Monday, January 28, 2008

Keep You Mitts Outta My Wallet

I often sit and wonder what I can share with my readers. Lawdog gives some great advice and instruction on how to protect yourself from critters who like to pounce on their victims in the proverbial dark parking lot or alley. While I have some similar training, I have a lot more experience in keeping virtual critters out of your financial business.

With that in mind I sat down and did a little research on ways to prevent identity theft.

Anyone who has ever gone through a big case of having their identity co-opted out from under them, knows what a HUGE pain in the butt it is. The sad thing is, there are some very simple steps you can take to help keep your name off the list of people waiting to hear from their local police department that there has been some break. The sad truth of that is, there are so many of those cases out there that you could end up at the bottom of a VERY long list of victims.

In an effort to save you that grief, I thought I’d throw out some steps and encourage you all to find out more. Think of it like building a fortress around your good name. The more important your name is to you, the thicker and higher the walls you will want to build. I am currently working to build a virtual version of Alcatraz around my credit. Nothing in or out unless I put my eyes on it and allow it to pass.

The first thing I would suggest is NEVER let your mail sit in your mail box. If you aren’t home when the postman brings your things around, get yourself a locking mail box for your home or if your post office won’t use one, a PO Box and use it. One of the most common methods that identity theft critters use is just to simply follow the mail truck and steal the mail out of the boxes right behind him. In this same line of thinking, if you still use paper checks, have your bank change the delivery option for your checks. I strongly recommend having them delivered to your local bank branch and go pick them up there when they come in. I know it may be inconvenient, but not nearly so much so as trying to recover from some critter writing hot checks in your name.

Shred every piece of paper with your name and address on it that you throw away. Plain and simple. Drive to your local Wally World or office supplies shop and buy yourself a $40 shredder and use it. I even shred my junk mail. No paper leaves my house in pieces larger than ¼” by 1”. If I had an incinerator, I’d burn it all. Trash is another very common place that people have their personal information taken.

Keep the antivirus and anti-spyware software on your computer current and if you don’t have any GET SOME. If you are on cable internet or DSL, your computer is an open window into your life. Protect it. You’ll be glad you did.

I have been hearing a lot about a company named LifeLock. Most of what they offer you can do for yourself, but just to satisfy my curiosity I went to their website. Understand, I am NOT endorsing their service. They had a great analogy for what they do though. Think of it like changing your own oil. It’s not hard and you can save some money, but unless you are diligent, your car won’t get the same level of service that a professional could provide. So, what I AM saying is that if you are like me and tend to let small things slip, a service like this might be a good option.

As to what they do for you that you can do for yourself.

1. Place a fraud alert on your credit report. With this in place any business who receives an application for credit under your name/social security number will have to contact you to verify that you are indeed the one applying for that credit. Fraud alerts must be renewed every 90 days. Some states will allow you to even permanently lock your credit report effectively making it impossible to use it. With a lock in place, you will have to contact the credit bureau to lift the lock. There are costs involved in doing that, but again it is cheaper than recovering from having fraud committed against you. My state will only allow locks after you are a victim. I am helping that to change by contacting my state senator and U.S. Representative. Until then, I will be placing and renewing fraud alerts on my and my family’s credit reports.

2. Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers. You can do this at http://optoutprescreen.com. If you do it on the web it must be renewed every five years. You can opt out permanently by mail. The instructions are on that site.

3. Take advantage of the free annual credit report available to you by each bureau. You can do that at this site https://annualcreditreport.com. Review them and dispute anything that doesn’t belong. Be careful of the services that advertise on television that claim to get it for you for free. Most times they want you to subscribe to a credit monitoring service. If you’ve done step 1 above, then you don’t really need to subscribe. The website above is free. Most credit bureaus will want a small fee to provide you with the actual credit score.

4. Safeguard your personal items like wallets and ATM cards. Don’t leave them laying about and NEVER give your PIN to ANYONE for ANY REASON. I can’t tell you how many times we have had members/customers who have been ripped off by a family member they thought they could trust. If you just have to give your PIN to someone for an emergency, get that card re-pinned as soon as possible. Your bank or credit union will most likely do this for you for free.

5. The biggest thing they provide is insurance if they fail you. You are your own best insurance.

I think the most important thing to remember is just to be diligent. Educate yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of “it won’t happen to me” because it can and will. The only way we will ever put a stop to this crime is to protect ourselves. Law enforcement just doesn’t have the resources to be proactive. They can only help you after you’re a victim, and the help they can give is minimal. Be your own best defense.

Tole

Friday, January 25, 2008

Just Something to Discuss

Here's something I heard on the radio today that has spawned a great deal of discussion with some my friends and co-workers.

I was listening to El Rushbo today and he interviewed Sly Stallone on the topic of the new Rambo movie.

Over the course of the discussion, Sly says the following, "War is natural, peace is an accident. I mean, we can start a war in 6 minutes but take hundreds of years to achieve peace."

I have often told my friends that Stallone is alot smarter than people give him credit for, but that comment is an amazing insight into human nature.

Tole

Friday, January 18, 2008

What Moves Me

I am a HUGE fan of music. I try not to limmit myself to a particular genre, but I do tend to focus on one for a while and then move to another. But I can listen to just about anything if it is done well.

The last few days my radio has been on a local country station. I have found quite a few songs lately that have hit a chord in me. I thoughtI'd take the time to share one while it was on my mind.

A lot of people who know me, don't understand me. I guess I am more complex than I like to believe, but a song I heard today seems to sum me up pretty well. Here's a link to the video.

And here are the lyrics...

Sometimes I think that war is necessary.
Every night I pray for peace on Earth.
I hand out my dollars to the homeless.
But believe that every able soul should work.

My father gave me my shotgun that I'll hand down to my son, try to teach him everything it means.

I stand by my right to speak freely. But I worry 'bout what kids learn from TV. And before all of debatin' turns to angry
words and hate, sometimes we should just agree to disagree. And I believe that Jesus looks down here and sees us, and if you
ask him he would say

(chorus)
I'm a man of my convictions. Call me wrong, call me right. But I bring my better angels to every fight. You may not like
where I'm going, but you sure know where I stand. Hate me if you want to, love me if you can.


Hope you enjoy it.

Tole

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Debit Card Quirks

OK, I've been toying with this topic for a while now. Not because it is controversial, or anything like that. Just simply because I didn't know if you'd give a damn. After much deliberation and introspection I've decided, what the hell. If one reader finds it interesting, then that's good enough for me.

I learned of most of this as a result of working at a credit union, but some of my support of my point of view is an left-over of my teenage "put it to the man" attitude.

OK, that's enough set up. Let's get down to brass tacks. When you swipe your debit card you are often given a choice of Credit or Debit. Without fail I always choose Credit and here's why.

The first difference is, who pays for the transaction? Since a debit or PIN transaction works just like an ATM withdrawal the cost of the transaction is passed on to the financial institution. Now granted, if you bank at one of the huge banks, this doesn't really mean spit. BUT if you bank at a credit union, this savings in costs are almost always passed on to its members as higher interest on savings or lower interest on loans. Some financial institutions are even starting to charge for this type of transaction, just like you took the cash out of a foreign ATM.

If you do a credit, or swipe and sign, the merchant pays that fee. I get a little satisfaction knowing that Wally World has to pony up 1-2% of my purchase for the privilege of taking my money. Plus, a portion of that fee goes to your bank/credit union. Once again, since credit union are not-for-profit organizations, they pass the income on to their members in the ways I mentioned before.

Here's the BIGGEST reason though, and this is the one nobody talks too much about. When you do a DEBIT or PIN based transaction, especially at the gas pump, the merchant places any amount they see fit on hold at the beginning of the transaction. That hold can stay in place for 48-72 hours. While that hold in in place those funds are not available to do things like, pay for checks or drafts that come in during that period. Legally, a merchant could freeze your entire account for up to 3 days, even though they got their $$ the instant you finish the transaction.

By the way, if you do shop at Wally World or any other place and when you swipe your debit card it automatically asks for your PIN. You have the option to press Cancel and select Credit for the transaction. Wally World even hides the cancel key to make it hard for you to opt out. When you think about the dollar volume that they do every day you can understand why. 1-2% of a million bucks is 10,000-20,000 dollars in income they have to give up.

Tole

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

One Big Hell Yeah!!

I am here today to give respect and a big old Hell Yeah to Jane Hambleton of Des Moines Iowa. It's always nice to see a parent who practices the ancient art of, well, parenting.

The ad reads: "OLDS 1999 Intrigue. Totally uncool parents who obviously don't love teenage son, selling his car. Only driven for three weeks before snoopy mom who needs to get a life found booze under front seat. $3,700/offer. Call meanest mom on the planet."


You can find the entire article here.

Hats off to you Mrs. Hambleton.

Tole

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Rumors of My Death

have been greatly exaggerated.

I am in point of fact still sucking air, but I am also extremely guilty of neglecting my blog. Long story short, my department at work has been woefully understaffed, and I have been too tired when I get home to put together more than 2 coherent thoughts at a time. Unfortunately, I've needed those to do things like remember to put on pants before I venture outdoors or turn on the water when I am in the shower. Small things such as that.

With year end behind me finally, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and this time I feel reasonably sure that it is not an on-coming train.

If there are any of my readers left, I have set myself a goal of posting at least 3 times a week. (This one doesn't count.)

Oh...about the tree in the toilet. We had to bust out floor, cut out about 3 feet of cast-iron pipe (the plumber went through 32 saws-all blades to get it) and now we are preparing to gut that bathroom completely and start over. Doesn't that sound like fun?

In truth, I am very excited about it because I enjoy that kind of stuff. Especially the demolition...maybe I missed my true calling. If you'd like to see a photo-journal of the whole process just say so and I'll make it a regular feature on the old blog.

Sorry I was away so long. It won't happen again.

Tole