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Episode 78 - Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

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    Hey, Scott Austin here.

    In this episode, I'm going to do something a bit different. I am not going to talk about Shopify nor a Shopify Solution. Instead, I'm going to tell you about something that happened to me personally this year and that is identity theft. My goal is to teach you some things about identity theft and how you can protect yourself.  A few simple things that I'm going to recomend here, would have saved me tons of headaches.

    I'm no expert on identity theft and all of the various forms it can take. I am going to tell you about the details of my particular experience as everyone I talked to from the police to the banks to the car dealerships were surprised at how sophisticated the operation was.

    Before this recent experience, I thought identity theft was mostly about someone getting your credit card through a local store or other way. Or when thieves get or guess the passwords to your online accounts. But that's not what happened with me. What happened was that the thieves got my social security number. I'm guessing they got it through one of the many massive data breaches that have happened online. But that's just a guess. And then they determined my address and my phone number. I assume they did this through an online search.

    With just my name, social security number, address and phone number, they were able to steal over 200 thousand dollars in vehicles.  They didn't get access to any of my existing accounts. Instead they created all new accounts, applied for credit and made purchases. In the end, they bought four new cars from different dealerships with loans from different borrower's. They also created 3 bank accounts and credit card accounts in my name. They didn't do anything with these and I suspect they were just tests that were done to see what protections I had in place and if I would notice things. They even had what looks like a very real state issued driver's license with my name on it, but with the thief's photo.  As soon as the vehicle's were purchased, they were taken to Mexico which we figured out as one of the cars had GPS tracking installed.

    The creating of the accounts and purchasing of vehicles all happened quickly in a couple of weeks in January. I first noticed something when I got my monthly Wells Fargo statement. I use Wells Fargo for my business accounts. Coincidently, the thief purchased one of the cars with a Wells Fargo loan. As that loan was in my name, it showed up on my consolidated Wells Fargo statement. Had it not been for that, it probably would have been a month longer before I noticed anything. And that's because the thief also forwarded my USPS mail to their address. I was surprised to learn how easy it to forward mail with very little security checking. And I didn't notice that the mail had been forwarded as it was just for my personal mail. I was still getting my business mail to my house.

    Once I realized what was going on, there was a ton of paperwork to be filled out with the police, the banks, insurance companies, the DMV and more. But most companies have processes and teams in place for this sort of thing. I'm still going through some of the processes two months later. But I think it will all be removed from my credit history and score in the end.

    So I've learned some things throughout this process that I want to share with you in case you are not aware of them.

    Here are some pro-active measures you can take to prevent identity theft:

    1. Have and use a password manager. The thief wasn't able to get into any of my existing accounts. And that may be because I use a password manager and every account has a different password. The password manager that I use is LastPass and linked to in the show notes.
    2. Create an account with USPS. You can create an account with the US Postal Service and sign-up for their Informed Delivery program. They will send you an email with scanned images of the mail that they are delivering to you each day. This way, you can quickly see if your mail is being forwarded or if someone is stealing some of your mail from your mailbox.
    3. Create an account with each of the three credit bureaus. With an account, you'll be able to see the activity on your credit. There had been no activity on my account in over 6 months. Then in January, there was over 30 events on my credit. Had I had accounts, I would have been able to more easily see this. And as I didn't have accounts, the thief created accounts for my social security number using his email address effectively blocking me from seeing what was going on. Now one of word of warning here. Each of the credit companies will let you create an account and see the details for free. But they are businesses and fairly scummy ones at that. So throughout the process, they are trying to sell you on their paid services for monitoring and notifications. And some of their UIs make it very hard to sign up for just the free services. I'll include links to the credit companies in the show notes.
    4. Freeze your credit. Once you have accounts with the credit companies, you can freeze your credit. Which it seems to me should be a best practice that we all do during the times that are not looking to create accounts or secure loans. When your credit is frozen, you cannot create a new bank account, get a loan or do anything else that requires a check on your credit score. And that means that identity thieves also cannot do those things.  This one simple step would have prevented everything.

    And here are a couple of tools that I found helpful with all of the paperwork that I had to submit:

    1. Fax software. A number of the companies that I dealt with required paperwork to be submitted by snail mail or fax. They would not accept email. So I found a software service that allows you to send faxes from your computer and send any file as a fax. Its called It has a free level and let's you pay for additional fax volume ala carte instead of requiring a subscription. I'll include a link to in the show notes.
    2. Phone scanning app. With all of the paperwork I was submitting, I had to sign a lot of it. So I had to print it out, sign it, and then scan it to get it back in the computer to send with the fax software or email. I used the Microsoft Lens app for the phone. There's a version for Android and iOS. Its great because it makes the pages you scan in as straight as possible even if the phone's camera was at an angle. And you can convert multiple photos of multiple pages into a single PDF file.

    I want to end this episode on a positive note. And that is that the police caught and arrested the thief. He had been doing this multiple times and the police were already on his trail. So the four vehicles he stole in my name will get added to the list of many vehicles he stole that he is being prosecuted for. 

    Thanks for listening.

    JadePuma is a certified Shopify Expert. If you need any help with your Shopify store, we can help.