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Friday, January 17, 2014

Identity Theft Prevention and Recovery

Identity theft can happen at any time to anyone.  Thieves are very creative and are always looking for new methods to access personal information for their own gain. The information thieves are looking for is not always clear – some things are obvious like Social Security numbers, others are not, like family relationships and insight on your personal life.

Here are 10 important tips to follow for preventing ID theft
1. Only carry what you need  - leave extra credit cards, checks and documentation with sensitive information (Social Security Cards) at home when shopping or leaving your home. When carrying Medicare information it is best to carry a copy and black out the first five numbers of the Social Security number which most hospitals will accept.
2. Consider carrying your wallet in your front pocket, in a neck pouch or in a fanny pack on the front of you.
3. Never leave your purse or wallet unattended, even at social or religious gatherings where you feel safe and comfortable - thieves can be lurking anywhere.
4. Keep an itemized list of the cards you do carry on a daily basis along with the check numbers you carry so that if your belongings are stolen you can quickly call and report the stolen cards to the card companies.
5. Before allowing company into your home, always lock up personal information and laptops and log off and shut down your computers.
6. Be especially cautious of using the ATM. Try to always go into the bank, but if you do use an ATM, only use ones that are lit and take your receipt with you and shred it.
7. Deter crime from your home with lighting, radios and televisions. Use timers or motion detectors on outdoor lighting if you can afford it, or leave lighting on at night when you are away.
8. Never give out personal information to someone reaching out to you via phone, email, instant message, text message, door-to-door or through social media. If you receive a call from a company requesting personal information, inform them you will hang up and call their primary company phone number to ensure the call is legitimate.
9. Use secure, non-personal passwords that contain both capital and lower case letters, numbers and unique symbols (!*@$). 
10. Be cautious with your generosity - make a charitable giving plan and do not deviate from it. Check out the legitimacy of every charity before giving them your hard earned money. 
If your identity has been stolen, the sooner you discover it, the sooner you can take the steps necessary to fix it. Do not let fear, ignorance or embarrasment keep you from doing what you need to do to protect  your finances, your property and most importantly, yourself!
What victims should do next
1. Let all of your creditors know that your ID has been stolen. Be sure to keep track of who you talked to, when you talked to them and their job titles, and phone numbers. Remember, the sooner you notice and report any discrepencies on your accounts, the easier it is to dispute them.
2. Close your accounts. Send confirmation that you are closing your accounts in writing, by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep copies of everything.
3. When you open new accounts, put passwords on them (do not use a password that relates back to personal information that someone can guess).
4. Contact the issuing agency of any IDs that were taken - driver's license, state ID, employment ID. Do not just cancel and replace, ask the agency to put a caution or flag on your file so nobody else can get replacements.
5. File a police report and make copies of that report to send to your creditors. Do this in person rather than using an automated report. If your police department deos not take identity theft reports, ask to file a "Miscellaneous Incident Report." If you are still unable to file a report, contact your state Attorney General to find out exactly what your state law is in regards to identity theft.
6.  Find out from each creditor just what it is you need to do to clear up the mess, and then do it, keeping track of everyone you talk to and everything  you do.
7. Once all the disputed charges have been taken off your accounts and everything is resolved, have those companies send you a letter that states in writing that the disputed accounts are closed and the fraudulent debts discharged. File and keep copies of these letters to use if this erroneaous information reappears on your credit report.
8. Follow up to make sure everything has been taken care of and keep checking your accounts regularly.
9. Report the theft or fraud to the three major credit bureaus. Have them place a fraud alert on your account so that new lines of credit cannot be opened without explicit confirmation by you.
10. Do not fall for so-called credit repair scams. The only information  that can be removed from your credit report is inaccurate information, and that is something you can do for yourself. D
Download handouts from this post.

Related information:

The Story You Won't See on Law & Order: Why Elders Are Targets for Scams and Financial Abuse, presented by Hazel Heckers, Victim Advocate for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Monday, January 13, 2014

Meet CSA Spotlight, Brenda Hellums

After spending 25 years in the banking and financial industry, I was recruited by Warren Averett in 2005 to create and head up the Daily Money Management Services (DMMS) department. Eight years later, I am assisting elders with their personal financial affairs, which has been a rewarding experience. My years in the banking industry has taught me how important relationships are and how serving the needs of our rapidly aging population, is of great importance. The aging need a listening ear, a trusted resource, and someone who is sensitive and aware of the issues they face.

DMMS assists elders in maintaining an independent lifestyle, along with the benefit of personal attention. Financial matters are handled in the most secure manner. Services are tailored from bill payment, statement reconciliation, financial reporting, tax ledger, payroll, medical claims processing, review of credit cards for unusual transactions, alerts for activity fluctuations, evaluation of insurance coverage’s, sale / purchase of homes and automobiles, vacation home payment / rent management, coordination of caregivers and a whole host of other assistance. My profession makes the impossible possible. I am passionate about what I do and feel good at the end of each day knowing that I have helped someone’s life to be a bit more enjoyable.

I have learned to celebrate the journey and live each day fully, as my spouse has recently been diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease, which affects the cognitive and motor skill functions of his body. I have discovered the role of compassion, patience and understanding. I can certainly empathize and can now share stories, experiences and resources. It is my desire for him, and many others, to make their quality of life meaningful and I am committed to making a difference in the lives of our seniors.

Since receiving the Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) designation in 2009, the knowledge I have gained of the health, social and financial issues of aging is immeasurable. Caregiving, Medicare, healthcare proxy and living wills can all be overwhelming, so it is nice to have the resources provided by CSA.

Brenda Hellums, CSA, PDMM®
Warren Averett, LLC