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Identity Theft: Prevention and Mitigation

It may be anecdotal, but it does seem that more and more folks are becoming victims of identity theft. We file taxes for our clients and we have had a couple of clients over the past few years for whom we attempted to file their tax return only to have it rejected because the IRS thought it had already been filed! This is how these clients discovered that their Social Security number had been compromised. Unfortunately, there are so many ways in which our personal information can be obtained, it may seem overwhelming to think about how to go about protecting ourselves.

Here is a basic checklist of good practices to follow. One of things that we do is to send out a note to our e-mail list every four months to get your credit records at This one falls under basic best practices to ensure there are no significant errors on our credit reports. Another best practice is to switch to electronic bill pay for as many bills as possible. Having a paper check floating around out there with your name, address and bank account number is a higher risk than paying bills online. (Online bill pay is not a guarantee- there are no guarantees as many large institutions are finding.)

Another recommendation is to consider a credit freeze. This Clark Howard article lays out the details as to why this is so effective and how to go about it. The most important takeaway from this article is that an identity thief cannot open credit even if they obtain your information! Of course, if you are in the process of obtaining a loan for a significant purchase (i.e. a house), then make sure you understand the process of utilizing a credit freeze and thaw before moving forward with a credit freeze.

What if you have had your identity stolen? Or you know that your Social Security number may have been compromised? Please take a moment and read this article published by the IRS. The article discusses the use of fraud alerts. While a credit freeze is preventive, you can use a fraud alert if you think your information has been compromised. This article discusses the difference between a fraud alert and a credit freeze in more detail.

You are probably thinking: wow, there is a lot to read and understand. Yes there is, but checking your credit report once every four months takes very little time and I am here to remind you! The initial process of doing a credit freeze is actually quite fast. It only took me a few minutes with each of the three reporting agencies. Compare this to the hassle and time involved if your identity is stolen? Personally, I am hoping to never find out!

Finally, as our clients know we use a secure client portal to share personal information. I would encourage anyone reading this to think twice before sending any documents with personal information (i.e. your Social Security number, bank account information, passwords) via e-mail. If you would like to learn more about Weingarten Associates and how we protect client information I would be happy to hear from you.

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