4 Tips to Prevent Identity Theft

Identity theft can completely screw up your life. About 10 million Americans get their identities stolen every year, and the average cost of an identity theft is over $5,000 — not even considering the lost time and hassle.

While it’s possible to use high-tech methods to steal your personal information, there are some low-tech methods commonly used. Here are 4 things that you have some control over that can greatly reduce the chance of having your identity stolen using common low-tech methods.

1) Avoid Mail Theft

Stealing from your mailbox is a federal felony, yet mail thieves are rarely caught, and it’s one of the main ways that an identity thief has to get your personal information. At the very least, learn when your mailman normally delivers, and be sure to gather your mail as soon as it comes.

If you can’t be there to get your mail when the postman delivers it, seriously consider getting either a PO box, or a private mail box (PMB). A PO box is less expensive than a PMB, but a PMB can be much more convenient. I got a PMB for about $150/year, but I also have UPS deliveries there, which you can’t get with a PO box.

Another alternative is to buy a locking mailbox. Here’s a good one from Amazon, but you can probably find one at a local hardware store.

2) File Your Taxes Early

The earlier you file your income tax, the less chance an identity thief has to beat you to it. It can take over a year to straighten out your taxes if somebody files a fraudulent tax return in your name. You might even find yourself fighting criminal charges if that happens.

Another detail to consider: If you write a check for taxes due, be sure to write “Internal Revenue Service” on the check, and not “IRS.” The latter can be easily altered to “TRS” or “NRS” and deposited in an account opened with that name. By the time you find out what happened (and the real IRS is threatening you with penalties for non-payment), the thief will have closed the account and vanished.

One more item on taxes. If you don’t prepare your taxes yourself, use a tax preparer who is licensed and bonded. After all, you have to provide a tax preparer with everything needed for a successful identity theft.

3) Get Regular Credit Reports

You can get free credit reports annually from the 3 major reporting agencies. However, once a year is probably not enough. Credit tracking services are not terribly expensive, and may save you considerable agony.

You can also register with each of the major credit reporting agencies to have a “lock” placed on your account. This makes it less convenient for you to apply for credit yourself, but it is pretty effective at blocking fraudulent credit applications with your name by somebody else.

This last tactic, by the way, is just one of many used by the LifeLock company. LifeLock is more than just a credit monitoring service. They help protect your personal information using a combination of data surveillance techniques.

4) Never Give Personal Information to a Phone Caller

That should be pretty obvious, but it’s amazing how many people will give out enough information to enable an identify theft to somebody who calls on the phone. I would recommend that you don’t even give your name to a caller, no matter who he says he is.

Incidentally, you should also get into the habit of NEVER saying “yes” to an unknown person even if you made the call. Sometimes a scammer will record and splice a conversation to make it seem like you agreed to something that you did not.

Even if you have caller ID, the name and number you see on your phone is actually easy to spoof. It’s certainly not legal, but like mail theft, it’s a very common crime that is rarely caught and punished.

If I don’t recognize the caller ID, I just let my answering machine take it. That screens out about 95% of the scammers.

Summary

This article only covers a few methods commonly used to steal personal information, mostly common low-tech methods.

High-tech methods are a very different topic, which may require several blog posts. And, in my opinion, there isn’t enough protection available against high-tech methods.

For a much broader coverage of the topic, I recommend the book, Identity Theft for Dummies, shown at the top of this article.

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The Gift of Reading

I read a lot. Back when I was a child, I would use a flashlight under the covers after bedtime so I could get some more reading time. At least until my mother busted me…

In the sixth grade, I turned in so many book reports that my reading certificate was covered front and back with the “extra report” gold seal stickers that represented 10 books each. I thought it looked ridiculous, so even though I kept reading at about the same rate in subsequent grades (about 4-6 books a week), I only turned in enough book reports to get the certificate and one gold seal, and then stopped doing the reports.

Because of my reading skills, I did very well in school. I have also done very well in a highly technical career.

I took great care to pass my love of reading on to my daughter, starting by reading aloud to her while she was still an infant. Amazingly, it was the one activity for which she would remain calm and still for almost an unlimited time, so I would read to her for an hour or more almost every evening after I got home from work. She also did well in school and college, and is now a teacher.

Unfortunately, not every child develops good reading skills. In that case, the child has a tremendous handicap. The child with a reading handicap is very unlikely to do well at academics, and also unlikely to have a rewarding career.

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to poor reading skills. One big one is nutrition, which is a large topic probably more suited to another blog post. Another is a basic failure of the public school system. For this, I have a suggestion. Well, more than one suggestion, but I’ll stick with a Politically Correct one here.

Ari Fertel, Inventor of <a href="http://h2ha.com/readingbuddy">Reading Buddy</a>

Ari Fertel, Inventor of Reading Buddy

If you have a grandchild (or child — but if you are a baby-boomer, your children are likely to be grown, so I’m assuming grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren) who is a struggling reader, I would recommend Reading Buddy. It is an interactive reading program that will dramatically improve your grandchild’s reading fluency in a matter of a few weeks. It is the invention of a lady named Ari Fertel, who had a child with a reading disability, and decided that there had to be a better way to address that problem than hiring a reading tutor.

She did several years of research into how best to teach reading fluency, and came up with the program she now calls Reading Buddy. This program can be used by a child with a reading deficit for an hour or more every day, and will result in noticeable improvement in reading ability almost immediately.

It has several advantages over a reading tutor. For starters, it can be used on whatever schedule is best for the student, typically every day for at least a half-hour. Paying a skilled reading tutor to come in every day on an arbitrary schedule would cost a fortune.

To use Reading Buddy, the parent/guardian first sets up a reward system. This isn’t done as a default, because only someone close to the child will know what sorts of rewards work best. The rewards can be almost anything from a trip to the ice cream shop to a special toy. As it turns out, monetary rewards don’t work as well for most children, but you can be the judge for that for your case.

The program then takes over, with an entertaining set of characters designed to appeal to children in elementary or middle school. It provides an engaging set of exercises to keep the child absorbed in the process for a extended time, in a game-like setting that awards “points” toward various levels of prizes as determined by the parent or guardian who set it up. It’s designed to be practically addictive!

In addition to the improvement in reading fluency, you should also notice substantial improvement in attention span.

Who knows… You (or the child’s parents) may have to “bust” him or her for reading with a flashlight under the covers after bedtime. Just be sure to tell the child that you are tickled pink about the new-found enjoyment of reading, but that sleep is important, too.

Reading Buddy has a 30-day free no-risk trial. Your grandchild could be using it today.

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Travel Tips for Seniors

seniortraveltips(This is a guest post by Nancy Elizabeth).

Traveling isn’t just for young people! Seniors can also get out and see the world. The best part about this is that businesses nowadays are doing a better job of catering to elders’ needs.

While there are some places that are not practical for seniors, seniors can still enjoy traveling. Here are a few tips that should help:

  1. Backup Plan

Youth in their twenties can travel around Europe without having too much worry even if their hostel was full because they can sleep anywhere. When you were that young you could just decide to sleep on a train but not today. As a senior traveler, you should have a plan that takes care of unique health and security concerns. But what do you do in case your plan doesn’t work? This where a backup plan comes in handy. For instance, if the hotel you read about in the area you are visiting is full or the medical clinic you read about is no longer functioning instead of starting to plan again, you just use the backup plan.

  1. Research about the Accessibility of the Sites you’re visiting

Let’s say you are planning to cruise around a certain lake then upon arrival you just realized that you have to climb down a steep slope before getting to the dock, and once at the dock you have to jump from the dock into the boat. Most seniors have health issues that can’t allow them do such things. So it is important to first ask about sites accessibility. Normally, a cruise company that caters to seniors should already have that figured out – so if somebody is trying to sell you an excursion that is past your physical ability, you should seriously reconsider doing business with that company.

  1. Travel Security

Scam artists and pickpockets take senior travelers as easy targets. The best way to avoid possible problems is by traveling in groups or with a trusted escort. You can decide to travel in groups of four or five but not alone. Your group should include a few young able-bodied men if at all possible. If for any reason you decide to travel alone, then it is highly recommended for you to have some travel security items. One such item is a money belt that can be used to hide passport, credit cards and cash. Another important item you need to have are travel locks and RFID-protected wallets. But better not to travel alone.

  1. Carry Friendly Luggage

It is not a must to carry everything while traveling, carrying only a few important personal belongings might help you avoid lugging yourself while walking to the nearest bus station. While traveling it is better to have a luggage that is ultra-light, easy to carry and manage. The luggage should also offer multiple carrying options such as top handlers and shoulder strap.

The senior travel market is growing fast and many airlines and hotels around the coming up with ways to handle elders’ unique travel requirements. For example, you can request extra-firm mattresses, special pillows, or other items that may help keep you comfortable.

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