Adam K Levin is a consumer advocate with a focus on data security, identity theft and personal finance.
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Hi Reddit. I’m Adam K Levin, a consumer advocate with a focus on data security, identity theft and personal finance. I founded an identity theft resolution company called IDT911, and I co-founded Credit.com. My goal is to educate people about maintaining their privacy, building credit, avoiding common mistakes that result in identity theft and bad credit, and highlighting new identity-related scams. I write a weekly syndicated column and appear regularly on cable and broadcast news, including ABC Nightly News, Fox Business, MSNBC and Bloomberg TV.
**UPDATE: I have to get going, but this has been fun! Thanks for your questions and the discussion - if anyone has any other questions, feel free to contact me at Twitter or Facebook.
Thanks again, Reddit!
My twitter feed: https://twitter.com/Adam_K_Levin
And my personal website: http://www.adamlevin.com
Whats your favorite Maroon5 song?
I am not Adam Levine, but I still like the band. Move Like Jagger.
I feel like I hear more about credit card numbers getting stolen lately, why do you think that is?
Great question - Because it's a crime of opportunity and it's easier to pull off. It's considered low-hanging fruit in the realm of ID theft. Retail sector has not been as secure as for instance financial services. Also: there's access to a large quantity of data, and of course chip and PIN cards aren't used here yet (they will be next year) and magnetic strip technology is relatively easy to exploit.
What's the most common credit mistake you see people making?
Closing accounts. You need those accounts open. Close them and you lower your available credit, which lowers yours score.
How often do you change your email password?
Trade secret. :) (Monthly or more when required).
It has become very common in european law, especially in germany (I'm a german law scholar), that privacy issues and identity theft are becoming subjects of criminal law.
How is it done in the united states and do you think this problem should be solved by private law and compensatory damages or by criminal law and legal actions from the state?
It's handled both ways in the US and it should be that way. There are criminal laws against ID theft (both federal and state).
How has the Sony data breach affected the way people do business?
It hasn't affected people yet, but it has officially scared businesses to death.
What's something important that people should do to protect their identities that may not be super obvious?
Don't use your email address as a user id - that's pretty huge. Second thing, do NOT save passwords or user ids on applications on your smartphone. Never let stores put your receipt in a bag, make sure they hand it to you.
What data is sensitive on store reciepts?
Almost everything on the receipt can be used by a clever thief - for instance, your name, the amount of your purchase, the last 4 digits of your credit card number, the date of purchase, the expiration date of your card. Remember, an identity thief's job is to be you - the more information they have, the more successful they will be.
I'm skeptical about alternative currencies, but it's also admittedly pretty early in their development, so we'll have to wait and see.
What are some methods you use routinely to protect your credit and accounts? Do you routinely change credit card numbers annually?
I check my accounts at annualcreditreport.com. I get monthly credit score reports for free from Credit.com and I subscribe to Lifelock. I check my accounts every day and I get automatic notifications when there's any activity in my bank accounts.
I'll bet - but what do you expect will come about as a result of it?
Well I think the following: studios in particular and all companies in general are going to be much more concerned about security and privacy. And I think this will change people's attitude toward open expression via email. This really was a near extinction level event, and a wake-up call for everyone. Sony is the poster child for the need for encryption.
Where do you project America's economy will rank in next decade? And what will the job market be like for internet security in the U.S based on your projection?
I think security will certainly make up a larger portion of the economy, but as for the economy itself…Your guess is as good as mine.
I have no credit history. Whats the best way to start?
The first thing is to see if you can be named an additional credit card holder of somebody's credit card. Second, see if someone might be willing to co-sign a credit card application with you. Third, go into a store and see if you can get a store credit card. It's not something you should stay with, but it can help build credit. Fourth, a secured credit card, which is where you deposit money in a bank, and they give you a card with a credit line from the money you deposited.
Is there any way to protect my Social Security number?
No, your social security number is in many different hands. The best thing you can do is 1) Don't make it worse. Only give you SSN when you absolutely must. 2) The best protection against having your SSN used illegally is monitoring your financial and credit accounts regularly. You might also consider a credit freeze, but bear in mind, you'll have to unlock it every time you want to shop for new credit.
In the UK at least, banks currently refund virtually all customers who lose money by way of credit card fraud, and when customers' identities are used to obtain credit they are not actually required to pay it back - in most cases, the banks foot the bill and do very little to investigate the crime. As a result, nobody ever feels hugely put out once they get their money back, and the law enforcement agencies get no pressure at all to deal with the frauds the same way they do with burglaries, robberies, etc.
Do you foresee a time when banks do not refund the money as willingly, and therefore people expect a more robust effort from the police in finding the fraudsters? (And if so - how far away are we from that?)
It's pretty much zero liability in the US as well. However, with the new Chip and PIN technology coming out in 2015, retailers are going to be more on the hook if they don't switch over to the new technology. (If that happens, retailers will just pass the expense on to the consumer.)
When is it worth it to pay for these types of services? Can you pretty much get it all covered on free sites?
There are several programs for monitoring and damage control that are either free or provided through your insurance company, HR from your work, or other financial services. There are comprehensive programs out there that can handle either monitoring or damage control as a paid service - ultimately whether or not to go with a paid service depends on what your peace of mind is worth to you.
Every time I'm able to build up a bit of a nest egg it seems like something inevitably comes up that quickly depletes it. What tips would you recommend to more effectively grow and protect personal savings?
The most important is having a budget and sticking to it, and building an emergency contingency plan into that budget.
What was the cleverest scam you ever discovered?
The cleverest scam I ever came across might be the Sony Pictures hack. I've seen so many. The majority of scams are very clever and very hard to detect. When income tax fraud first started, it was novel. The same goes for malware. When scammer made calls to known Microsoft users claiming to be customer service but were actually doing an IT support scam—again, it got a lot of people. There are also the old standards like the call you get at a hotel in the wee hours of the morning claiming to be the front desk needing your credit card number again because it didn't go through. That one still works way too often.
When it comes to scams, remember that you can always look it up on Snopes.com.
Come to think of it, the most clever scam I've seen is Wall St.'s poisoning of the CRomnibus act that Elizabeth Warren has fought so vigorously against in the last few days.
Is any digital data really safe?
If it's offline, encrypted, and in a secure storage facility, you have a shot. Otherwise...
In my mind, i've always made a distinction between privacy and security online. I leave this intentionally broad so you can fill in the parts that you think is important.
In your professional opinion, is this a false distinction on my part? If it isn't, do you have differering philosophies or ways of approaching the two ideas on a practical level?
Where there are privacy issues, there must be security. With privacy issues online, you have some choice in the matter - you can decide what you'd like to share, or opt in. With security online, you have no say in what happens - you're at the mercy of the company or entity that has your information.
On a practical level, there are things you can do to protect your privacy and things you can do to ensure your security. When it comes to data that you're provided to a company online, often times it's more important to have consistency than veracity - in other words, you can lie about your birthday as long as you remember what you said. That's the practical approach to the privacy conundrum. Basically what you're trying to do is secure your privacy.
Thank you for your responses :)
Certainly - and thank you.
Doesn't the government have any say? Forgive my ignorance on US laws but isn't there a government body that works in the interest of consumers/citizens? Businesses will always look to use the cheaper option but it's the government that should be keeping them in line no?
Should? Yes. Does it? No. In this case, it was Visa and Mastercard that got the ball rolling.
My spouse thinks that because he has some bad credit, he doesn't need to worry about protecting things like his Social Security number and personal information. He said 'it's not like they could get a loan or anything' when he carelessly lost his wallet or when he uses easy passwords. Can you please give me the simplest explanation of why this is a bad way of thinking? I've tried to explain that this could hurt him 10 years down the road after his credit improves, to no avail.
Seriously, dumb it down as much as you can. Maybe you can help him see the light of reality.
Protection of your social security number goes way beyond credit. If your identity is compromised, your bank account can be improperly accessed. You could end up on a no fly list, be the target of criminal enforcement because crimes were committed in the name of the victim. False tax returns could be filed, tax refunds could be diverted, illegal employment could occur (where the earnings are attributed to his social security number). Someone could obtain medical services, prescriptions or treatment in his name. His medical insurance could be drained. In the event the thief is examined using his identity, their medical information could become mingled with his and an incorrect course of treatment could be prescribed, allergies disappear, new allergies appear, etc.
whats ur fave thing to put on a hotdog and why??
hot dog: mustard and sauerkraut. i like it spicy.
What is Shakira like?
I've never met her, but I'm sure she's delightful.
Huh, never really considered the receipt issue before...what's the best way to deal with them after they've been handed to me? Filed? Shredded?
Unless you need them for tax purposes, shred them.
I heard him on a radio show on Long Island 103.9FM on Saturday and he spoke of a technology that allows someone to pick up the heat from your fingers on the pad when you enter your pin (and for up to a minute after you entered your pin) for your debit card and this allows them to steal your credit information and possibly your identity. Is there any truth to that? He also said this holiday season will be the worst ever seen for identity theft.
What are your tips on avoiding identity theft, especially during this holiday season?
Avoiding identity theft can be especially difficult - even if you're doing everything you can to keep safe, there's always the possibility of retailer breaches along the lines of what we saw with Target and Home Depot. The best thing to do is to track track of your accounts and monitor activity on them.
Do you know Paul Oster? If so, what are your thoughts about him?
I know of him, but we operate in two different worlds.
Coming out in 2015 bahahaha. Can't believe the US is so far behind when it comes to consumer protection. Why hasn't chip and pin been implemented sooner?
Money. It was chicken-and-egg. Banks didn't want to spend the money on the cards until retailers had the readers, and vice versa. With Target we finally reached a tipping point.
Opinion on 'Swatting'?
If you define swatting as causing first responders to scramble for a fake emergency, I think it's outrageous. Also: it has nothing to do with the kinds of scams I look at.