As with any life transition, getting married can pose unexpected risks to the security of your personal information. Fortunately for you, there are steps you can take to decrease your vulnerability.
If you are engaged and poised to dive headfirst into the world of wedding planning, then you are probably well aware that weddings are a large investment of time, effort, and money. Not only are you charged with planning the big day, but you must also change, move and merge bits of vital personal data to plan for your future life together – a process which can unintentionally compromise the security of your personal information.
To make matters worse, the wedding industry – which brings in an estimated $40-80 billion dollars a year – is a prime target for scams and fraud, instigated by unsavory individuals hoping to cash in on the wealth of funds. As you plan your wedding, you will almost certainly receive a deluge of offers from a variety of vendors promising to make your day even more special. Be sure to do your research before handing over any personal information, financial or otherwise, to these groups. Remember, once your personal information is in the wrong hands, it’s very difficult to get it back – and nothing is more sacred than your identity!
Below, identity theft expert Jeremy Miller, Director of Operations at Kroll Fraud Solutions, offers some practical advice for newly engaged or married couples to help them keep identity thieves at bay as they prepare to take their vows and embark on an exciting journey ahead. Miller’s team of Licensed Investigators has counseled thousands of consumers about identity theft and fraud issues. Their collective experiences – some professional, some personal – contributed to Miller’s recommendations.
Before You Say “I Do”
Gift registries: Many gift registries now allow stores to share your information with practically anyone who has access to a computer. The first security rule is to share as little personally identifiable information as possible when setting up your registry. Stores vary in data security policies and procedures and often provide you with little control over how your personal information is stored and used. With that in mind, be sure to review all privacy policies and ask questions before entering in your information.
Investigator tip: Essential to any home, a crosscut shredder makes a great wedding gift! Shredding sensitive documents helps ensure that the information they contain won’t fall into the wrong hands.
Online wedding sites: There are several popular online wedding sites where you can share pictures, details, and plans for your pending nuptials. Much like any social networking site, there are some simple precautions to keep in mind: Be wary of the amount and type of personal information you post. For example, avoid posting your full name, age, date of birth, occupation, and home address.
Giveaways and sweepstakes: It is a common wedding industry practice to entice customers with deep discounts, freebies, and chances to win merchandise – even a free honeymoon! While most are legitimate offers from established businesses, there are a good number whose offers are nothing but scams, leveraging your excitement to convince you to give up personal information – and in some cases, money in “fees” or “taxes” – in order to lock in the proposed deal.
Investigator tip: Never sign up for a sweepstakes at a bridal show if you are unfamiliar with the vendor. Sweepstakes scams are extremely popular at these venues. Likewise, never give out your personal information over the phone to an unknown vendor who says you have been selected to win a free trip. These types of offers almost always have strings attached.
When the Big Day Arrives
Securing personal items: Your RSVP list is confirmed, the tables are set, but if your wedding is planned at a public location – as most are – you never know who might show up for the event. Sadly, some couples never hear the cautionary tales about the dishonest photographer, pilfering waitress or wedding crasher who lifted purses, wallets, and wedding gifts from the happy couple and their guests. Generally, thieves are simply looking for money or gift cards, although identity theft is always a possibility.
Investigator tip: Remind your wedding party to avoid leaving purses or other valuables unattended in dressing rooms, dining halls, or elsewhere. Assign a trusted friend to be the gift attendant at your wedding or reception – or better yet, forego the gift table and keep everything in a secured area.
Honeymoon travel: A newly married couple might understandably be a little lax in their travel precautions. The prospect of a happy, carefree honeymoon is indeed enticing. However, it is important to realize that scam artists know this and prey on unsuspecting travelers. Stay alert and you’ll ensure that you’ll have that carefree honeymoon after all.
Investigator tip: If you intend to have any type of professional service person at your home while on your honeymoon (cleaners, pet sitters, etc.), make sure your personal information and other valuable items are secured and inaccessible. While traveling, secure your cell phones, laptops, and other devices that carry personal information as carefully as you would your fine jewelry, and make sure to take an inventory of everything in your wallet or purse in case it is stolen. If you are traveling out of the country, you might want to invest in an RFID (radio frequency identification) blocking passport case, as U.S. passports issued after 2006 contain RFID chips.
Essential notifications: If you decide to change your name after you get married, you will need to notify the Social Security Administration (SSA), your motor vehicle department (driver’s license), banks, utility companies, creditors, and an array of other entities with which you have registered and to which you must provide proof of your new legal name.
Investigator tip: Keep track of your paperwork throughout this process and shred anything you don’t need. As always, safeguard your personal information, especially your new Social Security card. Consider putting different utility bills under each spouse’s name as proof of address in the event either person is victimized by identity theft.
Filing taxes jointly: Newly married couples should follow standard security precautions when filing taxes. However, if you or your spouse has changed last names – or if both spouses hyphenate last names – it is important to know that the notification measures you have taken could also affect your taxes.
Investigator tip: If you file a tax return using your new last name, you must file a Form SS-5 at your local SSA office beforehand. If the SSA is not notified, then IRS computers will not be able to match the new name with the SSN. It usually takes about two weeks to have the change verified.
Joint credit: While joint accounts will affect the credit scores of both spouses, identity theft does not necessarily impact both individuals. Because each of you will have a separate credit report, one spouse can be affected while the other is not. Also keep in mind that it’s more difficult to identify fraudulent charges on an account when more than one person is making purchases. Be sure to check with one another frequently to make sure the charges on your accounts are accurate.
Investigator tip: Be sure to check credit reports periodically for suspicious activity. Checking only one spouse’s credit report is not sufficient – each person’s report must be checked for accuracy. Free credit reports are available from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion once every 12 months through the Annual Credit Report Request Service which can be accessed online at www.annualcreditreport.com or by phone at (877) 322-8228.