As the family gathered for Christmas, I finally had The Talk with my Favorite Nephew who was home from college.
This talk was about being smart and taking steps to protect himself. We sat down with his laptop and I started by asking if he’d ever checked his credit report.
First, I sent him to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) website and showed him how to get his free credit report (see the link on the right side of that page). I cautioned him to always start from that page to ensure he was getting the truly free credit report and not a faux one that shows up when using a search engine.
Next, we talked about what a credit report shows and how good credit can be critical for employers, landlords, and making larger purchases as we worked through the process of getting his credit report. He gets one free report from each of the three credit bureaus each year. He chose the Equifax one. I had him put “Equifax credit check” on his electronic calendar for each 12-28 and set it up as a recurring event each year. Then on April 28, he set up “Experian credit check” and on August 28 was “Transunion credit check.” Now he’ll get annual reminders to check each credit bureau on a staggered basis. If there’s an issue with his credit report, he’ll find out quickly and can fix it before he needs to use his credit. Fortunately his was pristinely clean.
We also talked about his student ID or driver’s license being lost or stolen and reporting it to the police and also the FTC. Identity theft doesn’t start with the use of your identity, but someone improperly possessing your ID. My Favorite Nephew got to hear about a client who soon after arriving at college had both stolen from his dorm room. He quickly got his student ID replaced so he could eat, but the university did not advise him to make a police report. Understandably he waited to replace his license until he was home for winter break. In the meantime, the thief got pulled over in another part of the state and in one traffic stop was issued four tickets, which is quite an accomplishment.
After contacting my office, my client reported the theft to the campus police, notified the FTC, and completed the FTC’s Identity Theft Affidavit. Getting the charges dropped was expensive for his parents and an expungement was needed to clear his record. It was helpful to have the police report and the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit in hand. When he checked his credit report he and his parents were stunned to learn that he’d gotten a mortgage at age 14 – another issue to be cleaned up. But better now than when he really applied for a mortgage.
The Talk moved onto reliable sources of information for him as a consumer and a stop at the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) website. The home page had “6 tips for using your credit card this season” as an example of what CFPB offers.
Since the New Year is but a few days away I suggested that he start keeping track of transaction on his credit card and his checking accounts. One option is Mint. My Favorite Nephew has begun to frequent yard sales, thrift stores, craigslist, and others for used stereo equipment to repair, refurbish, and resell. I offered a better option for him might be Quicken.com since users can reconcile accounts (Mint doesn’t have this feature). He already knows how to reconcile as his wise mother long ago got him started reconciling his parents’ checking account.
I concluded by asking him about backing up his computer. He proudly said he uses a hard drive and backs up regularly. Being a lawyer as well as an aunt, I posed a hypothetical worst case. What happens if both your laptop and the hard drive back up get stolen? Or your back up fails? I offered that some of his stereo profits might be well invested in an automatic online backup service such as Mozy. No matter what’s going on, every 24 hours Mozy backs up my home computer. If someone steals my computer, I know I have a current back up.
This Talk isn’t just for young adults. All of us can benefit from taking these protective steps and in knowing how to respond if our identification is lost or stolen. Now my Favorite Nephew can have The Talk with his parents.