By FPA member Judith L. Seid, CFP®
Last Updated: September 26, 2011
Frank Abagnale’s life of crime was depicted in a best selling book and the Steven Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can. Since his imprisonment, Mr. Abagnale has worked for the FBI for 36 years as a specialist in fraud prevention. As the opening speaker at this year’s FPA annual conference, he told his own riveting story of forgery, identity theft, and embezzlement. Mr. Abagnale expressed his feelings of disgrace and dishonor for his prior actions and commented that his work with the FBI gives him the opportunity to pay back his debt to society for his egregious actions and years of criminal activity.
Today, Mr. Abagnale suggests that fraud is easier to perpetrate than ever before. The Federal Trade Commission reports that nearly 15 million Americans have been victims of identity theft, costing consumers $5 billion and banks and businesses $56 billion every year. On average, it costs a victim $1,173 and 175 man-hours to get their credit report straightened out. Mr. Abagnale believes that because punishment for fraud and recovery of stolen funds are so rare, prevention is the only viable course of action.
Here are Mr. Abagnale’s top tips for prevention of identity theft:
- Shredder: Use a shredder for all documents having personal information. Make certain that it is labeled a “security micro-cut” shredder.
- Credit Montoring: Use a credit monitoring service that monitors all three credit agencies and will notify you in real time when there is any activity. Put a fraud alert tag on your credit report, which will limit a thief’s ability to open accounts in your name.
- Personal Checks: Don’t use personal checks if possible. Use high security checks shown on www.abagnale.com. Criminals “wash” ordinary checks in chemicals, dissolving what you wrote without affecting the check. When the check is dry, forgers insert new data. High security checks react to chemicals, showing that they have been washed. Do not mail checks from home, they can be stolen from your mailbox; go to the post office. When writing manual checks, use the uni-ball® 207 gel pen. Its ink will not dissolve in chemicals.
- Debit Card: Don’t use a debit card when you can use a credit card. Credit cards have a maximum liability of $50 for fraudulent charges; debit cards can go up to $500 or more.
- Credit Cards: Use credit cards whenever possible. The liability for fraudulent charges is carried by the credit card company.
- Computer Security: Make sure your computer is protected with internet security software that is updated regularly. Do not download anything from the internet that you did not solicit and activate the pop-up blocker on your computer. Shop only on secure websites, where the web address begins with https:// Never leave your laptop anywhere you wouldn’t leave your baby…in the car, in a gym bag, at a restaurant. According to Amitron.org, stolen laptops and computers account for nearly 40 percent of security breaches.
By using these simple suggestions, you will be protecting your personal information, the key to your identity, and reducing the likelihood that you will become a victim of identity theft.
FPA member Judith L. Seid, CFP®, is a financial planner and owner of her own financial planning practice Blue Summit Wealth Management in San Diego, Calif.