Identity Theft – A Personal Retrospective

This write-up has personal anecdotes but I promise is it absolutely worthy to read what we already know. There were some valuable lessons that I was reminded of, no matter how much I knew before. There were many stories and numerous articles of what not to do but it took an incident to happen to me; to become a broken record on financial safety. I was watching this movie, “A Fall from Grace” and few minutes into the movie I realized that the story could be any of us (aka happy go lucky, gadget loving, fB posting, non-stop tweeting nice people); so I stopped watching and started writing. About 15 years ago when I was going through this arranged marriage process, I had the opportunity to meet some crooks. One particularly, courted me only to have an address for his sister for immigration purposes. That is mendacity from what I can tell now. Then, I was just hurt.

Two year ago, my cell phone had a weird text that said, “Your number has been deactivated”. And I thought that my husband may have forgotten to update an expired credit card. I didn’t think anything else because the other web-based applications worked just fine on Wi-Fi. On my way home that evening, I couldn’t call anyone as I used to. I reached home and started reading my personal emails. There were way too many from my financial institutions stating I transferred money, created new accounts with other financial institutions, my phone was canceled and a new account was created somewhere in Florida.

After my husband came home, we quickly called Experian, all my financial institutions to do damage control. It was so much that I was suggested to take a new identity, lose all the good history I’d built and start from scratch. That scared me. I was never that worried before. There was a lot of self-sleuthing. But there were many life lessons.

1. Do not give out your gadget or password to anyone, not even your spouse or kids or best friends. A lot of mishaps happen unintentionally (Trust no one. Embrace Zero-Trust model in real life too, not just organizations and systems)

2. Always use 12 or more character password that is hard to guess (It takes a year to crack a 12-character password and 2 centuries with special characters)

3. Ensure your Wi-Fi is protected. If you have a lot of guests, create a separate one for them. Do not give them access to your home Wi-Fi (protection, protection and protection)

4. Use passcodes for all devices

5. Set up authentication on your ATMs, credit cards, bank accounts etc. (Dual, Multi-factor)

6. Do not give away your secret questions or answers even playfully or set up something that can be easily guessed especially when you get calls from IRS (they usually don’t call)

7. Check periodically all your accounts for suspicious activity

8. Enroll in monitoring services

9. Limit social media sharing of personal information (you don’t have to check-in everywhere you go)

10. Safeguard your social security number at any cost even though you cannot stop some personal information being public

11. Watch your emails, text notifications for fraudulent activity

12. Shred the documents that have sensitive information

13. Use cash as much as you are able and be cautious using credit card in stores

14. Ensure that you are not leaving receipts in ATMs or after filling gas

15. Just stay alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. Do not live in la-la land

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