Identity Theft – Swiped by Adam Levin

Sleep in Saturday is when I write about something I consider fun – a book review, a new project, or something random from my past. Today I’m doing a book review.

Back in December my identity was stolen (I’ll write about the full story and some tips for you in a later post). The first thing I did was go online to learn what I needed to do. I found a lot of basic tips, but not the in-depth approach I was searching for. I did find reference to the book “Swiped” by Adam Levin and ordered it from the library through inter library loan. It arrived a few weeks later and I polished it off in a day. I also took extensive notes because I wanted to remember everything he talked about.

swiped

Adam Levin is the founder of Credit.com and IDT911, and the former director of the NJ Division of Consumer Affairs. This book is, hands down, the best reference to identity theft that you’ll find. Although you’ll likely be shocked by some of the facts, like:

  • There are more than 1 billion records out there with your personally identifiable information, or PII.
  • The only reason everyone isn’t an identity theft victim is that the criminals simply haven’t gotten around to you yet.
  • Your odds of being scammed after a data breech is one in three.
  • $5.8 billion of fraudulent tax returns were stolen in 2014
  • The black market information exchange is run like a business, to the point where criminals can call for tech support or refund requests

As he says, it’s luck of the draw-you can’t keep it from happening, but you can keep it from ruining your life.  So what advice does he have for us? Well you’re in luck, because the book is extensively detailed. Ultimately you are the first line of defense and the ultimate guardian of your data. First he goes through the 3 M’s and the acronym SHRED to help you remember what you need to do.

3 M’s SHRED
Minimize your exposure Strengthen passwords
Monitor your accounts Handle PII with care
Manage the damage Read credit reports carefully
  Empty your purse and wallet
  Discuss tips with friends

In the book he also goes into great detail about ways you can protect your physical and online security. Here’s a few key highlights from his suggestions:

Physical Security Online Security Social Media Security
Shred documents Don’t use the same user name/password Disable geotagging
Secure your phone & laptop Change default passwords Don’t take online quizzes asking for your personal information, or for the answers to common security questions
Review your bank and credit accounts daily for suspicious activity Make your passwords complex and hard to crack Set privacy to high on social networks
Get y our free credit report every year Use two factor authentication Don’t use your real name, even on Facebook
Limit the number of credit and debit cards you have   Lie about your age – change the month and year of your birth. Bye bye Facebook birthday wishes.
Get the latest antivirus and malware on your computer   Don’t brag about your stuff and your vacations online.
Don’t authenticate to anyone contacting you in person, on the phone, or online that you don’t know    
Create secure storage of documents (in a safe, safe deposit box)    
Set up transaction monitoring with banks & credit cards    
Check if you can get discounted credit monitoring (or free!)    
Check for cyber liability/identity protection or an identity theft control program if you’re a victim    
If you’re a victim check your credit score every 30 days and freeze your credit    

The only downside to this book is that it’s longer than it needs to be. The author does pad the book a bit and some of the stories can get repetitive. I do like the stories because they illustrate examples of identity theft, which makes the book more interesting. But I honestly would have loved a shorter book in a more checklist format, that I could keep as a quick guide. Or maybe printable PDF’s with quick tips for the family. But overall I would highly recommend picking this up and reading through it, especially if you’ve never given much thought to online security or identity theft. Remember it “only happens to other people” – until it happens to you. You can guard your data intensely and still have it stolen either online or through one of the many, many data breaches of recent years. So be like a boy scout and “be prepared”.

Have you had your identity stolen? What tips and tricks should he add to his book in the future? Let me know in the comments.

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