MONEY credit cards

When Someone You Love Opens a Credit Card in Your Name

woman glaring at boyfriend
Klaus Tiedge—Getty Images

Coping with financial betrayal.

When a loved one uses your personal information to apply for credit, he or she has committed identity theft. After the initial shock of discovering this betrayal, you face difficult decisions. One is that if you report the person to law enforcement, you run the risk of damaging your relationship. But if you don’t, you may not be able to get out from under any debt created and it could take years for your credit to recover from any damage done.

To help with the decision process if this happens to you, the Nerds reached out to Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations and external affairs at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Gather the facts

The first item of business, regardless of which direction you take, is to collect all the information that confirms what happened and points to a possible perpetrator. Start by ordering a free copy of your credit report from to find the fraudulent account and see whether there are others.

Next, call the credit card issuer to tell it that you did not open the account. Ask the issuer to close the account and flag it as fraud. Request a copy of the signed cardholder agreements and any records of interactions the company has had with the person in question. If you choose to report the fraudulent activity to the authorities, McClary says it’s important to “confirm what took place and leave no room for doubt in the eyes of the law.”

Freeze your credit

Contact all three credit reporting bureaus and add a fraud alert to your credit report.

A fraud alert typically lasts 90 days initially, but you can renew it indefinitely. If you file a police report later, you can choose to request an extended fraud alert, which stays on your credit report for seven years. Once you have a fraud alert in place, creditors must call a phone number you provide to confirm your identity before extending any credit.

Nerd note: Because your loved one may know enough about you to pass a credit grantor’s identity quiz, the Nerds recommend using your cellphone or work number to ensure that the creditor reaches you.

Deal with your emotions

Deciding to confront your loved one about the identity theft may be the most difficult step in the process. You’ve been deceived by someone you trusted, so it’s a good idea to take some time to work through the shock. It’s also understandable that you might have second thoughts about filing a police report against the person. You’ll likely want to consider how outing him or her could affect your relationship as well as the individual’s relationship with others close to you.

When working through this dilemma, McClary urges you to “consider the fact that they acted without any regard for your rights or feelings when they committed the crime.” Although this doesn’t make it easier, it’s a reminder you are the victim and any consequences will remain on your credit report for up to seven years and might cost you when you apply for credit.

Seek a resolution

If you caught the fraudulent activity early enough and not much damage has been done to your credit, you may be able to resolve it personally with the loved one. Andy B., a 28-year-old insurance adjuster from Lincoln, Nebraska, was fortunate enough to deal with his case of familial identity theft this way.

While applying for a personal loan, Andy’s loan officer told him he had a high balance on a card that he knew nothing about. After some digging, he found out that his mother had opened up a credit card in his name 10 years previously. “I called her after I got off of the phone with the credit card company,” Andy says. “It was confusing, to say the least. I have a very positive relationship with my mother. … I knew she didn’t act maliciously and I definitely didn’t want to get her into any sort of legal trouble.”

After working things out with his mother and the credit card company, Andy is no longer liable for the debt and doesn’t think his mother will be prosecuted. He adds, “Do I think it was irresponsible? Yes. Do I forgive her? Absolutely.”

Andy acknowledges that he and his mother are fortunate to have worked this out, but he “can think of countless ways a family member can destroy a family member’s credit, not to mention their trust.”

Another alternative is to file a police report. Although this may not sound appealing because of how it could affect your relationship with the perpetrator as well as those around you, McClary believes that it’s necessary if you want to save your credit: “Notifying the police creates a record of enforcement that can be used to clear your name from the debt when that information is shared with the creditors.”

Put it in perspective

Regardless of which avenue you choose after your identity is stolen by someone close to you, your relationship may still suffer. The question you need to ask yourself is if you want to suffer the consequences of damaged credit, which could potentially make it difficult for you to obtain credit at favorable rates — if at all — for years to come. The decision is a personal one, but it’s important that you do what’s best for you and your financial future.

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MONEY identity theft

Here’s What To Do If Your Info Was Stolen from the IRS

Thomas Northcut—Getty Images

Thieves stole 100,000 past tax returns from the IRS, says the agency.

Criminals using stolen personal data accessed old tax returns of 100,000 people through the Internal Revenue Service’s website, the agency announced Tuesday.

Using Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and other information acquired outside the IRS website, probably from data breaches at other insitutions, the criminals were able to clear a multi-step authentication process and request tax returns and other filings through the IRS’s “Get Transcript” application. The criminals then used the information obtained from those forms to file fraudlent tax returns, the IRS said.

Though the agency has now shut down the “Get Transcript” application, it sent nearly $50 million in refunds to the scammers before detecting the breach.

Later this week, the IRS will begin sending out notification letters to each of the 200,000 taxpayers whose accounts the scammers attempted to access. About 50% of those attempts—some 100,000—were successful, and the IRS will offer free credit monitoring to those taxpayers. Either way, if you are notified by the IRS, there is more you can do to protect yourself.

1. Check In with the IRS

The IRS said it will be “marking taxpayer accounts on our core processing system to flag for potential identity theft to protect taxpayers going forward.” But anyone notified by the IRS—whether your data was successfully stolen or not—should call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490 to check that the agency has indeed placed an alert on your account and that the system reflects that your information (and return) has been compromised. You may also want to contact your state revenue agency to be certain a state tax return wasn’t fraudulently filed for you as well. (For your state’s hotline, check out this list.)

Also report the theft to local police and have it documented. While local law enforcement is unlikely to investigate, many government agencies and credit bureaus require an official theft report to help you solve the fall-out.

2. Add Another Layer of Security

If you are a victim of id theft, the IRS should issue you a personal identification number that will provide you with another level of security. You’ll need to submit this PIN along with your Social Security number when you file any tax form going forward so that the IRS knows to carefully check over your account. As an identity theft victim, you’ll get a new PIN every year. If you don’t receive it, request one because this extra step could save you from dealing with fraudulent returns year after year.

3. Alert the Credit Bureaus

“If a thief had enough information about you to file a false tax return, he could have also opened new credit card accounts or taken out a loan in your name,” says CPA Troy Lewis, chairman of the American Institute of CPAs’ tax executive committee.

Set up free fraud alerts with the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These alerts, which last 90 days but can be renewed, warn potential creditors or lenders that you are an identity theft victim and that they must verify your identity before issuing credit.

You can go a step further by placing a credit freeze on your files, which instructs the credit agencies to prevent new creditors from viewing your credit score and report. With a police report, it’s free; without one, it can cost as much $10, depending on your state.

A freeze will keep you from accessing instant credit, too. So if you need to apply for a loan, for example, you’ll need to give the agency permission to thaw your data, and in some cases you’ll pay a fee to lift the freeze, which can take a few days.

MONEY advises against paying for credit monitoring services, since you can do the same work yourself for free and the steps above are a better preventative measure. But if the IRS offers it to for free, you may want to sign up for the service.

4. Check Your Credit Report

You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three agencies. Check them carefully for unauthorized activity. Look at your history as well as recent activity. Just because you were first alerted to the problem through a false tax return does not mean that’s where the ID theft started.

If you see errors in your report, such as wrong personal information, accounts you didn’t open, or debts you didn’t incur, dispute those errors with each credit agency and the fraud department of the businesses reporting that inaccurate information.

5. Be Patient

The IRS says a typical case of ID theft can take 180 days to resolve. And even after you’ve cleared up this year’s tax mess, tax and credit fraud can be a recurring problem.

When a thief files a false return and beats you to filing, the IRS flags your legit return and processes it manually, meaning your refund could be delayed for months. The IRS will always pay you your refund, regardless of whether it already paid it out to a fraudster. If your tax fraud case hasn’t been resolved and you’re experiencing financial difficulties because of the holdup with your refund, contact the taxpayer advocate service at 877-777-4778.


Thieves Stole $50M in Tax Refunds Using IRS’s Online Tool

The hackers apparently used already-stolen identity information to send phony requests through the IRS's website.

MONEY online privacy

Never Share These 3 Things on Social Media

couple taking a photo in London
Frank and Helena—Getty Images

Because ID thieves love it when you do.

The digitalization of information and the popularity of social media may put consumer privacy at risk more now than ever. Some social media users, teenagers especially, may be unaware that the information they share — from their location to their paycheck — could be used for identity theft and fraud. About 92% of teenagers post their real name, 82% list their date of birth and 71% show their city or town of residence on their social profiles, according to Pew Research Center. While oversharing has become a problem, consumers could stop it by being careful what they post on social media.

Here are three kinds of information to never share on social media.

1. Driver’s License Details

Some users may be tempted to post their first driver’s license on social media to boast about their accomplishment or laugh at a silly photo. However, a valid ID card, such as a driver’s license, will contain your date of birth, picture and other personal identifiable information that thieves could copy.

Avoid sharing personal information that may lead to identity theft, including your date of birth and Social Security number. Access to this information could allow identity thieves to open new lines of credit, committing fraud and wrecking your credit score in the process. You can monitor your credit for changes that may signal identity theft by checking your free annual credit reports or using a credit monitoring service. You can also check your credit scores for free every month on

2. Vacation Itinerary & Location Data

While you are excited to share pictures about your fun vacation to exotic locations, do not share information about your getaway beforehand on social media, such as how long you will be gone and where you are going.

Not only do potential thieves know that you will be out of your home for that period of time, they could take advantage of your absence and burglarize your property. If you also use geotagging for your posts to show your location or list the city where you live, burglars could use this information to target your home.

3. Bank Account Information

Posting any kind of financial information in a public space could perpetuate fraud. Although some people might use social media to post about their first paycheck from a new job in their excitement, they should not display images of their paycheck because it contains bank account information. In 2014, law enforcement authorities charged a huge identity theft ring that looked for victims’ financial information via Instagram postings of paychecks, CNNMoney reported.

The victims showed images of their paychecks with the hashtag #myfirstpaycheck, which held bank account and routing information. With this information, the thieves were able to make fake checks and steal from businesses.

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MONEY credit cards

5 Terrifying Facts About Identity Theft

Alex and Laila—Getty Images

Nearly one billion records were leaked in 2014 alone

Identity theft was the number one consumer complaint at the Federal Trade Commission last year. So far in 2015, the data breach problem that drives so many identity-related crimes has gotten worse. The massive compromises at Anthem and Premera alone put a combined 91 million records in harm’s way.

With more information “out there” than we can possibly know, identity theft has become the third certainty in life, right behind death and taxes. And because so many major compromises include Social Security numbers — the skeleton key to not only your financial life, but also your health care and many other aspects of daily life—the damage can be life-changing.

The bottom line: Be afraid, be very afraid.

1. A Billion Records Leaked

According to IBM, more than one billion records containing personally identifiable information were leaked in 2014 alone. An identity thief only needs a few data points like the kind found in many data breaches to tap into your financial life.

2. There Is No Anonymity

Science Magazine reported that “anonymized meta data sets” containing product purchase information were re-identified with the people who made the purchases by looking at Instagram posts and tweets that matched the purchases.

You can do everything right and still get “got.” The fraudsters out there mining the veins of personal data for financial gain are good at what they do. However, if you assume you are going to get got and take some proactive steps – including monitoring your bank and credit accounts regularly for signs of fraud – in many cases you can have a head start when it actually happens. (Keeping a tight rein on your social media posts and making them private can also help give fraudsters less access to you.)

3. Your Medical History Can Be Compromised

With more than 2.32 million victims thus far — 500,000 last year alone — medical identity theft is a crime on the rise. It can cause medical histories to get changed, and benefits fraudulently used by others can bar a victim from getting medical treatments – making it a dangerous crime.

Unlike credit card fraud where liability is often zero, a recent study by the Medical Identity Theft Alliance found that more than 60% of medical fraud victims had to pay an average of $13,500 to resolve the crime.

Your best bet is to check every statement that comes in, and make sure the treatments listed on your Explanation of Benefits summaries sent out by your insurer match the care you’ve received.

4. Your Tax Refund Is Under Attack

Early in the 2015, Intuit, the company behind TurboTax, had to shut down e-filing in several states after the company noticed an uptick in what appeared to be fraudulent tax returns.

Tax-related identity theft is a big-money crime, and the statistics prove it. The IRS stopped 19 million suspicious tax returns last year, and stopped more than $63 billion in fraudulent refunds. A whopping $5.8 billion in tax refunds were paid out to fraudsters. In 2012, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration projected that fraudsters would net $26 billion into 2017.

For now, your best defense is to file your taxes as early as possible to avoid falling victim to tax-related fraud.

5. Even Kids Are at Risk

It’s long been known that children in the foster care system were more likely to become the target of identity-related crimes. This was due to the fact that when children move in with a new foster family, their personally identifiable information moves with them.

A less well known fact is that more than 30% of identity theft victims are scammed by family and close friends of the family. The key in these crimes is of course access to the necessary data. No one knows this better than Axton Betz-Hamilton, whose mother defrauded the entire family — father, grandfather and herself — for almost 20 years.

There are services available that protect a child’s credit. It’s also a very nice graduation present to check your child’s credit, and make sure there isn’t a history there.

While it is impossible to avoid some of the fallout from identity theft after it’s detected, it’s not possible to prevent these crimes. If you detect fraud early, it can be contained. And if you follow the three Ms of identity theft management (note that I didn’t say prevention), you can at least have a little piece of mind during this historic crime spree. Minimize, Monitor and Manage. Check your bank and credit card statements every day online to look for fraudulent transactions. You can sign up for free transactional monitoring alerts from your bank, credit union or credit card company for help in this. Check your credit reports regularly – you can get them for free annually on – to look for unauthorized accounts or changes in existing account balances. File your taxes early, and keep an eagle eye on your medical insurance benefits. Report any suspicious activity immediately to the respective institution so that you can try to minimize the damage.

Make yourself a harder target and know what to do when you become one anyway.

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MONEY identity theft

Woman Accused of Filing 3,000 False Tax Returns in $7.5 Million Scheme

Tax Refund check
B Christopher—Alamy

Allegedly the government isn't the only victim.

An Alabama woman was arrested May 12 for allegedly filing more than 3,000 false tax returns and defrauding the government of millions of dollars in the process, according to a news release from the Department of Justice. The accused, Talashia Hinton, allegedly worked with others who gave her IRS electronic filing identification numbers (EFINs) and stolen personal information so she could prepare the fraudulent returns.

Hinton was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, five counts of wire fraud and five counts of aggravated identity theft, according to the DOJ news release. She is said to have received more than $7.5 million in refunds from the fraudulent returns filed in the 2012 and 2013 tax seasons.

The Internal Revenue Service pays out hundreds of billions of dollars in refunds every year, but a $7.5 million scheme in two years is still noteworthy. It’s not clear from the DOJ information how many people were involved in the alleged fraud operation, but Hinton is accused of securing the money. She allegedly directed the IRS to issue refunds by check and through direct deposit on prepaid debit cards.

Schemes like this have ensnared millions of Americans in the past several years, delaying the refunds they’re entitled to by months or years and often complicating their tax-filing seasons for years to come. Usually, victims of tax identity theft do not discover they’ve become a victim until they try to file their legitimate returns, only to be told a return has already been filed for their Social Security numbers. For people who rely on tax refunds to make necessary purchases or pay down debt, the ensuing delay in refund can be extremely problematic.

You may not want to think about tax season for another several months, but if you want to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of tax identity theft, prepare now to file your 2015 taxes as soon as possible next year. The earlier you file, the smaller chance there is a thief will file a fraudulent return in your name before you do.

Keep in mind this is a difficult crime to prevent. If you’ve ever had your Social Security number compromised, you’re at great risk for experiencing this crime, and even if you don’t think any major personal information of yours has been exposed, it’s still important to monitor your identity and accounts for signs of fraud. Not only is it a headache to deal with identity theft and a delayed tax refund, related issues like a shortage of cash flow or other fraud could damage your credit standing. You can get free annual credit reports under federal law at and you can monitor your credit scores for for free every month on

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MONEY identity theft

The Major Data Security Threat You’ve Never Heard Of

stealing identity from trash
Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

You may have heard of hardware, firmware and software hacks, but the biggest data threat could actually be wetware.

For the first time, according to a recent study, criminal and state-sponsored hacks have surpassed human error as the leading cause of health care data breaches, and it could be costing the industry as much as $6 billion. With an average organization cost of $2.1 million per breach, the results of the study give rise to a question: How do you define human error?

More than half of the respondents in the Ponemon Institute’s Fifth Annual Benchmark Study on Privacy & Security of Healthcare Data, said their organization’s incident response team was underfunded or understaffed and roughly one third of respondents had no incident response plan in place at all—zip, nada, zilch—a fact that beggars the imagination at a moment when breaches have become the third certainty in life, and one that highlights the seeming no-show of the “first do no harm” approach to patients on the data breach-prone operations side of the health care industry.

While it is disconcerting that there isn’t a more robust incident response culture out there, perhaps more worrisome is the seeming lack of best practices pointed at heading off the problem before it happens. That’s where a new term comes into play.

Wetware is a term of art used by hackers to describe a non-firmware, hardware or software approach to getting the information they want to pilfer. In other words, people. (The human body is more than 60% water.) Wetware intrusions happen when a hacker exploits employee trust, predictable behavior or the failure to follow security protocols. It can be a spearphishing email, a crooked employee on the take or a file found while Dumpster diving—and, of course, all stripe of things in between. Whatever it is, there’s a human being involved.

The findings of the Ponemon Institute study point to the dire need for better wetware precautions when it comes to the security of health care records. Consider that 40% of the health organizations in the study reported more than five breaches in the past two years.

According to the study, since 2010 “the percentage of respondents who said their organization had multiple breaches increased from 60% to 79%.” Also by no means inconsequential is the fact that medical identity theft—where an imposter uses a victim’s credentials to obtain health care—nearly doubled in the past five years, from 1.4 million adult victims to more than 2.3 million in 2014.

The breaches comprising these figures were not all the size or severity of Anthem or Premera, which combined leaked extremely sensitive personally identifiable information like Social Security numbers, birth dates and bank account numbers belonging to more than 91 million consumers. While the $2.1 million average cost to health care organizations is eye-catching, it involved incidents with an average of 2,700 lost or stolen records, a figure that runs the gamut from Anthem and Premera to breaches that were decidedly on the smaller side.

As Larry Ponemon rightly pointed out in an interview with Dark Reading, while many of the incidents involved the exposure of “less than 100 records,” that in no way trivializes those events. According to the study, “Many medical identity theft victims report they have spent an average of $13,500 to restore their credit, reimburse their health care provider for fraudulent claims and correct inaccuracies in their health records.”

With 91% of the health care companies who responded to the study’s questions reporting at least one incident in the preceding two years, it’s clear that whatever we’re doing to address the health care breach problem is woefully inadequate. What’s more, it is clear that the problem is wetware. Better practices need to become part of the work culture in the health care industry.

When participating organizations in the study were asked what worried them the most (with three responses permitted), 70% said the biggest concern was a negligent or careless employee. That figure was followed by 40% of respondents who thought cyber attackers were the bigger worry and 33% who were worried about the security of public cloud servers. Respondents also cited insecure mobile apps (13%) and insecure medical devices (6%).

With 96% of respondents saying that they had a security incident involving lost or stolen devices, the fact that cyber attacks—state-backed and criminal—are the leading cause of breaches should keep you up at night, but the more terrifying take-away here is that doubtless many of those attacks wouldn’t be possible were it not for the human factor. There is plenty of overlap between the proactive criminal and the clumsy employee to make these figures start to seem like so much digital rain in a lost scene from “The Matrix.”

These days, smartphones and tablets are on the most-compromised or stolen list. Earlier on in the data breach pandemic, laptop computers and desktops were at the top of that list. While it is interesting on some level how the information gets compromised, at the end of the day, a breach is a breach is a breach. Health care industry: you’re all wet.

The bottom line here is that hackers of all stripe are having a field day because the wetware problem has been largely unaddressed, and until people become the alpha and omega of the process that leads to a zero tolerance solution, data breaches will continue apace.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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MONEY privacy

Will the New Consumer Privacy Bill Protect You?

person using smartphone in dark
Kohei Hara—Getty Images

A proposed law would beef up your rights when your data is leaked or stolen.

Legislation that would establish new nationwide privacy protections for American consumers was introduced by a group of high-profile Democratic senators on Thursday, including Pat Leahy (Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts). The Consumer Privacy Protection Act would establish federal standards for notification of consumers when their data is lost or stolen, greatly expand the definition of private information beyond financial data, and allow existing state privacy laws to remain in force. Geolocation data and images would be covered by its data leak disclosure rules, for example.

“Today, data security is not just about protecting our identities and our bank accounts, it is about protecting our privacy. Americans want to know not just that their bank account and credit cards are safe and secure, they want to know that their emails and their private pictures are protected as well,” Sen. Leahy said. “Companies who benefit financially from our personal information should be obligated to take steps to keep it safe, and to notify us when those protections have failed.”

Consumer groups cheered the proposal, saying it offered a fresh approach to consumer privacy.

“This is a step forward. This is the first time you get something new in federal legislation. Usually it scales back (protections) in state law,” said Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “It’s good to see some new thinking on the issue, something that actually adds new protections for a lot of people.”

“Everyone from the NSA to the local grocer has become a consumer of our data. So many pieces of our data are being collected, stored, shared and sold, either without our knowledge or ability to understand the process,” said Adam Levin, privacy expert and chairman and founder of “It is long overdue that we expand the definition of ‘personally identifying information’ as well as the protections necessary to safeguard our privacy and data security and require quick notification when our PII is exposed.”

The legislation would require social media firms or cloud email providers to notify consumers if their accounts are compromised, Brookman said. Currently, most disclosure rules apply only to financial information such as credit card numbers.

The legislation comes on the heels of a similar White House proposal called “The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2015,” but goes several steps further than the administration’s proposal, said Susan Grant of the Consumer Federation of America. The White House proposal would allow federal law to supersede state laws, potentially diminishing consumer rights. It also requires demonstration of actual harm before requiring notice.

“(We believe) that federal legislation will only be helpful to consumers if it provides them with greater privacy and security protection than they have today. Most of the bills that we have seen in Congress would actually weaken existing consumer rights and the ability of state and federal agencies to enforce them,” Grant said. “(This bill) takes the right approach, requiring reasonable security measures, providing strong consumer protection and enforcement, and only pre-empting state laws to the extent that they provide less stringent protection.”

Most significant: The legislation creates entire new classes of protected information. Private information is divided into seven categories. Compromise of any one of them would require companies to notify consumers. They are:

  1. Social Security numbers and other government-issued identification numbers;
  2. Financial account information, including credit card numbers and bank accounts;
  3. Online usernames and passwords, including email addresses and passwords;
  4. Unique biometric data, including fingerprints;
  5. Information about a person’s physical and mental health;
  6. Information about a person’s geolocation;
  7. Access to private digital photographs and videos.

Leahy has repeatedly proposed legislation since 2005 that would establish a nationwide notification standard called the Personal Data Privacy and Security Act; it has not passed. While co-sponsors of this new bill include Al Franken (Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Edward J. Markey (Mass.), there are, notably, no Republican co-sponsors. That probably dooms the bill, says Brookman.

“They didn’t get a GOP co-sponsor, and that’s not a great sign. Still, having the bill out there is good for dialog on the issue,” he said.

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MONEY identity theft

Woman Allegedly Lived Under 74 Aliases, Targeted Hollywood

The Hollywood Sign, Los Angeles, California
David Leventi—Gallery Stock

A suspect in California is accused of stealing multiple identities.

Living a double life seems like it would be challenging enough, but that’s child’s play compared to what one California identity theft suspect is believed to have accomplished. Cathryn Parker, 72, was arrested in March when she was stopped for a traffic violation and gave a law enforcement officer a fake name. Turns out, Parker is under investigation for stealing multiple identities and living under at least 74 aliases, according to the Associated Press.

Parker is accused of stealing seven identities, most of whom are Hollywood film production staffers. Investigators discovered that Parker’s home and utilities services were registered under false names, and Parker had also opened fraudulent credit card accounts with victims’ information. Investigators say she is suspected of committing crimes dating back to 2010.

As of April 17, Parker was in federal custody in Northern California, where she was wanted for violating probation, the AP reported. She had been convicted of mail fraud in 2000.

While Parker’s high number of identities is uncommon, her alleged crime is not. Identity theft affects millions of Americans each year. Victims of identity theft often suffer damage to their credit standings and finances, and the longer it goes undetected, the more costly and time-consuming the recovery can become.

Preventing identity theft is a huge part of this problem — it’s practically impossible to do. Even consumers who take the best preventative measures, like never storing sensitive data online and rarely sharing personally identifiable information, may still have their data stolen in a cyberattack on a company that rightfully has that information (for example, the Anthem data breach).

Credit monitoring can be extremely helpful in stopping a situation like a thief opening a fraudulent credit card account in your name. You can get your credit report summary for free, updated every month on, to watch for changes that you didn’t authorize. In addition to that, the most effective form of protection is monitoring your identity from as many angles as possible, including public records and information on the Internet. Whether you do it yourself or pay for an identity theft protection service, the most important thing is to act quickly when you notice something is wrong, in order to prevent extensive damage to your credit and financial well-being.

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MONEY the photo bank

Some Women Will Get Naked Before They Expose the Contents of Their Handbags

Photographer Jeremy Goldberg is on a quest to uncover the mysteries contained in the handbags of women around the globe.

Let me see your handbag, Jeremy Goldberg said to fashion icon Iman. He made her dump all its contents on a table. Then he instructed her to stand against the wall, and he shot her and all of the items she’d been carrying.

The resulting images are part of the Los Angeles–based photographer’s Purseonal project. For four years, Goldberg has been asking women around the globe—famous personalities like actresses Emmanuelle Chriqui and Stephanie March and Facebook Vice President Carolyn Everson, as well as district attorneys, students, and commuters—if he can rummage through their purses and wallets and photograph the mysteries contained therein. He then pairs mugshot-style portraits of each woman with her purse(onal) cargo. To date, Goldberg has photographed more than 300 women in New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, London, Tokyo, Seoul, Malaysia, and Singapore; he recently exhibited some of the results at Tokyo Photo 2014.

Goldberg is drawn to learn more about his subjects by exposing what they carry when they think nobody is looking. “Women’s purses are generally off limits,” he explains. “Even a husband would never dump out his wife’s purse and go through the items, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.”

Goldberg generally shoots fashion and portraiture—actors, musicians, company executives, etc.—for publications ranging from Adweek to Gotham and advertising clients including Oxfam and Sony. He points out that magazines often include a “what’s in your bag” or “what’s on your desk” feature, but they’re not real. Readers hoping to gain insight into the personal lives of celebs instead see photos that are typically staged with products the celebrities endorse. “I didn’t want to see Zooey Deschanel’s perfect lip glosses, but the hair tie used to hold her credit cards together,” he explains. “I didn’t want to see a model’s perfect life, but her juvenile court summons….I’m much more interested in seeing someone’s unpaid parking tickets, Starbucks receipts, etc.”

Purses have long been symbols of status or style. For Samantha in Sex in the City, the trendy Birkin was a must-have bag because of its popularity among the glitterati; Meryl Streep, in her role as fashion editor Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, used her lineup of purses to reinforce her power and intimidate her subordinates. World leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Michelle Obama, or Queen Elizabeth II have used a well-selected bag to put citizens at ease with a feeling of normalcy or set a “get-down-to-business” tone. Last fall, “Scandal” star Kerry Washington accessorized with a purple Prada clutch she designed to raise awareness about “domestic violence and financial abuse.”

So if the outside of a purse can communicate so much about its owner, what can the insides reveal? In Goldberg’s words:

The outside represents how people want to be seen, but the inside represents who they really are—most people never expect anyone to see inside their purse, so there’s no artifice. But it’s open to interpretation. What does it say when someone carries a huge purse but it’s almost empty? What does it say when they carry an asthma inhaler, almonds and a pack of cigarettes? What does it say when their purse and their face is perfect, but the inside of their purse looks like a crime scene? There are so many unusual little items. One person had a note reminder not to kill themselves but just to buy needles—turned out it was about knitting needles for an arts and crafts project.

Goldberg includes everything within his subjects’ bags in his photos, but artfully arranges the contents to “hide or highlight” various items, balancing a respect for personal privacy with his own curiosity and desire for unvarnished truth. Identification cards or prescription information, for example, are judiciously covered in a way that does not expose drug names or account numbers. Viewers are invited to pore over the details and construct their own narratives from the objects presented.

Though the actual shoot with his digital cameras lasts a speedy 5 to 10 minutes (the majority of which are devoted to arranging the contents) and have the look of quick snapshots, it has taken Goldberg a long time to work out the tools and aesthetic for the images. He collaborated with German designer Thomas Schostok to create a presentation that combines the portrait and still life with salient details about the subjects—name, city of birth, occupation, location, date of portrait, and type of purse. The images and information are digitally collaged onto a dirty and distressed index card that could have been pulled from the bottom of the bags he photographs.

As for getting permission from his subjects, Goldberg says most people will quickly consent to posing for the portrait but hesitate when they realize they have to dump out their purse. “There’s a moment of panic,” he says. “I see them mentally cataloguing how embarrassing the contents of their purse may be before they agree.”

Given the intimate relationship women have with the things they carry, strong reactions aren’t surprising. Says Goldberg, “One woman said it was a bit of a thrill for her, as her husband got to see her naked, but even he wouldn’t go through her purse.”

This is part of The Photo Bank, a recurring feature on dedicated to conceptual photography on financial issues. Submissions are welcome and should be sent to Sarina Finkelstein, Online Photo Editor for at

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