Tag Archives: brad barron

A Holistic Approach to ID Protection

The devastation resulting from identity theft correlates with the fact that it infiltrates every part of a victim’s life: robbing them of time, privacy and money; possibly requiring both legal and financial action; and affecting victims mentally, physically and emotionally. When someone becomes a victim, so many facets take the toll that victims need a holistic approach to ID protection – one that readily addresses all of those facets so victims can recover from their losses, regain their reputation and rest assured with protection against future attacks.

What does legal assistance have to do with a holistic approach to identity protection?

A victim’s need for legal assistance comes into play, for example, when debt collectors harass the victim about a fraudulent debt, a bank or creditor refuses to acknowledge an account as fraudulent, criminal activities surface because of a thief’s actions or criminal activities are attributed to a victim’s records or when the victim wants to take a fraudster to court. These kinds of legal issues can make the victim’s recovery quite challenging, which is why a well-rounded protection plan should include legal assistance. Legal assistance could be providing referrals for trustworthy attorneys who know how to handle identity theft cases, and who work within reasonable distance of the victim’s location.

How can an identity theft protection plan address financial issues?

Monitoring members’ information and catching thieves in the act will help limit the damage done, but, for people who do find themselves victim to identity theft, an important part of recovery is adjusting to a new financial situation.

Financial repercussions of identity theft may involve fraudsters draining the victim’s bank accounts or racking up debt in the victim’s name, and, on top of that, victims usually spend thousands of dollars trying to get the money back and clear their name with debt collectors. Those are major financial setbacks for any budget.

A holistic approach takes into account the need for financial counseling. Victims will need access to financial professionals, like Accredited Financial Counselors, who can assist them with getting back on track financially. Financial counselors could help them assess and work on things like…

  • Adjusting budget to any financial losses
  • Allocating money to restoration needs (e.g. money to pay an attorney)
  • Restoring bank accounts
  • Rebuilding credit

How can a protection plan mitigate health issues?

A holistic approach recognizes the health consequences of being a victim and provides assistance to mitigate the issues.

More than one-third (36%) of victims said the identity theft incident caused them moderate to severe emotional distress. Why? Dealing with the evidence of fraud requires research, phone calls, dispute letters and claim forms, police reports, money and a lot of time. The to-do list can get overwhelming pretty quickly.

If victims have a fraud resolution specialist at their side, they have access to professional guidance from someone they can trust to provide the correct materials and next steps for reestablishing safety and privacy.

Getting assistance can alleviate some of the stress involved because members know they’re not alone, and they’re getting confirmation about what to do next. Top-of-the-line assistance would also include specialists who can actually take on some of the tasks that a victim must complete for resolution.

Dealing with identity theft is difficult, which causes a ripple effect of stress infiltrating other areas of life. When victims must race against the clock to repair the damage, they’re worried about the financial losses and stressing over how they’re going to make sure the problem doesn’t happen again.

How is education involved in a holistic approach to identity theft protection?

A checklist of features should also include education, so members can make smarter decisions with the day-to-day activities that may affect their risk of becoming a victim. Resources could include tips, newsletters, articles and webinars with helpful information like…

  • Understanding what is on a credit report, what’s problematic and how to resolve each matter – whether it’s an error or theft-related
  • How to file and dispose of paperwork with sensitive information
  • Extra precautions to take and questions to ask when creating an account or applying for a new credit card
  • Recent data breaches and who’s at risk
  • What’s the latest and greatest security software for consumers

A holistic approach includes some sort of education because it helps people protect themselves against future identity theft attacks.

People need a plan that takes a holistic approach to identity theft protection, covering every part of prevention and restoration. They need a plan that addresses fraud in a timely matter to prevent heightened stress, with features like monitoring and alerts for any suspicious activity, quick assistance for anyone who becomes a victim, financial counseling and legal assistance.

Identity Theft Services Explained

As thieves discover more and more ways to steal personal information, it is critical that people use identity theft protection services that involve a wide security sweep of all personal identifiable information and high-risk activity. The marketplace for identity theft protection now includes all kinds of monitoring services and features. Make the best choice by understanding each feature available, how they differ from each other and their capacity for sustaining protection.

Credit Monitoring

Credit monitoring is the process of reviewing a consumer’s credit activity with the credit bureau. It monitors the activity and changes to a credit report, including inquiries made by a creditor to request a copy of a report. Monitoring provides an alert system for potential fraudulent activity or accounts being established. Credit monitoring provides an alert system to activity affecting your credit report and credit score. Monitoring enables you to stay on top of fraudulent activity so that you can address the inaccuracies immediately. It also reduces the financial impact that identity theft can cause, by reporting the fraud earlier and reducing potential out-of-pocket losses.

Identity Monitoring

Identity monitoring looks at more than just credit information; it encompasses all personal identifiable information: name, birth date, address, email, phone number, Social Security number, etc. This could include monitoring the Internet, national databases, credit files, public records and more. If thieves have your personal identifiable information, it’s the perfect cover for their crimes because everything will point to you, not them. Even kids can become victims of identity theft: Each year, more than 140,000 identity theft cases involve children.

Social Security Number Monitoring

It’s exactly how it sounds – protection for one of the most important pieces of information that a person has. This type involves monitoring hundreds of millions of records for unauthorized use of a Social Security number (SSN). 70% of people are worried about the safety of their SSN. Monitoring an SSN is particularly important for children because thieves have plenty of time to use the child’s information for their own gain before the child finds out by applying for an account or a line of credit and is denied because of the thieves’ damage.

Data Sweeps

Unlike previous monitoring services that focus on particular data or activities, data sweeps encompass a plethora of touch points and personal information. Data sweeps monitor the Internet for instances of criminals using stolen phone numbers, addresses, birth dates and more. How many data points are included and how often the data sweeps occur vary from plan to plan. Data sweeps cover the information that consumers are worried about, like mailing addresses (50%) and phone numbers (60%). It can also help a person feel more secure about online presence because data sweeps can lead to removing exposed personal information on the web.

Credit Card Monitoring

The lending institutions that issue credit and debit cards will usually monitor transactions and notify cardholders of suspicious activity. Credit card monitoring, as offered through an identity monitoring service, will monitor the Internet for fraudulent activity involving credit card and debit account numbers, PIN numbers and other personal information in Internet hacker chat rooms and the dark web. Credit card monitoring looks at activity outside of the credit report and outside of activity monitored by the cardholder’s bank or issuing institution. As a result, it can detect fraud that may or may not make it to a credit report or be captured by the bank.

Recovery Assistance

Most services will not only keep you informed but help you resolve any suspicious activity. Features could include assistance from a credentialed professional. Some assistance features may only provide victims with next steps or resources, while others may actually take on some of the activities a victim must complete to rebuild his or her reputation. 47% of victims who spent 6-plus months fixing the issue(s) felt severe emotional distress vs. the 4% of victims who felt that way after resolving issues within 24 hours. Victims can limit the health and financial costs of recovery by using a protection plan that includes assistance from professionals who know how to get quick results.

Lost Purse or Wallet Assistance

Whether you misplace your wallet or it actually gets stolen, most identity theft protection services will help you contact the correct institutions and minimize the damage if a thief tries to use your stolen information. Despite the growing threat of malware and hacking, physical theft is still a problem, and 43% of physical theft happens at work.

Service Guarantee

Most companies have a service agreement that provides some sort of refund for customers if there’s a defect in the company’s service. New technological advances are made every day for security and thievery, so you need to make sure that a company will help you if its protection services can’t keep up with thieves’ new tricks.

Some identity theft protection services go above and beyond with the layers of security and assistance they offer, in addition to the commonly included products listed above. Some of those extra special features are:

Additional Databases

While most services monitor your personal identifiable information online or on credit reports, not all of them will monitor databases like criminal records and sex offender registries. Some companies charge extra for monitoring these additional databases. Thieves don’t just use your personal information to empty your bank account. Thieves will steal reputable citizens’ identities and use them as aliases when committing crimes.

Medical Fraud Assistance

Monitoring for medical fraud involves protecting insurance records from criminal use and assisting victims when a thief tampers with a victim’s medical history or racks up medical debt. The crime rate for medical identity theft increases by 32% each year, and more than $12.3 billion in out-of-pocket expenses were spent in the past year because of medical identity theft.

Tax Fraud Assistance

Products include giving victims an action plan and providing forms and contact information for working with the IRS. Services that actually do recovery work for victims must have certified tax specialists who are approved for working with the IRS on behalf of the victims. In 2014, the FTC’s 1.5 million fraud-related complaints revealed that consumers have paid a total of $1.7 billion because of fraud, and a third of those complaints were tax-related. Tax fraud could include IRS phishing schemes, phone scams and stealing taxpayers’ information to file phony tax returns and get their refunds.

Family Coverage

Protection plans may allow members to add family members to their plan; however, adding family members often comes with additional charges. When family members share accounts (e.g. bank, music, email), passwords, etc., everyone feels the consequences if one of them becomes a victim.

Other

Other pieces of your personal information that may or may not be included in the common types of monitoring: loan/lease information, driver’s license, computer security, bank account information, passports, etc. Thieves’ use of hacking, malware and social media have skyrocketed over the past few years. As fraudsters improve their tactics, they gain access to more and more information.

Each type of monitoring covers important information that could lead to serious damage if taken into the hands of a fraudster, and no one type covers everything. Likewise, each feature has importance, but they’re most effective when working together because they create sustainable, comprehensive coverage.

People need to make sure that their identity theft protection plan includes all the necessary data points with multiple types of monitoring, assistance and recovery features, so their information stays secure.

New Wellness Plans: for Employee Finances

Employee wellness programs no longer just mean healthy office potlucks, pedometers and stress balls. These days, more companies are rolling out wellness programs focusing on the financial health of their employees. The change in tack comes as American workers are struggling to keep their financial houses in order. Companies are acting because financially stressed workers can mean lower productivity and greater absenteeism, among other problems. But, to be effective, a financial wellness program must address the individual needs of workers and their different learning abilities. It also must actually boost workers’ financial management skills, and keep them engaged over the long term.

The Opportunity

In January, benefits consultant Aon Hewitt released a survey of 400 national employers representing nearly 10 million workers. Three-quarters of respondents said they are “somewhat to very likely” to implement a program this year targeting their workers’ financial health and educational needs. Previously, the survey found, companies were most concerned about whether workers were participating in 401k plans. Today, however, employers are expanding their focus  to help workers improve their overall financial health.

“A growing number of companies are offering tools and services to help employees make smarter financial decisions, which can help improve employee engagement and productivity as workers focus less on financial stressors,” Aon Hewitt noted. The survey also found that “employers understand that workers can’t adequately save for retirement if they don’t have their financial house in order.”

These findings come after other surveys have highlighted how financially stressed workers can zap a company’s bottom line: lower productivity, unscheduled absenteeism, turnover and rising health care costs from stress tied to basic money management. It isn’t known if employers are just  becoming aware of these facts — or if it’s the growing fallout that is spurring employers to seek financial wellness programs. Regardless, it’s clear employers want a solution.

The History

Why did financial wellbeing become such a hot workplace issue? The answer is simple. Unless you were raised in a home that practiced and taught sound financial management skills, it’s unlikely you possessed these skills by the time you entered the workforce. Think of your own primary educational experience. Was it void of education in personal financial management? Most would answer, “Yes.”

Consider “the Greatest Generation,” who fought in World War II and kept the home front intact. These men and women worked for companies that provided pensions ensuring a comfortable retirement. They lived in a time when a successful and peaceful life wasn’t dependent on acquiring more things. This generation lived through the Great Depression, resulting in a lasting emphasis on frugal living. For most, this experience was their financial education; but they were unprepared for teaching the next generation about managing financial complexities.

Baby Boomers raised by this generation entered the workforce when the economy was growing. Jobs were plentiful, and so were mortgages, auto loans and credit cards. For many, living with debt became the new norm; however, understanding how to manage that debt was largely dependent on the family environment in which a person grew up.

Generation X saw even greater access to debt. In fact, as if the allure of accumulating more than their parents wasn’t enough, the cultural message suggested that people should spend their way to happiness. Lacking financial management education, many Gen Xers found themselves leaning on employers to solve their personal financial challenges. They requested 401k loans and hardship withdrawals, payroll advances, etc. Most of America’s working class were living beyond their  means and using the equity in their homes to bankroll their lifestyles.

But then the stock market crashed in 2008, resulting in massive losses in retirement and other types of investment accounts. Millions of workers lost their jobs, and many more suffered losses in income. And, in the blink of an eye, the equity in their homes was gone. In fact, a big percentage of these workers suddenly found they owed more on their mortgages than their homes were worth. For most among the working class, the new reality meant living with more debt, less income and fewer assets.

Even now, the Millennials approach the workforce with similar cultural conditions as Gen Xers. But there are two added wrinkles. First, Millennials are entering a more competitive job market. Second, they do so with much higher expectations of what employers will do for them.

Economists agree that navigating our financial system is becoming more complex. In each of the last three years, the American Psychological Association has found personal finances to be the leading cause of stress in this country. And medical research continues to point to stress as a leading cause of disease. We aren’t suggesting that financial wellness programs are the only answer to these problems. But  the facts suggest such an approach is very important to dealing with them.

The Solution

Employers have made it clear they plan to help employees manage their finances. In fact, 70% of employees have indicated they prefer to get such assistance through their employer.

What does the right solution look like? For starters, companies must actively promote their financial wellness programs and ensure they’re readily available to all employees. There’s a misperception that wealthier workers have less need for such assistance. Unfortunately, very few people are immune to economic hurdles: The problem transcends income, job classification and educational background.

The right solution will offer a multidimensional learning format, given that people have different learning styles and preferences. The solution also needs to be communicated in a way that appeals to most people.

In addition, the right solution will seek to keep workers engaged over the long term. Establishing and increasing basic knowledge of personal financial management is mandatory. However, given the ebb and flow of life and its changing circumstances, workers will continue to encounter new financial conditions. As they do, having an objective financial voice available to them will ensure that past mistakes aren’t repeated.

How to gauge success?

Workers will no longer get distracted by their financial challenges, thereby increasing their productivity and decreasing unscheduled absences. Workers who get spending and debt under control are saving enough for retirement — rather than extending their employment years and expanding employers’ costs. Helping workers make better healthcare choices in terms of benefits selections as well as lifestyle decisions also will help with costs.

Overall, financial wellness programs will have a positive impact on workers’ quality of life — as well as companies’ bottom lines.