Celebrities do lots of things we do. They take their kids to the beach. They nosh on pizza. And, they fall victim to identity theft.
A Florida woman and her son were recently arrested for accessing the personal information of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Ashton Kutcher and Paris Hilton, according to federal officials. They used the information to steal the celebrities’ money and credit cards.
The duo—Kyah Green, 41, and Luis Flores, 19—had in their apartment tens of thousands of dollars in wire transfers and a flash drive of information on First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Bill Gates, Beyoncé Knowles and Tom Cruise, the U.S. Secret Service reported. The information had been published online by computer hackers.
The crime raises questions about the challenges to protecting personal information. If some of the most protected people in the country can fall victim to identity theft, how does that bode for the rest of us?
Here are five simple steps you can take to protect yourself:
1. Check your credit reports early and often. A good resource: annualcreditreport.com.
2. Use a two-factor authentication for access to your payment cards, bank accounts and email. For example, Bank of America has SafePass. Google offers this two-step verification process.
3. Place a credit file freeze on your accounts to lock down access to your credit reports. Exception: Skip this step if you plan to apply for a home loan, car loan or student loan. A credit freeze is different from a fraud alert and costs about $15 per bureau.
4. Google yourself. Do monthly searches on Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media to see if your name and Social Security number is available to people who practice Google dorking. This will help you determine whether your information is publicly available and being used for a false profile.
5. Sign up for monitoring products. Make sure you have triple-bureau credit monitoring and public records monitoring to see if you information is being misused.
It’s worth noting one way these celebrities are not like us: They have the Secret Service to help them track down the bad guys.
But many consumers may be covered for free identity protection services—and they don’t even know it. Give your insurance provider or financial institution a call to see if you’re covered.
Matt Cullina is chief executive officer of IDentity Theft 911.
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