Although it is not strictly business related, identity theft is no stranger in the world. It is a problem that has hit a variety of people within all income levels. Unfortunately many people don’t realize what they should do until after it is too late. If you do the work, there are ways that you can protect yourself. However, if you don’t have the time or patience, there are paid services available that can do the work for you.
I recently spoke with John Armstrong, the owner of Identity Theft Labs, about identity theft and what we can do to protect ourselves.
What are some of the top tricks that thieves have used to steal someone’s identity?
To steal someone’s identity you must first obtain their private information and identity thieves use all sorts of tactics from dumpster diving, shoulder surfing, credit card skimming, stealing – purses – wallets – laptops – data storage devices, phony websites, phishing, impersonation, break and enters – house and car, hacking and viruses.
The most interesting case, in my view, just happened recently in Europe. Even the Wall Street Journal did an article on this one. A Pakistan identity theft ring placed a 4 ounce card capable of wireless communication under the motherboard of credit card readers made in China and distributed throughout Europe. It captured credit and debit card details including passwords and uploaded the information to a server in Pakistan. This was a very sophisticated ring that luckily got broken up due to the curiosity of one person otherwise it may have been undetected for a long time. The device included an intelligent program that sent the information sporadically and could even be told to lay dormant to avoid detection. An initial investigation found hundreds of these devices that could only be detected by weight as there were no visual clues of a tampered credit card reader.
Joel F. Brenner, the U.S. government’s top counterintelligence officer said “Pretty small but intelligent criminal organizations are pulling off transnational, multi-continent heists that only a foreign intelligence service would have been able to do a few years ago.”
It is important to realize that Identity Theft is big business costing the US economy $50 billion a year. Identity thieves vary from the low life criminals going through your trash to sophisticated multi-national criminal organizations.
Do you have any tricks that someone could use on their own to help prevent this from happening?
The single biggest tip I could give is to become aware of the problem of identity theft and start safeguarding your personal information in every way possible, especially your Social Security number. Only give this out where necessary.
Unfortunately, even if you followed an extensive list of tips to protect your identity, your information may still get in to the hands of a criminal. Data Breaches in the United States have exposed the private information of over 200 Million Americans in the last three years and breaches occur weekly if not daily.
Obviously, you still want to reduce your risk and so I advise everyone to shred personal documents, make sure your online activities are secure and most importantly order and review your credit reports for any discrepancies. Additionally, a fraud alert is a simple yet effective tool to protect your credit.
What should they look for in a paid service? Why might this be a better option?
Though a paid service can help protect you in ways you cannot many of the services they provide can be done for free if you are willing to do some legwork. One of the big advantages of a service is that you are provided identity theft insurance or a service guarantee. There is no way to fully protect your identity so this is a big plus and gives many consumers peace of mind and financial security.
There are essentially three types of paid services that can be divided up by their main means of identity protection ? fraud alerts, credit monitoring, database scanning. The best companies usually combine two of these options and this is something I would definitely look for in choosing a company. Other things to consider are the guarantee or insurance provided, what is done on your behalf if you do become a victim, what exact steps are taken to prevent your identity and credit from being stolen. If you are looking at a credit monitoring service make sure they monitor all three bureaus daily.
What actions would put someone at a higher risk of having their identity stolen?
Again it comes to awareness and making a conscious decision to protect your personal information. A lot of people, companies and institutions still use the Social Security number as a means of identification. This has got to stop as it a key piece of information for identity thieves and the exposure of your SSN can put you at great risk.
What kind of information may we find when we visit your website?
Identity Theft Labs is a great resource for tips on identity theft prevention as well as information on the risks that are out there. We pride ourselves on providing unbiased reviews of the best identity protection companies and we point out the differences in each to aid the consumer in choosing the right service for themselves and their loved ones.
Before someone pays for a service, what are some of the most important features they should look for in a company?
The most important features are: fraud alerts or credit monitoring, a guarantee or insurance, support ? preferably trained Americans, credit reports, black market internet scanning, database scanning and identity restoration services.
I understand that Identity Theft Labs is not an actual service on its own, but helps others by recommending some of the companies available. What are some of the companies that you represent?
We review LifeLock, TrustedID, Identity Guard, Debix, Identity Truth and some credit monitoring services from the credit bureaus. We continue to monitor dozens of identity protection companies but only include what we deem to be the best services on our website located at http://www.identitytheftlabs.com. For most services we provide discounts as well.
Do you think you’ll enter into any other form of business or is this it for you?
Identity Theft Labs is a business and a passion for me. I do not see myself leaving this venture for a long time but at the same time would not rule out diving in to something else if the right opportunity came along. The problem with new ventures is that they are often very time consuming and I would prefer to find an opportunity that could co-exist with what I am doing now.
What has your business taught you?
Entrepreneurs either know or quickly find out that there is no limit to the number of tasks that need to get done. No matter how fast or hard you work there is always more. As such we quickly learn to prioritize our tasks to make sure we are focusing on what matters most or the tasks that will have the most impact. We also learn that at times you have to take a step back to evaluate and recharge your batteries. It took me a while to realize that we have to do this in life as well. As a husband, father and friend there are always a lot of expectations concerning your time. By prioritizing based on what is truly important and taking the time on occasion to look at the bigger picture and rejuvenate yourself I believe you become a better person, husband and father.
If you had the opportunity to retire tomorrow, would you? Have you done everything in business that you’ve wanted to do so far?
In my younger days I always stated that if I won the lottery I would retire. You know, the old you work to live not live to work philosophy. I hate to go back on those words but I would not retire tomorrow, earlier yes, but not right away. Right now I am passionate about business, about internet marketing and about Identity Theft Labs, it is enjoyable, and a large part of me wants to see it through to the end. I think a large part of this is that I have set out to accomplish certain goals and have a strong desire to achieve them.