Wedding season is open season for identity theft

From the Modesto Bee (7/29/09)
By Pamela Yip

The last thing on the minds of brides and grooms probably is protecting their identity from theft.

But it should rank right up there with all their wedding plans.

Vigilance against identity theft should be heightened at this point in a couple’s life.

“It’s a major life change,” said Jeremy Miller, director of operations at Kroll Fraud Solutions, a data security firm that helps companies protect sensitive personal information and deal with data breaches. “People are extremely busy and distracted, so they may open themselves up for additional exposure.”

In addition to dealing with caterers, photographers and your family, you must change, move and merge bits of vital personal data to plan for your life together — a process that can unintentionally compromise the security of your personal information.

“To make matters worse, the wedding industry — which brings in an estimated $40 billion to $80 billion a year — is a prime target for scams and fraud,” Miller said.

Here are areas where you could be vulnerable:

GIFT REGISTRIES: Many allow stores to share your information with practically anyone who has access to a computer, Miller said.

“Share as little personally identifiable information as possible when setting up your registry,” he said. “Stores vary in data security policies and procedures, and often provide you with little control over how your personal information is stored and used.”

Review a store’s privacy policy and ask questions before entering your information.

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 precautions to keep in mind: “Be wary of the amount and type of personal information you post,” Miller said.

“Avoid posting your full name, age, date of birth, occupation and home address. If you give them (crooks) enough information, they can go somewhere else and get the rest of it.”

Be especially careful about where you provide your e-mail address.

“One Kroll investigator signed up at a popular engagement Web site and inadvertently flooded her inbox with e-mails, some from legitimate companies, some not,” Miller said. “Make sure you read any Web site’s privacy policy before registering.”

GIVEAWAYS AND SWEEPSTAKES: You might receive offers for deep discounts, freebies and chances to win a free honeymoon or merchandise.

Most are legitimate offers from established businesses, but there are some that are scams, leveraging your excitement to persuade you to give up personal information, Miller said.

In some cases, that may include paying “fees” or “taxes” to lock in the proposed deal.

“Never sign up for a sweepstakes at a bridal show if you are unfamiliar with the vendor,” Miller said. “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,” Miller said.

If you decide to change your name after you get married, be sure to notify the Social Security Administration as soon as it’s legal.

“You want to keep a record of everything that you’ve done,” Miller said.

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