Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Thursday Thirteen #341


13 ways to avoid identity theft.
The FBI tells us that more than 50,000 cases of identity theft are reported every year. Here are 13 ways to help keep yourself safe. (All of them are free.)

1. Pick up your mail every day and put a hold on your mail if you're going to be gone longer than overnight. Low-tech identity theft is making a comeback.

2. Drop your letters off at the post office, or put them in your mail carrier's hand yourself. We assume there are cameras everywhere, but there aren't, and there's been an uptick in theft from corner mailboxes.

3. Use a Sharpie or a gel pen when you write checks. "Check washing" is making a comeback, too. That's when one of the bad guys intercepts a check you mailed and uses chemicals to remove/replace the payee and dollar amount. Since your signature is legitimate, your bank will cash the altered check. To avoid this, don't use ballpoint pens to write checks. Instead, reach for a pen where the ink "bleeds" a bit into the paper, making it more resistant to those chemicals. 

4. Look at what's in your wallet. Leave your Social Security Card at home. Don't carry credit cards you're not likely to use that day. You'll be less vulnerable to identity theft if your wallet is lifted.

5. Change your passwords. Yeah, it's a drag. But like picking up your mail, sometimes the little things can go a long way to keeping you safer.

6. Shred your documents. Not just bank statements. Utility statements and credit card applications can be used to steal your identity.

7. Read your bank/credit card statements. It's common for the bad guys to hijack your account information and then make small transactions, to see if they can get away with it, before emptying you out.

8. Remember that medical records leave you vulnerable, too. There's another kind of identity theft on the rise: medical identity theft. Scammers use someone else's insurance information to get care. So read any insurance EOBs you receive closely and carefully, too. Contact your insurance company immediately if you see something amiss.

9. Use alerts. Many financial institutions will send you an email or text when funds are transferred to/from your account. Take advantage of this! 

10. Freeze your credit. Contact the three credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion -- and ask them to freeze your credit. That way, only you can open a new personal loan, credit card, etc. Freezing your credit is free and won't affect your credit rating.

11. Check your credit report. Those same three credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion -- can provide you with a free annual report. Similarly, keep an eye on your credit score. That way you can tell if a new account has been opened or if spending goes way up on one of your existing accounts.

12. Use public wifi carefully. Do your banking from home.

13. Think twice before paying with a debit card. If someone else uses your credit card, the most you can be liable for is $50. This is federally mandated. The law doesn't extend to debit cards. Either call and confirm with your individual bank what their policy is covering debit cards, or take the safer route and use your credit card.

Please join us for THURSDAY THIRTEEN. Click here to play along, and to see other interesting compilations of 13 things.


My Christmas Day of Service

Worship of God, service to man. Those words are carved above the entrance to my church. They inspired me to kick off my own very personal Christmas tradition: a day of service.

•  First I went through my front closet and decided to part with two very nice wool coats: one gray and one black. They are almost new. Since I no longer have a job that requires me to dress up to visit a client, I do not need either of them (and you can argue I never needed two). This time of year* some women who can't afford to buy them new will appreciate them. I also laundered my Michael Kors puffer coat. There's a telltale trace of my foundation on the collar, but it's a big warm coat with a brand name and it has value.

I took a moment to be grateful that I had a career that enabled me to have three very nice coats that I don't need. Especially when there are women -- right here in my community -- who spend our winters shivering in inadequate outerwear as they commute to their jobs. Or worse, spend their days outdoor and their nights in shelters or tents.

•  Then I got ambitious and signed up for nine Letters Against Isolation, instead of my usual three. I used the new snowy stickers and gel pens I got at the card shop where I now work. In between cards, I exchanged texts with John (naughty holiday jokes), Elaine (more trivia about It's a Wonderful Life, because we each knew the other would have it on) and Cousin Rose (we opened our gifts "together" across the miles).

I took a moment to be grateful for the people in my life. I am only alone when I wish to be. Letters Against Isolation has taught me that there are people for whom "alone time" doesn't feel like a luxury or an opportunity to recharge. For them it's soul crushing. 

I'm going to dedicate Christmas to service every year from now on. I'm not sure how it will look in 2024. But I'm sure the effect will be the same: it will refocus my heart on the reason for the season.

*Though it's been unseasonably warm so far this winter, we all know the mercury is going to drop. It always does.

Isn't this a lovely Christmas message?


This is what the former President and leading candidate for the GOP nomination wanted to share with us on Christmas Day. Yes, he politicizes one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar, apparently to the delight of his many "Christian" followers.

Every day Donald Trump makes me more grateful for Joe Biden and the thin line of decent statesmen who come between us and this.