It's Summertime! A Perfect Time for a (Credit) Freeze!

Originally posted July 28, 2014.

The words "identity theft" in red binary code on computer monitor.

The words "identity theft" in red binary code on computer monitor.

One of the first steps in building a financial plan is to make sure that the assets you own are properly protected.  When we talk about protecting your assets, most people think of making sure their auto, homeowners and liability insurance policies are in place and sufficient.  If you are working, it's also important to make sure you are protecting your biggest asset, which for most people is the ability to get up and get out the door to earn a living.  We protect that asset using disability and life insurance.

But this article is going to focus on an asset you have worked hard to build and protect, and which is under constant attack.  We are talking about your identity.  Identity theft occurs when a thief pretends to be someone else by using their personal information to gain access to their credit, or other resources and benefits.

Identity theft is a term that was originally coined in 1964 and has been a growing problem for years. Advances in technology have turned this into a huge issue over the last several years.  Last year a new identity theft victim was hit every two seconds in America!  The number of victims climbed to 13.1 million in 2013 - an increase of more than 500,000 from the year before.

While it is obviously not possible to literally steal an identity, there are several ways that criminals make it pay:

  • Criminal identity theft occurs when someone is arrested for a crime and poses as another person to law enforcement.

  • Financial identity theft happens when the criminal uses your identity to obtain credit and buy goods or services

  • Identity cloning is when a person uses another person's information and assumes that identity in their daily life.

  • Medical identity theft occurs when the criminal uses someone else's identity to obtain medical care or drugs.

  • Child identity theft, which is generally the hardest to detect, is when the criminal uses a minor's Social Security number for some personal gain. The thieves can often establish lines of credit, get a driver's license or even buy a house using the child's identity. Sadly, this version of the crime is often carried out by a family member or friend of the family. Also, this type of identity theft can go on for years because the damage can go undetected until the child grows up and tries to access or establish credit.

As a financial advisor, I’m going to focus on the financial identity theft problem.  The potential for being a victim will only grow as we continue to move more of our financial lives online, where the thieves will continue to focus more and more attention.  So, what can we do to protect ourselves?  

Closeup of ice crystals with very shallow DOF

Closeup of ice crystals with very shallow DOF

Freeze It

While there are some companies that say they offer "identity theft protection", they tend to be expensive and of questionable value.  The single best thing you can do is to freeze your credit.  A credit freeze will prevent anyone from opening new credit in your name.  It's also very simple to do and it's inexpensive...in fact, it's free in some states.  It used to be that you had to be a victim of identity theft to get the bureaus to freeze your credit.  But a few years ago, the three major credit bureaus gave everyone access for a small fee...usually $10 per agency.  Each state has their own rules, but in Florida, the fee to freeze is $10 per credit bureau… and it’s FREE if you are over 65!

If you freeze your credit, there is no impact on the existing lines of credit that you have.  You can go on using whatever credit lines and credit cards you have just as you were before the freeze.  You can also “thaw” your credit freeze if you need to access your credit files for a creditor, like a new car or home loan, or a new credit card.  There is typically a $10 charge to thaw your account.

Computer hacker stealing data from a laptop concept for network security, identity theft and computer crime

Computer hacker stealing data from a laptop concept for network security, identity theft and computer crime

Protect your financial identity by going online to the three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.  Follow the directions at each of the links to freeze your credit with that bureau. After submitting your request, you will be given a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that you need to lock away and make sure you know where to find it.  This PIN is what you will need to thaw your credit when you need to. The next time that you need to apply for a new line of credit, ask your lender which credit bureau they'll be using, and you can unfreeze just that one.

So, for a total of $30 you can lock down your financial identity so that no one can possibly access credit in your name…even if they have all of your personal information.  A thief can have your social security number, date of birth, and even your driver’s license number, but if you have put a credit freeze on your finances, it won’t do them any good.

For more ways to protect yourself in the digital age, see our newest blog post!

By Bob Rall, CFP®

What is Your Most Valuable Asset?

Your most valuable asset might not be what you think it is; in this video, we reveal what it really is for most people, and list some of the ways you can protect it.

Special Olympics

special_olympics_-_keith

Eight years ago, my wife and I, and a couple of friends, showed up at Kennedy Middle School for our first Special Olympics track practice.  We had heard that they could use some coaching help.  We were marathoners and our training involved a lot of running.  We didn't really know what Special Olympics was all about, but it sounded fun and we wanted to help if we could.

We were hooked from that very first practice.  For me, it happened when I first got out of my car.  A big guy named Keith rambled over to me and introduced himself.  "Hi, my name is Keith...and I have a girlfriend...because I'm a good-looking guy!"

There were maybe 20 special athletes at that first practice.  We helped organize them into groups for their running and walking events and learned more about what Special Olympics was all about.  The track and field season runs from January to May and practices are held every Saturday morning.  We didn't miss another practice all year.

Around the dinner table, Gina and I would share stories about our athletes with my children, who were in their early teenage years at the time.  Intrigued by the stories we shared, and in need of some community service hours for school, my son Adam started coming out to practices to help. Finally, after hearing the three of us go on about how we were falling in love with our athletes, my daughter Jenna started coming out as well.  It became, and still is, a passion that our family shares.  We have developed some wonderful relationships with many of the special athletes in Brevard.

For the next several years, we served as assistant coaches, helping at practices, and traveling with the team to County Games, Area Games, and concluding the season with State Games, which for the last 5 years have been held at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports.  A couple of years ago, the head coach had to step down due to time constraints and I assumed his role.

Special Olympics 2014 USA Games Logo

That's the story about our introduction to Special Olympics.  For the most part, we have been involved with the Central Brevard Track and Field Team.  But that's not what this story is about.

Four years ago, Coach Tonya, the County Games Coordinator and member of the Special Olympics Florida Hall of Fame, decided to put together a Unified Softball team.  Special Olympics tries to mainstream the special athletes as much as possible.  That's how the Unified Sports Program was born.  A Unified team is made up of special athletes and partners, playing together on the same team.

I am well past my prime years as a baseball or softball player, but when Coach Tonya asked if I wanted to be a part of her Unified team, I quickly accepted her offer.  Little did I, or my teammates, know at the time, about the incredible journey we were about to begin.

Our Unified Softball team consists of seven special athletes and nine partners.  Several of our athletes hold full-time jobs.  The Partners on our team include a couple of business owners (yours truly is one of those), two teachers, an administrator, a buyer for a boat company, a housewife and a couple of high school students.  We would start our practices in July and finish our season after competing in Area Games with a trip to State Games at Disney in the fall.   Most of the team has been together for all four years, although we have had a few changes over the years

We have grown into a team that has become pretty good.  We play well together as a team, but more importantly, we have developed some great relationships and have fun playing together.  We've all made new friends.

As an international organization, Special Olympics holds competitions beyond State Games.  World Games brings together athletes from all around the world.  Each country also holds a National Games competition.  Both are held every four years, just like the regular Olympic Games.

Most special athletes never get a chance to compete beyond State Games.  And very few Partners even get a chance to compete in a Unified Sport at State Games.  Imagine the excitement we all shared when we learned last fall that our Unified Team was selected to represent Team Florida at the 2014 USA Games, which will be held this week in Princeton, New Jersey.

We've been working hard over the last several months, practicing, playing scrimmage games and working to raise money to help pay for our trip.  It seemed like the actual competition was so far into the future.  But now it's here.  The hard work has paid off.  We have our Team Florida uniforms and gear and this week our Unified team will be part of 180 athletes representing Team Florida in a variety of sports.  

But our work is not done.  And neither is our fun.  We will enjoy Opening Ceremonies on Sunday and begin our competition with a double header on Monday.  We will play every day next week and will wrap up the trip with Closing Ceremonies on Friday night.  Our goal is to bring some Gold Medals back to Brevard County.  But win or lose, we will keep the Special Olympics' Athlete Oath in mind..."Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." 

Special Olympics Softball Team Photo

Whether we win Gold or not, together we will experience a once-in-a-lifetime event.  We will have shared the experience with our friends and family.  And I will be sharing our experience with you.  I'll be posting updates to my various social media channels to keep those at home up-to-date on our trip.

We are Special Olympics of Brevard's Unified Softball Team.  For the last four years, we have gone by the name of Brevard Unified Softball Club.  But this week, and for as long as our memories last, we are TEAM FLORIDA!

By Bob Rall, CFP®