This blog entry will be different from previous ones because I want to share a very personal experience with you in the hopes of helping you avoid the same headache that I have been dealing with for the past week. On Friday February 3rd I attended a 3-day conference in Toronto. Since I arrived early, my luggage was stored until I was able to check into my room. At some point between unloading the luggage and moving it to storage, the briefcase with my laptop disappeared.
Apparently it is actually very easy to walk off with someone else's luggage when hundreds of business people with similar suitcases are all arriving around the same time. On Monday in the afternoon I received a call from hotel security notifying me that my briefcase has been located. Some items were taken and the briefcase and laptop were dirty and banged up, and of course my private laptop was likely in the hands of strangers for 3 full days. As a result of this incident, I have learned a lot about identity theft, common scams, and more, and I really want to share what I learned so that this doesn’t happen to you (and so that you will know exactly what to do in case that it does!).
1. Whether you are going on a day trip or on a long vacation, take only what is absolutely necessary! The more items you bring, the more items you could potentially lose.
2. Put your name and contact number on your computer, either by engraving it or marking it in some other way so that whoever finds it will be able to contact you without needing to open the computer to find your information.
3. Make sure that you computer is password-protected so that strangers cannot easily gain access to it.
4. Don’t keep all of your important files on just one device/computer. Be sure to back up your important documents so that you can access them even in the event that your computer is lost.
5. Be sure to back up your files on a regular basis and do not save your passwords on your computer. It is harder to remember and keep inputting them each time, but in case your laptop is lost you will be grateful that strangers will not have access to all of your passwords.
Remember that if your computer is lost or your house is broken into, you are at risk for identity theft. To protect yourself from such threats, you can take the following steps:
1. Contact the post office and ask them to notify you in the event that someone tries to change your mail forwarding address.
2. Contact both consumer credit bureaus (Equifax and Transunion) and ask them to post a fraud alert on your credit cards. This means that you will be contacted anytime your score/report is accessed to obtain credit. These alerts will stay on your file for 6 years. There is a charge of $5.50 for Equifax and $5.65 for Transunion, and they will take credit card payment when the alerts are activated. If you would like to have the alerts put on, you will need to contact each one individually – it is automated, and they verify personal information on the call prior to the alert. Contact numbers: Equifax - 1-800-465-7166, Transunion 1-877-525-3823
3. Go to your bank and change your bank cards and/or bank numbers.
4. Contact your credit card company and talk to the fraud department about getting a new credit card and new credit card number issued to you.
5. Contact everyone on your contact list and all of your Facebook friends and inform them about the potential identity theft attempt and ask them to contact you right away if they notice anything out of the ordinary in your circles.
This experience has been very stressful but also very educational for me, and my biggest takeaway from all of this was that this type of thing happens all the time! I hope that the tips I offered can help you avoid the trouble I had to go through, and that it will help you protect yourself and your loved ones from identity thieves and scammers.