Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How to avoid identity theft

1. Shred your financial documents and all personal information. Shred all pre-approved credit card applications. 2. Protect your social security number. If someone calls you, never give them your social security number. Get their number and call them back. I got such a call and they said it was "chase". I then looked on-line and called the 1-800 listed. The phone number did not belong to chase and no one from chase had called me. Thank goodness something seemed "strange" with the person on the phone! 3. Never click on links sent to unsolicited emails. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, anti-virus software and keep them up-to-date. 4. Don't use an obvious password like your birth date, your child's name, your pet's name, your mother's maiden name, or the last 4 digits of your social security number. 5. Keep your personal information in a secure place. Don't trust your roommates, friends, cleaning services, etc. I once had a party at my home and at the end of the evening my jewelry (that I had hidden in a good place) was gone. Someone at the party took it. I find found out who. It was someone that I considered a friend and I felt betrayed. 6. When to get nervous -- when your bills don't arrive on time, when you start receiving strange bills for accounts you've never heard of, when your credit is denied, or when bill collectors start calling. 7. Be sure to check your credit report once a year -- it's free! www.annualcreditreport.com 8. Place a FRAUD ALERT on your creidt reports if you suspect that someone is stealing your identity. If you place a fraud alert, you can get a free copy of your credit reports. Then check for any accounts you did not open or debts you can't explain. 9. Close accounts that have been tampered with or estabished fraudulently. Keep copies of everything and a summary of each phone call (date, time, who you talked to, the phone number you dialed) and keep them for at least 5 years. Go to the police and file a report. Be willing to prosecute the thief -- even if it's your sibling or parent! 10. Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. ftc.gov/idtheft 11. How do theives find your information -- dumpster diving, skimming (when they process your credit card they swipe it in a special machine), phishing on the internet, submitting a change of address for you, stealing your wallet or purse. Thieves often bribe employees of utility companies for information on good accounts. That is why most utility companies immediately fire anyone suspected of selling client information. If you've been in a hospital recently, you are in danger of identity theft -- your medical file has your full name, address, dob, ss#, etc. Who normally gets their identity stolen? People that are patients or work at medical centers military personnel college students people with friends in prison people with family members/friends on drugs people with family members/friends that gamble Who steals identities? People that need money quick - for gambling or drugs People that are about to be evicted or have their utilities turned off People that are mad at you (ex-spouse, ex-mother-in-law, ex-employee, co-workers) People with bad credit that want to buy something expensive & don't want to wait to save up for it

Warnings if you try to prepare your own legal documents

1. Don't try to do it yourself just to save money. Incorrect documents (or bad agreements) can be very expensive down the road. Lawyers do not charge that much for routine documents or simple transactions. Many times, people try to scare you by saying an attorney will charge you $10,000 for a simple divorce. If you have a "honda" divorce, then you don't have to pay "rolls royce" prices. Shop around. Find someone that is resonable. You can even check the State Bar of Texas website and see if there are any complaints (greviences) against the attorneys you contact. Beware of something too good. If an attorney will charge a total of $100 for all divorce documents involving minor children, doesn't that sound too good to be true. It probably is too good to be true. Be sure to read the Legal Services Agreement you sign with the attorney. 2. Make sure you understand all the legal obligations regarding the issues involved. You might prepare a wonderful documents that unfortunately won't work in your case. For example, a "living will" is a wonderful legal document -- but it will not prevent probating a person's estate in Texas. Many people think setting up a "trust" will avoid probate. It may not. If the deceased owns a piece of property in their name (and not in the trust's name) then you will still need to probate the estate in order to have a clean title to the property. Probate in Texas is cheap and easy if done right. It is only expensive when there is no will or you have an improper will in Texas. It's much cheaper to do it right the first time. 3. Don't assume that one form can be used in every situation. Do not use a form from another state. NEVER USE A FORM FROM LOUISIANA! In Texas, you should not normally use a form more than 4 years old. The Texas legislature meets every 2 years and "tweeks" the law -- especially family law. If you use a friend's divorce forms that were prepared 10 years ago, it won't be accurate and most judges won't sign it. 4. If you don't understand the language used in a form, stop! You obviously are in over your head. You need to hire an attorney. 5. When in doubt, use plain English in all written agreements. Don't use big words that you don't understand. I've seen some people do their own legal forms using the wrong word and the document is not legally binding because the wrong words were used. As my dad always said, don't use $5 word when a 10 cent word will work! 6. Make sure that you find out whether you have to include anything "special" because of Texas laws. 7. Try to avoid preprinted forms and form kits (on-line and office supply kits) that come with few or no instructions about how and when to use the forms. If you read the "fine print" on the office supply kits, it says 'STATE FORMS NOT INCLUDED'. Therefore, you have wasted your money!

6 basic steps involved in most civil lawsuits

1. Pleadings -- the case begins by filing a document necessary to identify the parties - the party suing and the party being sued, explain what the lawsuit is about (divorce, tort, etc.) and ask the court to do something - such as grant a divorce or give you money. 2. Service - You have to properly notify the person that he/she is being sued. It is normally obtained by preparing a summons (paying the county some money to prepare a proper legal summons) and having it delivered to the defendant (or respondent in a divorce) by a person approved by the county - usually a sheriff or a private process server. 3. Discovery - Both sides have to gather facts and information to prepare their case. Discovery can involved examing documents, records, and other pieces of physical evidence as well as taking depositions (statements transcribed by a court reporter) from witnesses or the parties theremselves. The person asking for the depositions has to pay for it. The court reporters normally charge per page. For an entire day of questioning, it can easily run over $1,000 just for the court reporter's time. You have to properly ask for the information you want or the other side does not have to let you see it. If they refuse to let you see it, then you can file a document with the court and set a hearing for the Judge to hear why you should have it. Written discovery can easily cost over $1,000 for a simple case. The more complex the case, the more discovery and depositions cost. 4. Pretrial motions - If the parties need the ocurt to make procedural decisons or other rulings as the case moves along toward trial, they do so by filing the appropriate motions with the court. 5. Trial - The court hears the evidence offered by both sides and decides issues on boht face and law during this process. Either side can ask for the jury trial. It normally delays the trial for up to a year or more. 6. Enforcing the judgment - If you win, you still have to collect what you won. You need to do something to get the money or the property. In Texas garnishment of wages is very limited - the IRS, child support, and spousal support can be garnished. If you win a lawsuit and the person is broke, then you have a lovely piece of paper that you can frame.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Identity theft by a relative

If you learn that a relative stole your identity and has ruined your credit, you MUST go to the police and report this. It is a crime. With the police report, you can then go to the credit reporting agencies and prove that it was NOT you. You do NOT owe this money. It is very common -- many parents "steal" their kids social security number and use it to get new credit cards. Unfortunately, many of these "parents" do not pay the credit cards and ruin their child's credit. THIS IS A CRIME! Prosecute them! Also, if you think about it -- who knows your date of birth, full name, all the addresses you've lived at, your job info., etc. -- your family members and close friends. You would be surprised how many angry ex-mother-in-laws have also stolen their ex -in-laws identity information and purposely ruined their credit. NEVER LET ANYONE KNOW YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER -- ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE ADDICTED TO ANYTHING -- GAMBLING, DRUGS, ETC.


If you are worried about being a victim of identity theft, I suggest you call 1-888-optout (or 1-888-567-8688) and remove your name from the pre-approved credit card offers. Your name will be on the list for 5 years. However, it will not eliminate ALL credit card offers. However, it should help. It should also diminish your junk email.