Article by Det. Trent Koppel
The information I am about to share with you is no secret, but it’s the kind we often overlook until it’s too late.
Throughout my career in law enforcement, the number one type of crime I have had to investigate has been financial fraud. Whether it involves the illegal use of credit cards, checkbooks or corporate accounts, or personal identity theft, financial crime affects us all. Remember, your financial well being is your own responsibility.
Here are five financial safety tips to keep in mind as we begin a new year.
1) Never give out too much personal information online. Millions of us now enjoy the convenience of online shopping, but we also are making ourselves vulnerable to cyber theft. According to www.fbi.gov, cyber theft is the act of using the Internet to steal someone’s property or interfere with the use and enjoyment of property. It is the use of a computer to steal financial or personal information for fraudulent or other illegal use. Cyber theft also can include hacking into a bank’s computer records to credit one account or debit another. Be careful what you post or disclose via the Internet – sharing too much could come back to haunt you.
2) Never allow more than one other person to be an authorized user on your credit card or bank account. Ideally, you should have one other individual listed on your accounts – preferably a trusted family member – but not more than one. It would be nice to assume that all family members can be trusted, but unfortunately, this is not the case. A large number of the cases I have investigated have included fraud by a “trusted” friend, family member or employee. In many of these cases, the victims were shocked to see those friends or relatives show up on video surveillance in the commission of a crime. It is never a good feeling to watch a victim’s face drop to the floor when he or she realizes the person in question is someone thought to be trustworthy.
3) Talk to a financial planner, and purchase insurance. I never thought I needed to worry about my financial future until reality hit home for a colleague of mine. This officer found himself in a situation where he had to physically protect himself, and because of it, he was threatened with a civil lawsuit. Although the officer’s department backed him, he spent a tense month waiting to find out if charges were going to be filed against him. His concern turned to his retirement account when another officer joked, “You’re cleared criminally, but just wait until they get you in civil court!” Imagine if a serious incident were to happen to you, and you found yourself on the end of a civil lawsuit. Now what? Get financial insurance to protect yourself, your family and your assets….especially if you’re in a high-risk career field.
4) Track your spending. Keeping track of your expenditures can accomplish two things. First, it can help you figure out which funds are going where, so you’ll know if you’ve become a victim of financial fraud. Second, it helps you figure out ways to cut costs so you can allocate those funds elsewhere, such as your retirement account.
5) Get identity theft protection. Signing up for identity theft protection is a sensible choice. It usually costs very little, and it helps protect you from many different forms of fraud. Here are some of the services most identity theft protection programs provide for their customers:
- Automatic fraud alerts
- Free annual credit reports and monitoring of those reports
- Legal help in case you are a fraud victim or have your identity stolen
- Coverage of lost wages
- Removal from mailing lists
- Credit card monitoring
- Lost wallet protection
Identity theft affects many people in many ways, and it can prove a burden for a victim’s entire lifetime. It might be something as simple as a credit card taken out in your name, or as complex as your information being used to conduct serious financial crimes. If you allow yourself to become a victim, you may spend the rest of your life explaining your way out. So it always makes sense to invest in identity theft protection before a problem arises.
We may not all be rich in the financial sense, but each of us has something to lose. Don’t let your identity – or your financial security – go unguarded.
Trent Koppel is a St. Louis-based detective and adjunct professor at Maryville University.