Understanding Your Credit Score

Whether you have been the victim of identity theft or not, you may want to know what your credit score is in addition to viewing your credit reports.

The most widely used credit scores are FICO Scores, the credit score created by Fair Isaac Corporation. Lenders use FICO Scores to help them make billions of credit decisions every year. Fair Isaac calculates FICO Scores based solely on information in consumer credit reports maintained at the credit reporting agencies.

FICO Scores range from 300 to 850. FICO Scores are calculated by a mathematical equation that evaluates many types of information from your credit report, at that agency. By comparing this information to the patterns in hundreds of thousands of past credit reports, FICO Scores estimate your level of future credit risk.

You have FICO Scores for each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Each FICO Score is based on information the credit bureau keeps on file about you. (myFICO.com)

Nowadays, there are a slew of places you can obtain your credit score. Some opt to receive their score for an additional fee when requesting credit reports from the three main credit bureaus. More recently there are companies that will provide you access to a free credit score, or will provide it to you if you have an account, but be sure to know which credit bureau they are pulling the information. More than likely, they may only be tabulating the score based on one credit bureau, and with the credit bureaus reporting different information; the score can differentiate from one bureau to another.

The Criminal Image

What is the image that pops in your head of the type of person who would steal your identity?

According to the numerous resource publications I have perused as well as the many articles I have read on the subject of identity theft, if there is a stock photo of a criminal used, sure enough they are all a similar image of the same man with a black mask appearing to be lingering around the corner waiting to creep in and steal your personal data right from under your nose!

Go ahead, I’ll wait as you Google search identity theft (in images), and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Yep, so it’s that guy or Melissa McCarthy.

If we are on the lookout for the person fitting that one-dimension description, than I guess we are good.

And, I guess the “identity theft criminal image man” had a vacation day when my identity was stolen. The criminal in my case doesn’t look a thing like that.

No, the criminal who stole my identity was a female, late 30’s, blonde, and maskless.

So be on the look out for that description too.

Technology and its Lead Role in Identity Theft

It seems that when companies and the like roll out the latest technology in the spirit of “making our lives easier” (or as I cynically view it, devising a much easier way for the benjamin’s to flow from your fingertips to theirs) we are all early adopters. There is a tangible universal core belief that when something “high-tech” is introduced to consumers then it must be better for us. That ideology is ironic when you consider that we sometimes label items as “high-tech” because we lack full understanding of how the technology operates, yet we are all so willing to embrace it.

Technology can be a truly miraculous thing. Technology advances in medicine saves lives. Nothing is more substantive than that. And the technology meant to do that-when life and death are at stake-probably do go through much more rigorous testing than those technologies meant for financial transactions and the like. But, shouldn’t we understand how all technology works before it is placed out for public use and consumption?

We as 21st century consumers expect the latest and greatest technology to flow into our lives at rapid speed. We almost enjoy our technology for a minute-then we catch a glimpse of what is coming out that is supposedly better. We’ve grown accustomed to being served in this way. The comedian Louis CK comes to mind when he talks about people flying on planes and all of the complaining that goes along with it these days.

Even in the movies, which are intrinsically technical, there tends to be a friendly nature that is generally portrayed of machines.  Short Circuit, or more recently the Disney movie “Wall-E”, come to mind. Technology is humanlike and our friend-so they tell us. Maybe that’s why we trust it.

Yet, it seems that technology is so rapidly infiltrating our livelihood, it is so accepted by us (or has no choice to be)-but the technology itself, is so fleeting. There is always something better around the corner.

At this pace, one thing is clear. The technology that is being utilized by companies, organizations, and the like is not tested before placed out to market. We basically invite crime with our advertised blatant lack of understanding of the technology that is put forth. These entities need to make the investment in order to protect its users. And, consumers need to demand these terms. We allow all of our personal information to be mishandled and at worst stolen, time and time again, and we will still come back and will buy from you, obtain services from you-we’ll even thank you and give you a smile. We have sheepishly accepted these haphazard and completely unacceptable terms to be status quo, maybe because we believe that is the price we are paying to afford this type of modern convenience during our lifetime.

The price of identity theft is not worth any luxury.

Identity Theft 101

There is something that you can do right now-that you should do right now-and that is to check your credit report.

You don't have to wait until you are a victim of identity theft to dig deep into your credit history. (Unless you like feeling like your living in a real life Law & Order episode where a bad guy steals your identity…it's not a day at the beach folks).

And, checking your credit report takes just a few minutes.

Besides being proactive to ensure your credit report is accurate (meaning correct name, address, employers, accounts, etc.), you want to make sure you have not become the victim of identity theft. 

Federal law allows you to get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company.  

The three major credit reporting companies are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

A good rule of thumb is to check your report around your birthday. You might also decide to check one of the reports every four months. Keep in mind each report looks different, and reports items differently.

You can visit www.annualcreditreport.com to access all three reports-this is the only authorized website for free credit reports (per the Federal Trade Commission).

If you discover inaccurate information, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), both the credit reporting company and the information provider (that is, the person, company, or organization that provides information about you to a consumer reporting company) are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report. 

This is something I can't stress enough-you must contact BOTH the credit reporting companies as well as the company providing inaccurate information. Both entities must correct the information.

Rather than waiting to see if you become an identity theft victim, check your credit reports, and make sure that what is being reported in your name is accurate. 

Reference: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports

 

A Modern Day Gold Rush: Catering to Criminals

There are various forms of identity theft.

While all equally wrong to its victims-and all equally wrong by those who commit this crime-the impact levels vary.

Although in all forms, the bottom line is that your identity is compromised.

When I initially discovered that I was a victim of identity theft, my mind went right to thinking someone stole my credit card number and made a fraudulent purchase. 

I also thought identity theft was a term that was used to describe those could not be more obvious fraudulent e-mails requesting you transfer “$1 million dollars” into a bank account to help someone in a country you've never heard of-WHO would fall for this I would think?! And looking back, this is not even identity theft-this is a pure scam.

Honestly, I didn't think identity theft would ever be part of my vernacular. I am a very careful person. I scrutinize everything, which makes this crime even more difficult because it is not as though I can change my behavior going forward.

I thought, and it sounds cliché, that this does not pertain to me. First, because I am aware, and would not “fall” for being a victim of identity theft, and if someone did use my credit card, well, I could just straighten the identity theft out with my bank, and that some cumbersome paperwork might be the worst of what would be endured.

But, unfortunately, that is not all that lies in the spectrum of identity theft. Mine was much worse. Much worse in the aspect that it involved someone perpetrating that they were me and signed-up for any good or service under the sun. Using my name and accessing my credit. And, having ZERO regard for the financial mess alone that this would cause, and leaving me the painstaking mess to fix.

Now, you might think to yourself, well this girl had "the much worse version", so this won't happen to me to this degree.

No, that's the point of this blog and this website. This can happen to anyone and to any degree-identity theft is the number one reported "complaint" to the Federal Trade Commission.

When you hear of all of these recent data breaches in the news your mind may go to the “hope I don’t have to straighten this out with the credit card company identity theft”, but the much more damaging component is your personal information-including your social security number being accessed-which is exactly what can occur.

All it takes is a name (it doesn’t even have to be yours), an address (you don’t have to be living there), and your social security number-now, that is the ONE thing the criminal must get right-the social security number. This is the access point. And, in some data breaches, this information is compromised.

Once identity theft is committed to you in an area of the spectrum, you are susceptible for it occurring in any area. You must be proactive and respond as if it will or has happened.

Let’s face it, criminals are unlikely to feel compassion for you in one area, but not another-whatever financial or medical gain-they will take it. And, those nine digits are all that it takes-all.

Hoping identity theft doesn't strike you should not be the status quo.

We keep hearing about this crime…the reoccurring data breaches, the fraudulent filed tax forms…it seems daily there is another form that identity theft takes. Another area you need to monitor.

Yet, I don't hear much being asked what is being done to prevent this crime.

We are good on the dead-end resources front too.

And, I mean dead-end in every sense of the word.

No. I don’t want you to help me clean up the identity theft mess-what I’d like is for this crime not to occur-which companies do have some control. A lot more control then what is being exercised today.

Companies need to protect our personal information-on both fronts.

Look at who has your personal information, what are they doing to protect it?

They need to treat it as if it is going to be hacked and put safeguards in place to prevent this crime today, not when it happens.

And, what due diligence is being conducted before companies extend credit?

If companies are going to request a social security number, actually check whose credit it is linked to-does five-year old Billy want a mortgage?

Probably not.

 

On hold.

Once you discover that you are the victim of identity theft be prepared to make calls and write letters like it is your new full-time job. And it's going to feel like a never-ending homework assignment from hell.

Notice I didn’t say you’d be crafting e-mails.

The phone calls typically won’t prove your innocence to anyones liking either, but it gets the ball rolling-where you get to learn of all the documents and reports they request in order for you to establish that you are indeed a victim.

And so, the back and forth begins. Them checking your work and grading you on what you produce. Such scrutiny...at this level.

And when you call, be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. Meanwhile, your credit sits exposed and in a mess, and when time is of the essence and you have so little of it while trying to navigate the system, you wait. It would be nothing for me to be on hold for 45 minutes to an hour –or more-for someone to “help” me. Here you are clamoring to get these companies immediate attention-“HEY! I’m a victim of identity theft-over here-over here, (arms waving)-what do I need to do to remedy this NOW?!”and their response to you…………………..…..a long wait (sigh) like watching molasses drip. drip. drip. Adding insult to injury.

Nothing is immediate with remedying identity theft. This is ironic considering how quickly a thief can claim your identity as their own and immediately reap the benefits.

Although the thieves have the option of creating fraudulent accounts electronically, I have yet to encounter a company who was satisfied with my information through e-mail-not that having this option would make any of this any easier or make me feel any more secure. Nope back to snail mail for you-make that certified snail mail. Not that traditional mail doesn’t have its faults, it does, but it’s as if THEY KNOW the electronic system, well, let’s just say isn’t their preference on this side of the issue.

Backwards.

I have to laugh when I see the checklist that someone must maneuver through once they discover that they are a victim of identity theft. It is no less than 8,000 steps and feels like you are reading antiquated tax law from the 1930s. The overwhelming steps and processes that must be taken if you have any ounce of respect for your name and livelihood legitimately rival the Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus.


“You are going to have to contact the 400 people that were involved in how your identity was stolen. Gee, sorry about your luck you victim of identity theft. Yeah, we know you wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for us-but fortunately, we don’t have to do anything on our end-yeah, this is pretty much the point where we look to you to clean-up this disaster. Have fun with that. After all, it only ruins your life, not ours. Oh, and to go about cleaning-up this debacle you are going to have to complete literally 15 steps per company-then maybe if we are satisfied then we’ll flag the account as identity theft. Now we know that the only requirement we had when this account was opened was that there was a pulse (but actually we will sign up a dead person-seriously we will), but we are going to make you do a little (LOT) more, you identity theft victim. Yes, we don’t believe you’ve been victimized enough.”


Look at any “resource” that you turn to help in the matter. You need a PhD in consumer law and protection to navigate through the system yet “they” expect every Tom, Dick, and Harry to handle with ease. I would no kidding proudly accept an honorary doctorate from any university that would decide to bestow one to me after I’ve managed to navigate my way through this sandstorm.


Why is this approach OK? Why aren’t we demanding and holding the companies and organizations for which do not protect our personal information or do not conduct proper due diligence from the onset accountable. That is what should be demanded and that is what little ol' me is demanding. Join me. Make these entities hold some accountability for this crime, not the victims.

Where Criminals Lurk

Think you are not susceptible to becoming an identity theft victim. Think again.

Have you….

Filed a tax return.

Purchased a car.

Bought a house.

Enrolled in school.

Participated in a health care plan.

Went to the doctor.

Applied for a job.

Worked.

Signed up for utilities.

Obtained a credit card.

Opened a checking and/or savings account.

If you have done any of those, I hate to break it to you, but you are a sitting duck for becoming a victim of identity theft.

Think of all the people working at any of these entities who have access to your personal information. Pretty much a whole hell of a lot of people.

What are all of these organizations doing to protect that information that they hold? It’s a question that needs to be asked more. But, no matter the protection, there are lots of people that have access to your information, including criminal minds.

Your “personal” information is accessible by so many people. Let’s face it-your personal information is not that private. Allowing most anyone to steal your information, and do whatever suites his or her fancy. From opening credit in your name, filing fraudulent taxes, getting medical treatment, the list goes on.

And who ends up having to clean up the destruction that is created by identity theft?

Not the company where the information was stolen.

Not the criminal.

Not the company that extended credit to a criminal.

It all comes back to you to clean up. The victim.

Until the entities that hold our personal information are held accountable, criminals face consequences for committing this crime, and it takes more than a pulse to open up credit this crime will only continue to wreak havoc for its victims.

 

 

Where did they get it.

I find my mind often wandering. Wandering to the ultimate question of where my social security number and personal information was compromised. Knowing this would answer many questions for me. It would point to where (and how) the breach occurred and the opportunity to hold those responsible.

Unfortunately, even though the criminal in my identity theft case pled guilty and was sentenced for this crime, they didn’t have to tell where they obtained MY information. And as a result, no one is held responsible for jeopardizing my information-or yours.

Something doesn’t seem right about that to me.

WANTED: Would like to buy milk without providing my entire life story

I miss the days…not of getting your milk delivered by the milk man (although I guess I might miss that too), but I miss running into the store on my way home and getting milk (or any product for that matter) without being asked if I have their rewards card. I’m sick of having to have a “rewards” card for each.and.every.flipping.thing.I.want.to.buy. If you wish to make a store purchase and aren’t asked this question, please let me know, stores without this mandate are a dying breed.

If I respond, “No, I don’t have (or want) your rewards card”, the clerk quickly replies “Well, it’s so easy to sign-up…”. Then if you oblige, they proceed to ask you your birthdate, address, phone number, etc.-all details that are none of the store’s business…and post identity theft victim makes my skin crawl.

I just want to buy a product. The store of course just wants to know your buying habits. Since when is it anyone’s business to know what products you buy. Well, the stores know it’s not theirs, so they circumvent it by providing you a discount on goods. And I use the term “discount” lightly. One store comes to mind where I was told I had earned enough points to go to aisle four and pick-up a pack of pretzels. Well la-di-flippin'-da. If this wasn't the highlight of my day, week, month, year! Wait 'til we share the good fortune with our friends and family. Apparently a handful of pretzels is what the going rate is to have my buying habits monitored and to be solicited-and this is all “stuff” I welcomed-hell, I even signed-up for it!

Pre-Identity Theft Victim Experience From Hell (the official name) I would sometimes find myself submitting this personal information, and would in-turn get another small laminated card that I would advertise for the store on my key chain. And, in exchange for all of my personal information and their ability to monitor my buying habits, I would in turn get their definition of a discount.

In looking at the “discounts” I’ve been given over the years-I’d say we, the consumer, are definitely on the losing side. There are hardly any discounts that don’t require me to buy something within a certain time frame (or lose my rewards), or encourage me to buy something I might not otherwise purchase, or come in the form of pretzels.

It is truly amazing how many of us, myself at one time included, who bought into this racket. I no longer sign-up for these reward cards-which comes with the caveat of having to explain in an extemporaneous monologue on why you don't want one of these razzle dazzle cards. With the reactions I get in return, you would think I was turning down a free Buick. They just don’t get why I wouldn’t want their card. And, I don’t get how they don’t understand that I don’t want them monitoring my personal life.

And guess what-I’ve managed to survive and don’t notice any additional spending as a result of not participating. It feels good to have that many less stores, entities and the like not monitoring me. It’s just not worth it-especially to the consumer.

As good as you may feel “saving a buck”, it is much more valuable to me that these companies NOT get the green light to monitor me. How the stores benefit far outweighs any benefit you will ever enjoy-even salty pretzels.

Sidenote. This goes for asking for and subsequently entering my zip code, phone number, address and the like into your computer at checkout-no you can’t have that either.