My Brush With Identity Theft

I’ve never had my idenity stolen. I’ve read many of the horror stories that come along with it, but have never had to go through that.
But, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t come close. Or at least feel like I came a little close. Because there was one time where someone came pretty close, or at least a little too close for comfort.
A few years ago, I went through my mail, and there was what appeared to be a bill from UPS. I don’t make any shipments, and when I do, I typically pay for them at the counter. The bill was for a few dollars.
So, I thought nothing of it and threw it away.
A few weeks later, I got a second bill, again, not for very much money, but for a larger amount, but still under $50. Again, I discarded it thinking it weird that I was getting bills for something I didn’t use.
They got my attention a few weeks later when they sent another letter indicating that if I didn’t pay my balance, I would be turned over to collections. So, I immediately got on the phone.
My conversation went a little like this:
Me: “I’m calling about a bill that I got for a bunch of packages.”
UPS: “Yes, we need you to pay that.”
Me: “I’m confused, I didn’t send any packages using UPS.”
UPS: “But it has your name and address here.”
Me: “While that’s true, I didn’t ship any packages. In fact, the ’ship from’ location for all of these is in California.”
UPS: “Yeah, and?”
Me: “I live in Michigan. How would I have shipped these packages from California?”
UPS: *long silence*
Me: “How would someone have opened an account with my name and address?”
UPS: “Well, that’s all you need to open an account.”
Me: “You don’t need a credit card? A social security number? A drivers license?”
UPS: “No.”
Me: “So, anybody could just find someone elses name and address and open an account and start shipping packages, and UPS is OK with that?”
UPS: “Yeah, seems a little strange, doesn’t it?”
Me: “So, you’re going to take those charges off my account, the one that I never opened, and close the account, too, while you’re at it?”
UPS: “You’re sure you never opened that account or shipped those packages?”
Me: “Positive.”
UPS: “OK, then, we’ll take care of that.”
Pretty amazing stuff, isn’t it? Now, this was a few years ago so I’m really hoping that UPS does not simply allow accounts to be created in such fashion. It seemed that before, you could just create an account and start shipping with it. Granted, the number of shipments was small, so I’m guessing (hoping) that for bulk shippers, they would have required a line of credit.
But, really, who knows?
At the time, I didn’t really think much about it, but it was about as close I could have gotten to having my identity stolen without it actually happening.
It taught me a few lessons though:

  • Pay attention to your bills – I simply threw the bills out because I knew that they weren’t mine, but if I hadn’t, who knows if UPS would have somehow been able to find me and put a blemish on my credit report. It doesn’t seem likely since they didn’t have my SSN, but then again, I would have thought it pretty unlikely that they would open an account without somehow verifying the person opening the account.
  • Be careful of your personal information – Keep your personal information, especially things like account numbers, drivers license numbers, and other key information, safe.
  • Check your credit report – I check my credit report (and my wife’s) every four months, using our three free reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. After this, I have always kept an eye on it to make sure that every single creditor is someone I know. So far, I’ve had no surprises.
  • Check your balances often – Did you know that the longer you wait before notifying a bank or credit card company of fraudulent activity, the more you’re responsible for? I try to check my balances every day or two days on my bank accounts and credit cards.

Any other tips on preventing or dealing with identity theft? Any close calls?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Can You Really Save Money On Utilities By Cutting Back?

When you Google “saving money on utilities” you get 18,700,000 results.
This is obviously a very well written about subject.
However, the rationale behind the most recent water rate hike by the City of Detroit for water (Detroit provides water to the city and most of the outlying suburbs) made me wonder how much money we can truly save by cutting back on utilities.
From the Detroit News, here is a summary with two reasons as to why water rates went up:

Customers are set to see bills go up about 8 percent, an amount Detroit Water Department officials say is needed to bolster declining revenues and counter surging interest rates on money the system has borrowed for capital improvements.

The reason for the declining revenues? Lower consumption.
People in the Detroit area have been cutting back water usage. With the economy in a downturn, people are trying to cut back the non-essentials. Whether it’s letting their lawns go brown or taking quicker showers, the average water usage has gone down.
So, how are people rewarded for their ability to use less? They simply get charged more.
See, the water company depends on a certain amount of revenue a year to cover costs. If they don’t meet that revenue, they can’t pay for the employees, for the electricity, for the maintenence of the infrastructure, and all the other costs that it takes to deliver water to millions of households.
It then begs the question as to whether you can really save money on utilities by cutting back? I suppose the ‘above-average’ saving household could still save, but if you if you cut back by the rate at which consumption drops, you really won’t save money. Yes, you’ll be preventing your bill going up even more than if you hadn’t cut back, but it is still discouraging to reduce consumption and see your bill come in the same. Or more.
And, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this type of pricing model holds true for just about all utilities. Electricity. Gas. I would guess that they all have a level of expected revenue that they will figure out how to cover, no matter what.
So, is it worth it to cut back?
Despite evidence that I’ve presented, I still say it is.
Why?
First, I think that it’s important to preserve our natural resources. Bottom line, the water and the electricity use natural resources that are limited in supply, and also can cause pollution, global warming, and other problems with our planet. Reducing usage will only prolong the life of our precious Earth.
Second, it does slow down the increase in hit that you’ll feel in your pocketbook. The argument could be made that the utility companies would raise the prices even if demand didn’t go down. In that case, your out-of-pocket costs would rise even faster.
And, quite honestly, even when I’ve ‘cut back’ on usage in the past, I’ve never reduced the budget that I expect to pay for utilities. Simply because I expect that costs will continue to rise. I might not budget an increase over time, but I guess I have sort of accepted the fact that the utilty companies, by and large, are going to collect what they feel they need to no matter what. Short of getting ‘off the grid’ altogether, which simply isn’t possible for the majority of people, we simply have to try our best and hope for a delicate balance between increased costs and cutting back.

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One Reason For High Medical Costs Is All The Paper

The discussion everywhere has been how to reign in or modify the health care system so that costs do not continue to spiral out of control.
One simple suggestion I have is to cut back on all the paperwork!
As I’ve blogged about before, my wife had our first child recently. It’s been four weeks already (and WOW, have they flown by). A few days after he was born, he had a quick visit to the emergency room because of some problems feeding and holding down food. Thank goodness those have been resolved.
But, since we’ve gotten home from the hospital, the amount of paperwork that we’ve gotten has been staggering. There honestly has not been a day gone by in the last three weeks that we’ve opened up the mailbox and found some sort of paperwork.
These have included:

  • Envelope upon envelope of Explanation of Benefit (EOB) forms from the insurance company. Occasionally, they will combine multiple explanations in one mailing, but it’s pretty rare. There are so many providers that have submitted claims, from the hospital for care of my wife to the hospital for the care of our newborn to the provider of the epidural to the OB/GYN office that took care of my wife. The part that annoys me is that they also put the EOB statements online. That’s not the annoying part, but what is is that in most cases, I’ve already logged on and have seen the EOB’s, so the paper copy is redundant, yet there’s no way to go ‘online only’.
  • Bills from all of the providers above. In most cases, they send a separate bill for every item, even though my wife and my son each have one account. In many cases, the balances don’t even add up to the combined totals, so I have to keep track of them to make sure we’re not overpaying or underpaying.
  • Coordination of benefits form – My insurance company decided that now would be a good time to confirm that my family does not have coverage through another insurance plan. So, they sent a five page questionire to me. The great thing about it is that for me to say ‘No’ (which was the answer) involved me checking one box and signing my name. A complete waste of paper, and something that I could have easily done online had this been an option (it’s not).
  • FSA reimbursement forms – We are using our Flexible Spending Account money to pay for most everything. The company that administers this requires a receipt for most purchases so that they can verify that the purchase qualifies. Thankfully, ADP has gotten themselves together to where they don’t send a paper copy of this request in the mail. They actually e-mail it. Still, they don’t allow me to scan in the receipts. I have to mail or fax them. So, I have to print out a copy of their claim form and head over to the fax machine. They’re the most electronic of the bunch, but it’s still one giant waste of paper as far as I’m concerned.

It gets worse.
Because the insurance company chose to have me fill out the coordination of benefits forms, they delayed payment on over half of the bills that came through. Yet they sent EOB forms to let us know that they were ‘Pending’!
Gee, thanks!
So, not only do I have a pile of papers letting me know that nothing has been done, once they re-process the claims, they’ll surely send brand new EOB forms for every single claim with the adjusted amounts.

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Resume Tip Number 1: Proofread Your Personal Information

Every day, there are new articles about things to do to improve your chances on a job search. Many of these concentrate on tips tied to your resume, and how to make sure it stands out and presents you in the most favorable light to get that ‘dream job’.
I’m here to reinforce one tip, and that’s tied to proofreading: Make sure you proofread EVERY part of your resume. And I mean every single part.
Here’s a true story that illustrates the reason for this:
A week or two ago, I came in from work, excited as always to see my wife and newborn son. I heard my wife’s voice from another room and could tell that she was just answering the phone. Her end of the conversation went something like this:
“Hello?”
“No, you have the wrong number.”
“It’s OK, but this is like the third or fourth call I’ve received today for that name, so I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’d really appreciate if the calls here could stop.”
“Oh, really, then she has the wrong phone number listed on her resume, because this has been my phone number for years.”
“Thanks, goodbye.”
That’s right, folks, the calls that my wife was receiving was for someone else’s job search. They posted their resume online, and had my wife’s number listed as their own. The person obviously must have had quite a resume, since she seemed to be getting a number of calls.
Still, this is one of the more bonehead moves I could think to make when posting your resume. It’s one thing to spell a word incorrectly or to make a gramatical error, but to get probably the most key piece of information besides your name incorrect?
I just hope she wasn’t applying for a position of proofreader.
So, it just goes to show that reading every part of your resume is critical before posting it or sending it to prosepctive employers. Who knows how many of the recruiters that had been calling simply bypassed her and went on to the next resume after realizing that the number they were calling was incorrect? In this job market, I certainly wouldn’t blame a recruiter for saying “Hmmmm….doesn’t list own phone number properly….REJECTED” and hitting the next resume. Somebody may have been kind enough to alert her (possibly through e-mail or snail mail) of the error, or she realized it herself, because the calls have stopped.
Yet, I wonder, could she have missed out on her dream job because of not re-reading every part of her resume?

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