Protecting your money and your identity

April 10, 2019

By: Allison Kauffman

Should you stash money at home?

When I was growing up, we used to go visit my grandmother in New Jersey. She was living alone because my grandfather had passed away when I was very young. I remember going to the kitchen to get a glass of ice water and a large sum of money fell out of the freezer. I asked my grandmother why she had so much money in the freezer and she said that’s where she hides it, to keep it safe. At the time, I remember thinking how clever she was, but now that I’m older, I feel just the opposite.

In 2011, my husband and I lost many of our belongings due to a major flood. Water was up to my knees on the first floor of our home and everything sitting low to the ground was destroyed. The worst thing for me was that I stored all of my photo albums on a low bookcase in the living room and they were completely destroyed. I couldn’t get them back and lost 20 years of photographic memories. Fortunately, I had insurance and was able to replace many items and fix up our home. But losing the photos was extremely difficult for me.

This made me think about hiding money inside your home, whether it is under a mattress or in a secret compartment in a drawer. Fires, floods and theft could all result in financial setbacks for someone who puts money in a freezer or drawer. Also, as my grandmother got older, regrettably she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She soon forgot where she had stashed her money to pay for groceries and living expenses, which required my father to search her home. According to a recent survey published by AARP, 11 percent of people 55 and older reported hiding money at home. It is recommended that only a modest amount of cash, no more than $1,000 or the maximum covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy, be kept at home in a secure location. A fireproof safe is recommended as a place to store the money. The American Red Cross also recommends keeping a small stash of money at home in case of a natural disaster for immediate needs such as gas money.

When you store money at home, you are also missing out on financial growth from the interest that savings accounts offer. For those that worry that their bank won’t be able to guarantee their funds in the event of a financial crisis, you can learn more about the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which protects the deposits you make into your savings account.

Protecting Your Identity

What exactly is identity theft? According to a recent financial literary series done by First National Bank, identity theft is the crime of setting up and using personal information, bank accounts, and/or credit in another person’s name without their knowledge. Stolen information can include name, birthdate, social security number, driver’s license number, credit card number and checking account number. Everyone is at risk and you have an increased risk if you use a credit card, make online purchases and pay bills with a check through the mail. FNB says the number one customer complaint in the last 15 years has been identity theft. The average financial loss per identity theft incident is $5,130.

So how is someone’s identity stolen? FNB says there are low tech and high tech ways of getting information. Low tech would include:

Searching Mail– Thieves go through discarded mail in the hopes of uncovering information

Stealing– Thieves steal a wallet or purse from the victim or steal mail from a mailbox

Address Change– Thieves will change the mailing address for compromised accounts so account holders don’t see the activity

Telephone Scams– Examples are: “Found” money or lottery winnings and family trapped in danger scenarios. This is an important article with lots of good information about scams: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/13/older-americans-lose-almost-3-billion-a-year-to-scams.html

High tech would include:

Skimming– The act of using a skimmer to illegally collect data from the magnetic stripe of a credit, debit or ATM card. Skimming works by replacing a card reader like an ATM with a camouflaged counterfeit card reader.

Phishing– Tricking consumers into disclosing their personal and financial data, such as secret access data or credit card or bank account numbers.

Pharming– A scamming practice in which malicious code is installed on a personal computer or server, misdirecting users to fraudulent Web sites without their knowledge or consent.

Fraud can come in a number of forms including bank fraud, credit card fraud, phone or utilities fraud, government documents fraud, employment fraud and telephone scams. In this day in age, it is critical that you monitor all of your accounts to protect your identity. First National Bank gave a list of Red Flags to look out for when monitoring your accounts. They include:

Unexplained account activity

  • Purchases you didn’t make
  • Accounts you didn’t open

Inaccurate information on your credit report

  • Look for inaccuracies in reporting on accounts and your personal information

Missing or anticipated mail

  • Missing statements/bills or extra statements for bills you don’t have
  • Credit cards arrive that you didn’t apply for

Credit Card Issues

  • Calls from collection agencies
  • Unexpected declines on credit applications

The best way to track your credit is by receiving a free credit report. You have the right to receive a free credit report annually from www.annualcreditreport.com, the only authorized source under Federal law.

So how can you safeguard your information? FNB has important steps to take.

Wallet

  • Remove unused credit and debit cards
  • Never carry your social security card in your wallet
  • Make a list of the phone numbers for all credit cards in case you need to cancel. Do not include the credit card numbers on that list

Mail

  • Switch to email statements when possible
  • Stop mail while you are away
  • When moving, redirect mail immediately

Trash

  • Shred all documents with personal information on them
  • Shred expired credit and debit cards

Computers

  • Safeguard laptops, tablets and cell phones
  • Keep antivirus software up to date
  • Only download software from trusted sources

Passwords

  • Protect computers, tablets and smart phones with passwords, pins and fingerprint recognition
  • Use complicated passwords
  • Don’t write down or store passwords with the devices

Online Shopping

  • Verify that you are on a secure connection with https:// at the beginning of the web address
  • Use caution when buying from unfamiliar websites
  • Log off of websites when you’ve completed transactions to protect personal information

If you are too late and your identity has already been stolen, there are important steps to take to recover your identity. You should immediately call the company where you know the fraud occurred. FNB also recommends placing a fraud alert and getting your credit reports. The links to do that are listed below:

Experian.com/fraudalert

TransUnion.com/fraudalert

Equifax.com/creditreportassistance

You can also report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission here: www.ftc.gov/idtheft. It may also be helpful to file a police report with your local police department. You can close any new accounts that may have been opened in your name and remove fraudulent charges from your accounts.

If your wallet or purse is stolen, you should cancel cards immediately, report the loss to the bank, get a new ATM card with a new number and PIN and place a fraud alert on your credit report. You should also file a police report if this was a theft.

All of the information provided may seem overwhelming and daunting, but if you take the time to monitor your accounts and billing statements, you are protecting yourself from potential identity theft.