Lecture No. 47 – August 2017


I have heard tell that we can all thank Vice President and presidential candidate Al Gore for the Internet. I used to look forward to the arrival of the postman. I still do but not for the same reasons. Instead I turn on the PC and open my email account to see if anyone has seen fit to bless me with something worth reading.

Occasionally, something comes along that actually makes sense. I look at the items that populate my inbox as falling into a few simple categories. By far the majority fall into the group that I consider worthy of immediately being deleted. A few come from some organization reminding or informing me of something I need to do or know. A couple may offer me a deal on something I might need or want. And a few occasionally show up from family and friends.

A few months ago, I received one such email from an old high school friend. She keeps busy summering in western New York and Pennsylvania and wintering in Florida. To earn a living, she owns rental property in Pennsylvania and conducts oil painting classes at Hobby Lobby. My hometown appears to be somewhat of a backwater when it comes to the Internet. Many of the items I get from old classmates I saw months or even years ago.

The email I refer to came from Linda, Helen or Katherine, depending upon which name she is using at present. It appears to be just a little dated, but the advice is just as valid today as it was a few years ago.

The story concerns a corporate lawyer who had the misfortune of having his wallet disappear while traveling. Shortly after he returned, he offered the following advice to his fellow employees.

1. We all have credit cards and are encouraged to sign the back on that little silver stripe. Don’t do it; instead, write “PHOTO ID REQUIRED.” If the clerk even looks at your card, you might be asked to produce a photo ID.

2. When you are writing a check to pay your credit card bill, DO NOT put the complete account number on the “For” line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won’t have access to it.

3. Speaking of checks, the next time you order new ones, put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a P.O. box, use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a P.O. box, use your work address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks. (DUH!) You can add it if it is necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.

4. Make a photocopy of the contents of your wallet. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will have a record of what you had in your wallet including your card account numbers and phone numbers you will need to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. If traveling abroad, carry a photocopy of your passport in your luggage and in your carry-on. Perish the thought, but you are not immune to theft. The most common phrase used by our tour guide was to “Beware of pick pockets.” Here’s some critical information to limit the damage in case your luggage or wallet is lost or stolen:

5. We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. But the key is having the toll-free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know who to call. Keep those where you can find them.

6. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).

And here’s what is perhaps most important of all:

7. Report the loss to the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and call the Social Security fraud line number. The lawyer said he was advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for credit was made over the Internet in my name. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they must contact you by phone to authorize new credit.

By the time he was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done. There are records of all credit checks initiated by the thieves’ purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert. Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away the next weekend, someone found it and turned it in to the police. It seems to have stopped them dead in their tracks.

The credit services have online reporting services that will allow you to report the loss or theft quickly. The Social Security Administration probably has the same. The lawyer did not go into detail about the thousands of dollars in bogus charges that appeared on his credit accounts. It was probably a little too embarrassing for him.