Your identity is stolen. A difficult situation—especially if you’re wealthy American expatriate, Dickie Greenleaf, a young man living the high life in 1950s Rome who is murdered by Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley. After dispatching said Mr. Greenleaf in a particularly unpleasant way, Mr. Ripley steals his identity. This being the 1950s he can’t assume Greenleaf’s identity since there is no internet. He must physically assume his identity.
This creates a big problem. Unlike identity theft today, Ripley must kill the various people he bumps into who know that he is Ripley and not Greenleaf. This is time-consuming and stressful. The good news is nowadays criminals can steal your identity without murdering you. I’m sure you will agree this evinces a certain progress in human relationships. So, if your identity is stolen you are still you—it’s just that there is more of you than existed previously.
What can your ID thief do while pretending to be you? Everything. Whatever financial actions you can take, your ID thief can now take as well. They can wire out all the cash in your personal and business accounts. Open new credit card accounts in your name. Rent an apartment. Get a loan or a mortgage.
What about filing a false tax return in your name and getting a refund? Sure. Happens all the time. The IRS has even created form 14039— Identity Theft Affidavit— so you can report the theft of your identity to them. * The problem has become so widespread, the IRS has added a web page with information on exactly what steps you should take: https://www.irs.gov/identity-theft-fraud-scams/identity-protection **
While Equifax and other data breaches are top of mind, it is useful to point that out that the IRS has had their own problems. Internet security expert, Brian Krebs, wrote “In 2015, it (the Internal Revenue Service) issued more than $490 million in fraudulent refunds requested on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Americans who were victimized by data stolen directly from the ‘Get Transcript’ feature of the IRS’s own Web site.” *** This isn’t reassuring.
Naturally, your wealthy clients are the most at risk since they have the most money. What can they do to protect themselves? We will go into detail on this including a checklist for steps HNW clients can take in Part Two. But first, as in most things in life, you need to observe one basic rule— all the time. What is it? Keep track of your wallet and anything else with personal info on it when you are out and about. Says the Insurance Information Institute, “close to half of identity theft cases are the result of a lost or stolen wallet, checkbook, credit card or other physical document.” ****
Allow me to end with another basic step you should consider taking to begin armoring yourself against ID theft. If you have your date of birth and/or your phone number and/or home address on any of your personal social media sites, consider removing this information. Having these facts makes it all the more easy for ID thieves to match up all your personal information. These are small steps but remember, ID thieves are going to go for the low-hanging fruit. Even the smallest step which might slow them up may deflect them to someone else who hasn’t taken these basic steps.
Social media has brought many positive benefits to society. However, in the last months, many of us have become painfully aware of the negative aspects of social media. Protect yourself.
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Contributing Writer: Subject Matter Expert Charles McCain