Several readers have asked me to write about what to do when you find out that your identity has been stolen, believing that it would be of help to readers.
But first, in these difficult times, I think we need to start off where we left off last week, with a few financial one-liners from some older comedians that are reflective of their times:
“Money is not the most important thing in the world. Love is. Fortunately, I love money.” — Jackie Mason
“A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don’t need it.” — Bob Hope
I keep seeing more of those “pet parent” commercials. One was even for Bissell vacuum cleaner, which includes a urine odor eliminator. All I can see is big dollar signs, but, fortunately, they are not mine. I am not currently a pet owner, but I know that if I were again, that is what I would be — a pet owner.
According to the American Pet Products Association, pet industry spending for 2016 came in at a record high $66.75 billion, up from $60.28 billion in 2015, or a 10.7 percent growth. APPA’s annual comprehensive industry figures report covers pet spending in the market categories of: food, supplies/over-the- counter (OTC) medications, veterinary care, live animal purchases and other services. I have to believe that number is just going to increase in future.
On a different subject, in past columns I have expressed that I believe that it is important to save and invest early, especially for retirement, but that I am not really qualified to give investment advice. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that Warren Buffett continues ( since 2014), to say that most investors are better off buying low-cost mutual funds that index, or closely track, the holdings and returns of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. He has said, “It’s the best investment for people looking for the least amount of worry.” He further expressed his rationale in a CNBC interview this way: "The trick is not to pick the right company, the trick is to essentially buy all the big companies through the S&P 500 and to do it consistently and to do it in a very, very low cost way, Costs really matter in investments."
So let’s turn to identity theft. First, let’s do a little review on some of the practical ways that we have discussed to prevent or minimize someone obtaining your personal identifying information and using it to do things like filing fictitious medical claims, cleaning out one of your accounts, stealing your tax refund, or opening new credit card accounts or other lines of credit. First, review all of your bank and credit card statements every month. For me, the fewer you have, the easier this is. Second, review your three credit reports annually by obtaining them for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. Stagger them, so that you get one every four months. This will enable you to see any unauthorized accounts or activity. Third, don’t carry your Social Security number in your wallet, or other personal information like some of those old medical ID cards that may include it. Last, change any passwords frequently, and make them complex and difficult to guess; shop online only on secure websites; don’t click on emails where you don’t recognize the source; and don’t give your personal information to anyone who contacts you, only to those who you contact.
In addition, if you can afford it, and it gives you peace of mind, you can consider signing up for one of the identity theft protection services.
If you learn that you identity has been stolen, I suggest going to IdentityTheft.gov, a website of the Federal Trade Commission. It walks you through a detailed action plan that includes such things as putting on a fraud alert with the three credit reporting agencies, and, if appropriate, filing a report with the police, the State Attorney General’s Office, the Post Office, and the Federal Trade Commission. In addition, obviously, you should contact any institutions directly affected — that bank, credit card company, the IRS, health insurance provider, etc. Also, you should contact the Social Security Administration and the IRS if your Social Security number has been compromised. If you have an identity theft protection service, they also will work you through an action plan.
Let’s end with a one liner: “I love to go to Washington, if only to be nearer my money.” — Bob Hope
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo