20Jun/16

My Story As An Identity Theft Survivor

(updated) This is my first blog and in it I intend to document the issues I have had so far and the issues I will be going through as the result of the theft of my identity.  I know I’m not the first person in the world to have their ID stolen, heck I’m not even the first in my family, and according to a New Javelin Strategy and Research report ID fraud rose 13% in 2011 to 11.6 million people in the U.S. – but I wanted to start this blog because I couldn’t find any blogs online relating to this topic the way I wanted to.  There is plenty of how-to information available from sites which I will likely link to in future posts, but my intention for this blog will be for it to become a more human landing place for those of us that have had their IDs stolen.

My Story

My identity was stolen as a result of refinancing my mortgage. As you may or may not know, when you apply for a mortgage loan your entire financial history is provided to the bank to determine your credit worthiness. It would be a gold mine for any ID thief to get such information.  Well, after signing my loan documents, the notary supposedly dropped the documents in a UPS box to have them shipped overnight to the escrow office. This was a Thursday. By Monday morning the Escrow office hadn’t received anything and UPS had no records of the documents in their system.

At this point I just figured that the package was lost in UPS’ system. I was focused on completing the refinance as quickly as possible since the rate was going to expire in a few days and I had to travel for work on an overnight trip. The day after I returned from my work trip I logged into my bank to find out how to cancel the cashier’s check for the  closing costs that was also lost with documents.  While doing that I noticed there was a suspicious $100 DEPOSIT into my account. I checked the listed company from which the deposit was made and it was an online quick loan operation. All you needed to get a loan was a name, address, social security number and bank account number. All items that were in my package missing since the previous Friday. The loan was made on the following Monday, just 2 business days after my information had left my kitchen table.

More activity has followed, but I feel lucky that I was able to find out my data was lost and being misused so quickly, and with relatively little impact, after having it stolen.  I still don’t know exactly what happened (my suspicion is the data was picked off by a UPS operator ) but I hope to get to the bottom of it before I have to spend too much time battling the thieves and fighting for my ID.

Going Forward

In the coming days I will post about the steps I took to help protect myself and how I will be monitoring the situation going forward. I am interested to read about how others have had their identities stolen and what circumstances led to your finding out about it.

So today’s post is an update on the situation where a fraudulent loan was taken out against my bank account.  To recap, the first activity that occurred with my stolen ID was a pay day loan of $100.  This loan caught my eye right away when I was checking my bank account because it was a deposit IN to my account. That’s right, I was a victim of identity theft that had money added to, not stolen from, my bank account.  So after noticing this addition to my account I called the loan company and asked them to reverse the loan and get their money out of my account.   While I waited for them to reclaim their $100 the ID thief paid off the loan with a credit card (probably stolen) and the loan is now closed.

Now being that this money was wrongfully obtained I called the loan company back to see how I could return the $100.  Their response was that since the original loan was paid off there is no further action possible.  That can’t be right so I ask just to be 100% certain, “You mean I can’t send you a check for the $100 with regards to the loan?” Their answer was, “No, the money will just be refunded and sent back to you.”

So there you have it. My ID has been stolen and as far as net losses go I’m up $100. Could this be a first in the history of identity theft?  However given all the time I spent on the phone creating alerts, closing my accounts and opening new ones and purchasing some credit monitoring protection from LifeLock I wouldn’t say I’m up from this ordeal but it’s quite odd and I’m very thankful it wasn’t much much worse.

Is that the end of my worries?  Not by any means.  I have noticed a large influx of foreign and credit card/credit related spam in my email spam folder.  I’m worried that although I’m monitoring domestic activity against my account and haven’t seen any new activity I have no clue as to what kind of activities could be happening in my name overseas.  This will be an area for continued diligence.

Has anyone ever had a similar circumstance where money was added to their accounts?

Having your identity stolen sucks.  There’s no two ways about it.  What you do when you find out that it has been stolen however can make a huge difference in how big a mess you have to clean up. In this post I’ll outline what steps I’ve taken along the way in trying to un-do what was done with my identity.  It’s not a be-all-end-all list, but it’s a good start for your reference.

In my case I was lucky enough to realize my ID was stolen within a few days without much damage having been done.  I personally know others that have had massive bills racked up and even fake companies established under their ID.  As soon as I realized that my ID was stolen and someone was actively using it I sprung in to action to minimize what they could do.  I did however make some mistakes but I’ll get to that later.

First things first, as soon as you know your ID has been compromised you must notify one of the credit agencies to place an initial 90 day fraud alert.  You can use either Equifax, Experian or Trans Union to place the initial claim.  Once you notify one agency they will notify the other two.  Notification can be done online or over the phone.  Notification can also be done in writing if you’re old school, but time is of the essence so I suggest phone or online submittal.

  • Experian Fraud Division1 888 397 3742 or their Fraud Alert page
  • Equifax Fraud Division1 800 525 6285  or their Fraud Alert page
  • TransUnion Fraud Division1 800 680 7289 or their Fraud Alert page (account required)

Something I highly recommend before you start calling the world is to get a note pad and pen and have that handy whenever you call someone.  Keep a very detailed diary of any and all calls you make, when you make them, who you talk to and take notes on the content of the call (phone numbers, links, addresses, etc.).  You’ll be glad to have all this information written down in a single location when you need to recall something or, if need be, dispute something with details of a specific interaction with an institution.

Now, once that’s complete and you have your notebook ready you need to assess what information of yours has been compromised.  If it’s a credit card, call your credit card company.  If it’s bank account information, call your bank.  You get the idea.

Get the word out to all your institutions that your identity has or may have been stolen.  You’ll likely need new account numbers which will require further house keeping to update any automatic payments or withdrawals, direct deposit for paychecks, etc.  It’s a real pain but necessary to protect your identity.

If only your credit card information has been stolen due to a lost wallet or picked off piece of mail you’re probably covered with just a couple of phone calls.  If you’ve lost bank information or more, as was the case for me, then more calls and perhaps a stop at the local branch of your bank is in order.

Since my bank account numbers were stolen I had to close all my accounts and get new ones.  I also had to dispute a couple of payday loan charges as well.  In talking with my bank I was made aware for the first time of ChexSystems which is system that covers notifying banks of possible savings account and checking account fraud in your name.  Good to know!

Social security number lost?  Mine was.  Call the FTC, 1-877-438-4338, and file a complaint.  Generating a complain with the FTC will be part of your ID theft report that could be necessary to provide to an agency or financial institution to dispute any fraudulent activity that happens in your name.

Driver’s License information stolen? Now this may vary from state to state, but in my case the state of California will place an alert in the system that your ID has been stolen.  This should make it nearly impossible for anyone to try to get a new ID with your name on it.  If you’re in a different state, call your DMV and see what they can do for you.

Fraudulent activity in your name that you didn’t do?  Call the police and file a report. Don’t like the police? Too bad, make the call!  Now don’t expect them to hunt down the thief that has your ID unless they’re racking up some serious damage.  If you live in a larger population area the police likely have more important things to be doing then hunting down some punk racking up a few hundred dollars in fraudulent purchases.  I’d guess if the damage is less then 5 figures you won’t get any activity from the police to see who’s behind your theft.  Having the police paper work is what you’re after here – not catching a thief.  The FTC complaint plus the police report is solid backing that you’re not fooling around when you tell a bank or collection company that you didn’t do what they say you did.

If you have had fraudulent charges made, after you call the police call the company that was theived.  Thefted?  Stolen from.  Explain to them your situation that someone has stolen your identity and the charges being made in your name are fraudulent.  You can also ask them to reverse any charges back to your account, but I don’t suggest this.  The charge reversals should always be made by your financial institution  This is actually where I made my mistake with the payday loan company.

I informed them that the loan made in my name was not made by me and that I wanted the loan reversed and my name should be blocked from any future loans.  I pulled all the money out of my account but left the $100 from their loan in for them to retrieve.  Well 2 weeks later nothing had happened so I called them back and asked them why they didn’t go get their money.  They informed me that I (not really me, but the person pretending to be me) had paid off the loan a week ago so they didn’t take any further action.  Didn’t even block my name after I told them my ID was stolen. Then they tell me that I (again not me) had taken out another loan for $900!  Well needless to say that $900 didn’t show up in my account.  The next day however, when the loan came due, $900 + interest was taken out of my account.  Since there was only $100 in the account I also had account overdraw fees. WTF!  Now it’s a big mess.  I was able to have my bank reverse the charges but what an unnecessary nightmare.  Had I closed the account and had my bank reverse the original loan I think everything would’ve been clean.  Anyways, it was a good thing I had filed a police report because that’s what the payday loan company now required to really block my name and SSN from being used again and to believe that ID theft had occurred.

So, don’t be afraid to make these phone calls and be sure to keep good notes.  All the agencies and institutions that you’re a customer of want to help you in this situation.  Be proactive to get your life back as quickly as possible and be vigilant with fighting any fraudulent activity that you find done in your name.

20Jun/16

How to Make Money while Travelling?

In this world, everybody wishes to earn more money. Do you know that it is possible to earn good money while travelling?  Well, for those who have got jobs that allow them to travel, it proves to be very lucky. But for people who need to know how to make good money while travelling, read on to get some good idea about it.

Affiliate Marketing

Have you heard of affiliate marketing? Well for this you need to sign up to work as an affiliate marketer. This makes it possible to make good money when someone buys a product by clicking on the link from your website. For this you need to have a website and then apply for affiliate links by choosing from the different networks. It is important to ensure that you get hold of the best affiliate sites that help you to get the perfect and the ultimate profit out of it. Make sure that you know how to follow the steps in the best way so that you can get good money even when you are traveling.

Writing

Another platform that you can use to make money while travelling is writing and this is possible when you try to look forward to work as a freelance writer. So, no matter where you travel you can write good number of articles and earn money out if it. It proves to be very stable and one can really enjoy it. It is important to get a company where you need to submit articles and regarding the payment you can either choose to get money on per submission of articles or even on a monthly basis. So, if you love writing and have got the best flow of language then you can try to opt for it and make good money. You can also try to look forward to freelance travel writing as well.

Photography

You can also try to earn good income from photography as well. But in this case you need to be a professional one. It is also important to ensure that you start licensing some of your photography to tour companies as well as tourism boards. This would make you earn good amount of money from photography without any problem at all.

Ebooks

Writing ebooks can also help you to get good amount of money. For this you need to know the best way how to follow the right procedure while writing it. You also need to make sure that you try to make it very interesting so that you can get good response out of it. So, no matter whether you are at home or travelling all that you need is a laptop or tablet with an Internet connection making is possible to get good money by writing ebooks.

Sponsorships

Sponsorships also help to make good money no matter where you are. It involves a long lasting relationship with a company that makes it possible to carry the good work without any problem at all. Here you need to write articles on how the services of a particular company help to enrich your life and travel. So, this helps to get good money without any problem at all.

Advertising and sponsored content

When you try to look to the right of your sidebar you would find some ads running on it. Those are a part of advertising that you can sell on this site. The rest of it is considered to be sponsored content. Now you might be thinking as to what is sponsored content, right? It is a content that paid by company to post about them. So, this is another option that you can make the best use out of it to earn quick money out of it.

The Bottom Line

There are also many other ways that different travel bloggers do to earn good money out of it. So, it cannot be said that the points that have been mentioned above are the only ways to make money while travelling. It is your own interest and depending on it, you would be able to find the best ways how to make good amount of money while travelling without any sort of problem at all.

17Jun/16

The Stock Market: When to buy & sell

If you were in the stock market in 2008, you probably felt like you were on a roller coaster at Disney World that was never going to stop.  Any stock investor has wrestled with the question, “when do I sell this stock?” at some stage of their investing career.  This two part article addresses that question, either if your stock is up or if it is down.

If your stock is up:

If a stock is up, the good thing is you are in the black and making money, congratulations!  You should always feel good about that.  However, we do not always feel good; especially if 2 days after we sold the stock it continued to rise another $3 dollars per share!

If you invest in stocks, the biggest thing to remember is you cannot time the market.  If you could buy at the lowest point and sell at the highest point during a predetermined time period, you would be a millionaire.  However, you can certainly watch the trends of a stock, and buy and sell within those trends.  The best thing to do when you buy a stock is have a realistic price in mind that you want to sell it.  If a stock hits that point, you have to be disciplined enough to sell it.  Setting that point depends on your goals:

1.  What is your investing strategy?  Are you a day trader or a frequent trader (every few days) who hopes to generate a positive cash flow?

2.  Are you a long term investor, who is hoping this stock will rise faster than the rest of the market over a longer period of time?

3. How long have you held this stock?  Let’s say you have held this stock about 11 months and have a 30% gain in it.  If you sell before one year you will have to pay short term capital gains.  If you pass 12 months of holding it, you fall into long term capital gains – usually saving 10% to 15% on the taxes.

At the end of the day, if your stock is up, you have made money.  Remember that fact and feel good about it.  Tomorrow you can always find another stock to buy, just make sure you know what you are buying (do research!) and have a strategy in place.

Warren Buffet’s Beginner Stock Market Tips

If your stock is down:

This can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow because technically you have not lost money until you actually sell the stock.  There is always a chance your stock can recover, but how long do you wait?

One of the important rules when buying a stock, is to set a price to sell it.  This includes a price if the stock goes up or down.  It is hard to sell your stock when it has declined, but sometimes it is necessary.  You must be disciplined to follow your strategy.  If you set a sell price that is 15% below your purchase price, and your stock hits that price you have to sell it!  There are several factors to consider when deciding to sell a stock:

1.  What is the strength of the company?  If this stock purchase was in a company with heavy debt and its long term prospects are not good then that should certainly factor into your decision.

2.  What time of year is it?  If you are in the later months of the year, you might consider selling stocks that are down to take the loss on your taxes.  If you have questions, you should consult your tax attorney.

3.  How much do you have invested in this stock?  If you have bought 1000 shares of a $1 dollar stock, it is probably okay to be more aggressive on your sell price because you do not have a lot invested.  If it falls to $.25 you have lost $750 but that is probably not going to break you.  However, if you invested $10,000 in this same stock, you may be sweating a little more.

4.  Do you need the cash?  If you can wait a little longer for a possible recovery, then do it.  Only you can make that decision.  However, be realistic about the possibility of recovery.  If you are still holding Yahoo from when it was $400/sh during the .COM boom days, it is probably time to sell it and take the loss on your taxes.

Remember, stock market investing is risky and not for those with a weak stomach.  However, if you are willing to do research and implement an investment strategy, you can do okay investing in stocks.  Good luck!

13Jun/16

Choosing Your Interior Finishes In Your New Home

insanely-cool-house-engages-nature-1Choosing interior finishes can be fun for some and headache for others. You have to take time off to meet with the designers and suppliers, make a whole bunch of decisions in a few hours and trust your own judgement. To make this easier, I suggest doing your research before your appointment and setting a budget. Some builders will even set up an allowance for you before your design center visit to help you stay within your budget.

Where to Gather Home Decor Ideas?

Show Homes

Show home tours can be a great way to get ideas on what you would like to do with your home. With everything accessible online nowadays, most show homes will allow you to take pictures with your smart phones so you can show them to your designer at your interior design visit. Visuals is the way to communicate what you want so there won’t be any surprises at the end.

Home Decor Magazines

Magazines are also great, gather a collection of pictures that you envision for your home and your designer and give you some pointers on how to incorporate it all for your new home. It can just be color themes, design style, or any other details that fits you. A good design is one that not only looks good, but functional for your family’s lifestyle as well.

Cabinets

There are many profiles, material and color to choose from for cabinets. You will probably also get a choice for the door handles as well. The kitchen is one of the biggest feature of your home I strongly suggest taking the time to focus on choosing the right cabinets for your new home. Some of the essentials are pots and pans drawers and picking a nice stain for real wood like maple or oak. Soft close is a nice feature as well if your budge allows for it. If you’re buying a spec home under construction, you may not be able to pick cabinets as these may take months before they are ready.

Countertops

Granite and quartz are the two most popular type of countertops today. Granite is a natural stone and does require a little bit more maintenance. Quartz is man made so you will get exactly what you see on the sample unlike granite which will differ from each slab. Either type will keep the value of your home, it just comes down to which color you prefer. If you want to save some money, you can choose to just put them in your kitchen and use the more economical laminate countertops for your bathrooms and or laundry room.

Backsplash

Typically, a standard tile will be included as part of the specification, other popular options are glass tile and natural stone. They come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges, but this can be easily upgraded later on your own if you don’t care for it right now. However, if you are thinking of doing a fully tiled shower, you may want to do it through the builder as this will be more difficult to do later on.

Flooring

Flooring is another major item in your home, it can divide or open up rooms depending what your intent is. Another factor to think about when choosing flooring is functionality, if you have pets and children, you may want to choose laminate or a more rustic type of hardwood floor to prevent any scratches to show. Typically, a lighter color floor would be the better choice to hide scratched, but with the new technology such as engineered hardwood floors, you should be able to find a dark color one that will hold up quite well. Your designer should be able to help you out with choosing the right flooring that fits your need and taste. If not, you can always check with the supplier.

Railings

Depending on the layout of your new home, the railings can be a prominent feature in the home. If that’s the case, you would probably want to choose something nicer like maple or oak stained posts with metal spindles. Railing upgrades are on the higher end of things, but it is a good investment for resale.

Doors, Trims and Paint Colors

The style of doors, trims and paint colors can date your home. Most newer homes are on the neutral side, and if you want to customize a little more, you can always add a feature wall. Let your designer know what style of home decor you are going for, and keep in mind what kind of furniture are going into the home so everything will work together at the end.

Lighting

This is the bling of the home, with so many selections, this can be a hard choice to make. Going for packages will make it easier and just focus on the main rooms where you want to make a lasting impressions on your guests. If you have a open to below foyer, that will be the perfect place, another great area to bling it up is your dining room.

Appliances

You have the option of going through the builder or asking for a credit and get your own appliances. However, the builder usually like to know what type of appliances you plan to put into the home ahead of time just to make sure everything will fit, especially if you are purchasing appliances that are bigger than normal size. These could be refrigerators, style of stoves and sometimes, you may need a gas line or a make up air unit to meet coding for higher CFM hood fans. Be sure to communicate with your sales rep regarding what appliances you planned to put into your new home.