How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Identity Theft

Identity theft is an egregious offense that can cause victims more money to repair than the cost of the crime itself. According to the Department of Justice, “Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.” Some of the most common data criminals use to commit identity theft and fraud includes:

  • social security numbers
  • driver’s license information
  • bank/credit card account information
  • personal tax information
  • telephone calling card numbers
  • mail (i.e. pre-paid credit card offers)

Identity theft is all about acquiring money or assets without personal responsibility, whether the perpetrator steals directly from a bank account with a stolen debit card or check, or someone uses personal information to acquire home and/or auto loans. Criminals guilty of identity theft have been known to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars through various means, leaving victims with the exhaustive battle of restoring the damage, an expensive process that can take years to complete.

Shockingly, identity theft and identity fraud were not even considered federal offenses until 1998. Prior to that year, some criminals had been known to steal personal information for financial gain and harass the victims with the fact that there was nothing they could do about their loss.

Luckily, awareness and technological advancement have helped many individuals avoid becoming victims of identity theft. Following a few simple steps can help protect personal data from falling into the wrong hands:

  • Exercise caution and conservation when entering, repeating, or providing personal information (i.e. when talking to financial institutions or making online purchases).
  • Shred mail that contains pre-approved credit offers.
  • Do not respond to emails asking for sensitive information unless you know the source is trustworthy and the connection is secure.
  • Don’t let your mail accumulate if you go out of town. Have it held at the post office or collected by a trusted individual.
  • Regularly check your credit and financial accounts, looking closely for even the smallest indiscretions.
  • Keep meticulous personal records in a safe place.
  • Obtain a copy of your credit report at least once a year.

Dealing with the results of identity theft and fraud is an ugly affair. The easiest way to avoid becoming a victim is to be conservative, careful, and aware of where your information has been and where it is going.

3 Things to Consider When Renting Your Home to Tenants

While commercial property management companies have strict policies in place as to how they screen their tenants for rental applications, homeowners wishing to do the same may find themselves overwhelmed. Renting a property can provide extra income, but renting it to the wrong tenant can result in a waste of time, costly evictions, and/or expensive damages. However, with the right preparation and screening process, homeowners can avoid renting their properties to dishonest and negligent individuals. Here are some tips that homeowners should consider:

Ask the right questions. Screening a tenant begins with the first conversation. Prospective landlords should be upfront with pertinent leasing information, such as financial aspects (rent, deposits, fees) and any factors that may disqualify an applicant from renting the property. Prospective tenants should be willing to answer these pre-screening questions without difficulty, and any tenant who does hesitate may indicate an inability to abide by the landlord’s terms.

Decide whether or not you want to hire a property manager. Property managers will collect a certain percentage of the selected tenant’s rent each month, but he or she will also handle the day-to-day tasks of renting out the property, like rent collection. Sometimes not having to deal with the meticulous details of a rental agreement is worth the money. However, the homeowner should have a clear agreement with the property manager and the tenant on the terms of the lease.

Consider using a third-party verification firm to perform background screenings on tenants. These firms can provide a tenant scorecard that offers an at-a-glance look at whether or not an applicant will be a good fit. They can also provide comprehensive criminal background screenings, credit reports, landlord references, and eviction data. Reputable firms will abide by FCRA standards so the process of screening tenants is fair and within the law. Landlords can even collect a small fee from the rental applicant to assume some of the cost of the screening. These background checks will provide pertinent information regarding an applicant’s character and expose any dishonesty so that landlord’s can make an informed decision.

The most important aspect in renting your own home is to be thorough and safe. Knowing the tools at your disposal and spending a little extra time and money to vet prospective tenants will most likely result in a mutually beneficial tenant/landlord relationship.

Regulations for Employers Conducting Background Screenings Protect Job Seekers

When undergoing the background screening process for prospective employment, job candidates may be apprehensive about a variety of aspects. They may also have a lot of questions about their legal rights and how employers (past, present, and future) are allowed to handle an applicant’s information. Luckily, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have set up protections regarding how employment background checks are to be conducted and how employers are allowed to use a person’s information.

In general, employers can ask just about anything regarding a job candidate’s history. The most common screenings employers perform include:

  • Employment history (salary, dates of employment, job title, performance reviews)
  • Education (degree obtained, dates of enrollment, GPA)
  • Criminal background
  • Financial background
  • Medical information
  • Social media

Financial background, medical information, and social media are less common for employers to screen. Employers usually only conduct credit checks if an employee’s job duties require fiscal stewardship. The release of medical information to employers has strict regulations (it is illegal for an employer to request genetic information or family history, and most employers cannot ask for any medical information until a job has been offered to the candidate).

Researching an employee’s social media has become a controversial subject because the EEOC has placed legal protections on the following attributes (employers cannot make employment decisions based on any of these criteria):

  • Race
  • National origin
  • Color
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • Age

An individual’s social media may disclose information about one of the aforementioned categories, and some argue that exposure to such social media creates employment bias that the traditional job application process does not. It is important to remember that employers require written consent for the majority of background checks, particularly if they are performed by a third-party firm.

While the law may protect a job applicant from certain types of discrimination, it does not regulate what a previous employer can disclose to a potential employer. Some companies have policies that regulate what employers can say about their employees, but the law will not necessarily levy criminal punishment for breaking company policy. However, if former employers lie about an employee’s performance to affect a hiring decision with another company, they may face job losses and/or lawsuits. Job candidates are always entitled to a full report in the event that items in their background checks affect their ability to obtain employment.

The best course of action in the background screening process, for employers and employees alike, is to practice honest communication and maintain a stand-up level of integrity when on and off the job.

6 Tips to Recovery After Identity Theft

Identity theft is a major issue as technology advances access to sensitive personal information. Preventing identity theft is much easier than having to repair compromised credit and personal accounts, a process that can take a lot of time and sometimes even more money than was lost. When identity theft occurs, individuals need to know how to handle the process of putting their personal affairs back in order. The federal government has provided the following action plan for victims of identity theft:

  1. Contact the institutions that were compromised by the theft (i.e. banks, credit card companies, lenders). These institutions need to be made aware of the theft as soon as possible so they can safeguard compromised accounts.
  2. Adjust your login information for accounts affected by the theft.
  3. Alert each of the three credit reporting agencies of the fraud. Alerting these agencies will entitle you to a free copy of your credit report, even if you have already used your free credit report for the year. Obtaining a copy of your credit report after having your identity stolen may give you a better idea of the damage incurred. Alerting the agencies of the fraud puts added measures in place to prevent someone else from continuing to use your credit. Note that you only need to notify one credit reporting agency, as the one you contact will be obligated to inform the other two.
  4. Alert the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of the theft, and save the records they give you.
  5. File a police report. The documents you receive from the credit reporting agencies, FTC, and the police will give you ample evidence to help repair damaged accounts. In order to file a police report for identity theft, you will need:
    1. Government-issued photo ID
    2. Proof of address (i.e. utility bill, bank statement)
    3. Evidence of the theft (i.e. financial statements of compromised accounts)
  6. Once you have the police report compiled with the documents you acquire from the FTC, you can address fraudulent accounts and charges and work on getting the damaged mended. Additionally, you can contact the credit agencies and send them documentation proving the theft so that they can remove any negative items on your credit report that were caused by the theft. Make sure you always ask for written confirmation from the institutions you contact.

No one wants to be a victim of identity theft and fraud, but these steps will help streamline the process of repairing the consequences of criminal behavior.