No matter how good or lucky the investor, no one beats the market 100% of the time—unless, of course, you are Bobby Axelrod. There is, however, an investment portfolio that is somewhat more predictable. It works along similar lines, but it is possible to exercise significantly more control over it than equities. I’m talking about your identity portfolio.
I’ve written elsewhere about your credit portfolio, which can be a wealth-builder or a weapon of individual destruction depending upon how much time and effort you invest in building, nurturing, managing and protecting it.
Most people know that having bad or good credit can mean the difference between buying a bigger, better home, getting a low monthly payment on a new car, and even whether or not you get a job. No doubt that last fact comes as a surprise for many, but it is a real issue — even though a growing number of states limit utilization of credit reports as part of a job interview, many employers will, with permission, review an applicant’s credit history in order to evaluate his or her trustworthiness and employability.
Your identity portfolio is arguably more important than your credit portfolio, because if it takes a hit — and at some point in your life it most likely will — so does your credit for at least as long as it takes to sort things out with whatever agencies and institutions are involved in the particular way you were defrauded.
Ask anyone who has experienced an attack on their identity — and with that their credit-worthiness — when they were, for example, in the middle of making a major purchase like a home or car: Identity-related crimes are a game-changer and the fallout can be pretty dire.
What’s in a Name?
I’ll leave the poetry to Shakespeare, but when it comes to your identity portfolio, your name and the cloud of facts that tie that name specifically to you is pretty much the whole enchilada. All of our material facts and assets are tied to a name — your credit accounts, your phone, your social media, your home, your car, your debt.
With an endless parade of major data wipeouts in our wake, Social Security numbers — the skeleton key to our lives — can be purchased on the information black market by the bushel. It is a bad bet to assume your Social Security number isn’t already “out there.” Indeed, a major reason why more folks haven’t yet become victims of identity-related crimes is because there simply aren’t enough scam artists in the world to make bank on all the information that has been hijacked from tens of thousands of databases — not to mention that which is willingly flung out there daily on social networking sites.
The big difference between your stock portfolio and your identity portfolio, however, is that you really do have some control with your data. While there is no way to stop a scam artist from targeting you, the goal is to own your name, and, as much as possible, to safeguard it, making sure no one else ever does.
You’re Going to Get Got
Unfortunately, that’s much easier said than done. With more than 1 billion records already exposed through mega breaches and daily security lapses to those who view the theft of our identities as their day job, there’s just no telling who has access to the kinds of information that tie your name to your waking reality, and if the wrong person gets a hold of the keys to “you,” you’re in harm’s way.
But there is good news: You can take proactive measures to minimize your exposure.
For starters, there are the Three Ms, which I describe in detail in my book, Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves. The short version of them:
- Minimize your exposure. Don’t authenticate yourself to anyone unless you are in control of the interaction, don’t over-share on social media, be a good steward of your passwords, safeguard any documents that can be used to hijack your identity, and consider freezing your credit.
- Monitor your accounts. Check your credit report religiously, keep track of your credit score, review major accounts daily if possible. (You can check two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.) If you prefer a more laid back approach, sign up for free transaction alerts from financial services institutions and credit card companies, or purchase a sophisticated credit and identity monitoring program,
- Manage the damage. Make sure you get on top of any incursion into your identity quickly and/or enroll in a program where professionals help you navigate and resolve identity compromises—oftentimes available for free, or at minimal cost, through insurance companies, financial services institutions and HR departments.
Protect Your Kids’ Identity Portfolios Too
Not everyone can start an investment portfolio for their kids — whether it takes the form of money socked away for a rainy day, stocks and bonds to help defray the cost of college or long-term strategies aimed at accruing the down payment on a house. None of that will be possible, sometimes for years, if your child becomes the victim of identity theft as a minor.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most people don’t think about checking their children’s credit. It should be blank. If it isn’t, you need to resolve the matter expeditiously. The three Ms are a crucial investment in your children’s futures — or rather the first and second ones are: Minimize exposure (don’t post pictures of passports and Social Security cards, geo-tagged pictures, or anything else that could be used to gather enough information for a scam) and monitor accounts (check your child’s credit annually or find out how to create a credit file and suppress it — where permitted by law — until they are old enough to legally apply for credit).
Kill Your Data
Because there are so many ways people unwittingly (phishing) or willingly (social networking) leak information, your job is to make as much of it disappear as possible.
Some examples of places your information can be found: The cache of your computer; your hard drive (even after you erase it), deactivated social media accounts (and of course active ones with loose privacy settings), your browser history. If someone gets into your computer, they can put together a very detailed account of who you are based upon the sites you visit, the purchases you’ve made, the Internet searches you’ve conducted (think about how much about your life is discernable from the things you Google), the amount of time you spend online and the folks with whom you keep in touch.
If you keep your phone’s location tracker on, you’re potentially providing a stalker, a scammer, a burglar or an identity thief with a whole lot of information: where you go, where you live, even who sleeps next to you. If you allow geo-tagging on your photos, there is still more information to be had.
All this data about you serves a business purpose. It helps companies better understand how to sell you products and services. Arguably, it can make your life more convenient. But the trade-off is vulnerability. By helping third parties better understand who you are, you‘re also placing yourself in a position to be hurt if, for example, one of those third parties gets hacked.
Think it won’t happen to you? So did tens of thousands of organizations like Anthem, Neiman Marcus, Community Health Services, the Houston Astros, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the Internal Revenue Service.
No one is beyond the reach of hackers. Your best bet is to assume that you are going to get got, and keep things as tidy as possible. Don’t make it easy to turn yourself into an identity crime statistic. Invest in your identity profile with vigilance and common sense, and it will go a long way towards getting you where you want to go, without any unnecessary impediments. Leave it to fate, and…