doctor–everywhere. I know the number. I don’t carry the card, but it is like your signature.
John: It is. It’s your net worth. It’s your future buying power, so a thief with a Social Security number–they can buy a home as you. That’s what happened in my case. They purchased a home. They go bankrupt as you.
Rachael: A house?
John: Yes, she bought a house. It was a woman.
Rachael: Just like in the movie! That is amazing. And a woman took your Social Security number and it didn’t even occur to anybody- it’s not a man named John?
John: I know and then went bankrupt-as me.
Rachael: Oh my God–I just want to feed you spaghetti! Okay, I think we’re going to move a lot of people on this next item. Tell them the next item.
John: Yes. If you have a smartphone without a passcode on it. So without the four digit code or some sort of a passcode.
Rachael: If you have an unprotected phone, move it. (Many audience members move.) I knew we’d get a lot of them on that one. Okay, now explain why you’re even more at risk without a passcode, even though it’s fairly obvious.
John: You bet. So the smart phone is part of who we are, right? It’s become an extension of ourselves. It’s literally part of our identity.
Rachael: Access to everything.
John: Let me give you an example of how easy it is. The thief takes it off the table at a cafe, right? They walk outside- no passcode on it. So they quickly surf through your websites or your contacts. They see where you bank. Then they go, ON THAT PHONE, to the bank’s login page and they hit the “forgot my password” link…
Rachael: And it sends it to you!
John: And it emails it to the thief!
John: They’re right in your account. Bam! It’s that easy.
Rachael: One more thing. We’ve gotta move more people. Give us one last item that puts us at risk that you think most, if not all, of these people have.
John: If you have a debit card or bank card. (Almost everyone else crosses room.)
Rachael: Now everybody has to have their bank card with them. I carry mine, too. Don’t you carry one?
John: I don’t. I’m not saying you can’t carry a debit card or a bank card. It’s how you carry it. It’s that you’re smart with it. Your debit card, your checkbook, connects directly to your bank account.
Rachael: (Looks at remaining audience members who didn’t move.) We have about ten/twelve people left. You guys don’t have any bank or debit cards on you? Wow, That’s amazing!
John: It’s doable. Use your credit card. I realize it’s a great budgeting tool, but if you can get it out of your purse when you don’t need it…lock it up at home- just like you do your Social.
Rachael: Get cash once or twice a week. Leave the card at home and carry credit cards that have protection.
John: Yes, you have much better protection liability-wise. The money doesn’t come directly out of your account when it’s stolen.
Rachael: It’s amazing. I love the visual of watching the risk factor.
Rachael: We wanted to take this a few steps further. We didn’t have time to go to every single person’s home here, so we sent you to one of our viewer’s homes to find the places in our homes where we’re putting ourselves at even more risk, right?
John: Yes, at Lisa’s.
Rachael: So, he went to Lisa’s house. We’re going to have these guys take a seat. You check out what happened at Lisa’s and we’ll meet back here.
(Shows family activities at Lisa’s house.)
Lisa: I’m a wife and a mother of three and I just want to do everything I can to protect my family. About a year and a half ago we were victims of identity theft. You feel like your whole life has been stolen from you. At first when that identity theft happened, we were taking steps. We put alerts on with credit reporting agencies, but I think I fell back into being more lax about it.
(John arrives at Lisa’s house.)
John: So our plan of attack today with Lisa is to take her around the house and we’re just going to look at the different ways her data might be exposed.
(In her office)
We’ve got a file cabinet…a locking file cabinet that undoubtedly is …unlocked. (It is. John looks through items) Birth certificates…
Lisa: I try to hide it.
John: You try to hide it, yeah, but we all hide it in the same way. What I really suggest is a locking fire safe. You can buy these big, heavy safes that protect against water and fire, but they also allow you to store these documents in a really safe way.
(On to Kitchen)
Lisa: My purse is over here.
John: Wow. What is this, an organizer? (Huge, overflowing wallet) You keep your life in here, don’t you? Let’s see what we’ve got. Debit cards, multiple credit cards…I would get in the habit of thinking, “Okay, I’m going out to do this shopping. What cards do I need? Take the cards that you use most often and get in the habit of leaving the rest at home. On a credit card or debit card, one thing that I recommend is that you simply write Photo ID Required on it. It lets the retailers know, “Hey, my identity matters. Ask for it.” It makes it harder for someone to shop and impersonate you. (Continues to look through wallet) Cash-we don’t worry too much about that. It’s really the data that we’re looking at. And a lot of times the thieves will take the cash, they’ll take photos of this (other cards/data), and they’ll put it all back. They don’t want you to know they’ve taken it.
Lisa: I didn’t even think of that.
(They head outside to Lisa’s trash can.)
John: You have to be really mindful of what we leave outside of the door. We put things in our trash that are incredibly valuable. This is called dumpster diving. (John looks through trash.) This looks good here. Looks like a bank statement, we’ve got an insurance statement. We’ve got a credit card statement. It has your full account number on it-right there. Bonanza! You also need to shred anything with any identity on it.
(Moves to mailbox- unlocked out on the street)
Do you mind if I go through your mail a bit?
Lisa: Not at all.
John: Allright, so here’s a pre-approved credit card offer. This makes it really easy for somebody to apply for a credit card in your name. There’s an easy solution. It’s called opting out. You can opt out of financial junk mail so it’s never in your mailbox in the first place.
Lisa: I didn’t even know you could do it.
John: You should take this now and shred it. Everything that you can shred, you shred.
(Moves to Lisa’s computer.)
John: I love talking to people about their computers because it is the jackpot in the house of all our financial information. I was glad to see that you have a password to get in. That way if somebody walks out with the box, it’s a little more protected. Do you shop online at all?
Lisa: Yes, I do. I shop online a lot. I’ve been using my debit card a lot more lately.
John: Okay, shopping online- I’m totally good with. Using your debit card is risky. It’s connected to your bank account. I recommend you use a credit card and, in fact, I think it’s smart to have a separate credit card you use online and a credit card you use out and about. That way if something happens online, you can shut down the one card and you’ve kind of cordoned it off.
(Back to studio. Rachael welcomes Lisa and introduces Privacy Means Profit.)
Rachael: The biggest thing that I got out of that segment that I want to do immediately when the show is over–putting the stickers on every single front of my credit card or debit card (that says) “Ask for Photo ID”. You said everyone ignores it on the back, but everyone demands it on the front.
John: That’s exactly right.
Rachael: Everyone could buy “stickems” and that’s a really good one. That’s so easy and fantastic. So Lisa, that was enlightening. Thank you for letting us into your home. What did that feel like from your side of it? Did you feel like “Uh!” (slaps forehead) “I can’t believe I did that”?
Lisa: I couldn’t believe everything I was doing wrong. John gave me such great tips- just little things you can do to protect your identity. It was scary because I thought I was being more diligent than I was.
John: We all do.
Rachael: That’s the thing. It seems so obvious when he puts a highlighter pen over it. Then we all say “I do that, I do that, too.” I love that sticker thing though. Isn’t that a great tip?
Lisa: Yes. Actually I started to implement that. That was the first thing I did.
Rachael: (To John) So, who are identity thieves? What are the most popular types of identity thieves?
John: It breaks down into three big categories. The first is friendly fraud. It’s the people that we know. I see these every week. It happens constantly. It’s the college roommate who visits who has fallen on hard times so they sneak a check out of the middle of your checkbook. The second is the local. This is the person in your neighborhood who is a drug addict, a gambling addict, they need a little extra money and they’re willing to filter through your trash or your mail to get it. The third, the fastest growing one, is organized crime. These are international people who have huge resources to hack into very secure databases. These are not poor databases.
Rachael: They’re really investing in their crime with top quality computer programmers.
John: Absolutely, that’s exactly what they do.
Rachael: So, tell us about medical identity theft.
John: It’s so quickly growing because health insurance is really expensive, right? Here’s one we see a lot of right now. They wear a pair of Google Glass glasses that record, or they have an iPhone. They walk through the emergency room where people are totally stressed out and they’re filling out forms and they’re looking at them.
Rachael: That is so creepy!
John: And listen to this one: photocopiers. You have your doctor photocopy stuff- that has a hard drive in it and when someone services it…
Rachael: You’re giving me hives!
John: So you photocopy it at home.
Rachael: So how do you protect yourself from it?
John: Number one-those benefits statements that we get? Review them, just like you would your credit card statement. If something is wrong, you shut it down. You call them immediately.
Rachael: Pay more attention.
John: Yes, pay more attention.
Rachael: And guard what you’re writing.
John: Yes, they can be snapping photos. A lot of times what I’ll do is put it on a sticky note and I’ll take it off after. It doesn’t stay on their records, but it stays in the system. It’s a little bit better protection.
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.