Last week I had the great fortune of hearing my money-hero speak. Jean Chatzky has been my personal money guru since we started to get ourselves out of the mega-money jam of aught 9. (She hates the term guru. She told me herself. We’re besties now.) I could gush for the entire page about how much I admire her intelligence and the way she balances financial know-how with feminine sensibilities and more than a little style. But I won’t gush. It’s not attractive. I should know, I gushed unapologetically when I chatted with her face to face.
The reason that I won’t go on and on about all things Jean Chatzky isn’t because it’s annoying (it is), but rather because the topic she was speaking about is so important, I have to address it first.
I spend a great deal of my life online, not just here, at the blog but elsewhere on the great big internets as well. I love the convenience of apps on my tablets and phones and the older I get the more it seems I shop from behind a screen. I have always been a little wary about internet security, but for a very long time, no one would have wanted my identity so I didn’t spend too much time worrying. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always taken precautions, but I never thought it could happen to me.
Here is the simple truth: it can happen to any of us, and it isn’t just as easy as a stolen credit card. Identity thieves literally steal your life and then make it a living hell.
The stories from a LifeLock study on Identity Theft were harrowing. People went years without knowing the full extent of the damage being caused to their credit. Some even told tales of their children’s identity being stolen years before the kids were even old enough to need to to know.
What does identity theft have to do with reinvention, you ask? Well, it turns out the times you may be most susceptible are times when you’ve reinvented yourself. Newlyweds, New Parents, Newly Single and New Homeowners are among the most in danger of having their identity stolen, simply due to the amount of information they are sharing with broad audience.
So what can we do?
A few things, it turns out.
- Watch what you share and with whom. It should go without saying, but know that nothing is ever really private. Turns out, it’s not just passwords and sitekeys thieves go after. Really what they do is gather as much information as they can about a person so they can piece together a complete identity. Sharing a picture of the new house? Hide the address. How about your sweet newborn’s face with the instagram world? That picture may alert someone to a new baby social security number to locate. Tweeting about a sweet new pair of shoes you scored on sale? Keep location out of the photo. Shopping habits, inadvertent locations, children’s names can all be pieces of a thieve’s puzzle. Guard them online as well as you do IRL.
- Check Your Credit. It’s often hard to know if you’ve had any problems if you don’t know what your credit report looks like. I check mine pretty obsessively because it has been my job for the last five years to build my credit score (Also, Jean Chatzky told me to). You should make it your job too. Know your credit so you know if someone is trying to wreck it. You can do it for free so there’s really no excuse.
- Vary your passwords. I mean, duh, right? This seems like a no brainer, but I was pretty shocked to learn the number one password is still ABC123. Seriously, people? Surprise, surprise, Ms. Chatzky had a suggestion for passwords wherein you think of an important sentence then use the first letters of each word along with a number and symbol for a pretty hack-proof password. I know, I know, it’s impossible to remember a million different passwords for your million different accounts. I’d argue it’s a heck of a lot easier to remember passwords than it is to try to rebuild your identity after it’s been hacked an stolen.
LifeLock invited me to lunch to hear the results of their study on identity theft. All opinions are my own. LifeLock is a company that offers services to keep your credit safe or restore it if it’s too late. There is a lot you can do on your own, but LifeLock is an extra step for extra security.