WHAT IS IDENTITY THEFT AND CAN IT HAPPEN TO YOU?

IDENTIFYTHEFT2The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans are victims of identity theft each year. In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft.  The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn’t make—or until you’re contacted by a debt collector.  Identity theft is serious.

 

While some identity theft victims can resolve their problems quickly, others spend hundreds of dollars and many days repairing damage to their good name and credit record. Some consumers victimized by identity theft may lose out on job opportunities, or be denied loans for education, housing or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. In rare cases, they may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.

 

How do thieves steal an identity?

 

Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. For identity thieves, this information is as good as gold.

 

Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including:

 

1. Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
2. Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
3. Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
4. Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
5. Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
6. Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.

 

What do thieves do with a stolen identity?
Once they have your personal information, identity thieves use it in a variety of ways.

 

Credit card fraud:
• They may open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the cards and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent accounts appear on your credit report.
• They may change the billing address on your credit card so that you no longer receive bills, and then run up charges on your account. Because your bills are now sent to a different address, it may be some time before you realize there’s a problem.

 

Phone or utilities fraud:
• They may open a new phone or wireless account in your name, or run up charges on your existing account.
• They may use your name to get utility services like electricity, heating, or cable TV.

 

Bank/finance fraud:
• They may create counterfeit checks using your name or account number.
• They may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks.
• They may clone your ATM or debit card and make electronic withdrawals your name, draining your accounts.
• They may take out a loan in your name.

 

Government documents fraud:
• They may get a driver’s license or official ID card issued in your name but with their picture.
• They may use your name and Social Security number to get government benefits.
• They may file a fraudulent tax return using your information.

 

Other fraud:
• They may get a job using your Social Security number.
• They may rent a house or get medical services using your name.
• They may give your personal information to police during an arrest. If they don’t show up for their court date, a warrant for arrest is issued in your name.

 

How can you find out if your identity was stolen?

 

The best way to find out is to monitor your accounts and bank statements each month, and check your credit report on a regular basis. If you check your credit report regularly, you may be able to limit the damage caused by identity theft.

 

Unfortunately, many consumers learn that their identity has been stolen after some damage has been done.
• You may find out when bill collection agencies contact you for overdue debts you never incurred.
• You may find out when you apply for a mortgage or car loan and learn that problems with your credit history are holding up the loan.
• You may find out when you get something in the mail about an apartment you never rented, a house you never bought, or a job you never held.

 

If you don’t have ID fraud protection, you could be a victim.  Comprehensive fraud protection is available for less than $15 per month and my niece Tammy can hook you up if interested.  CLICK HERE for more information.

 

MY TAKE ON THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION IN HOBBY LOBBY - PART 2

SupremeCourtSeveral of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan have holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family was fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby’s health care system plan, namely the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.

 

Information on Hobby Lobby’s 401(k) plan is included in its 2013 annual report to the Department of Labor. These records contain a list, dated December 31, 2012, of 24 funds that were included in its employer-sponsored retirement plan. MorningStar, an investment research firm, provided Mother Jones with the names of the companies in nine of those funds as of December 31, 2012. Each fund’s assortment consists of hundreds of different holdings. All nine funds consisting of $73 million in assets, contained holdings that are inconsistent with the Greens’ religious principles.

 

 
In their Supreme Court complaint, the Greens detailed the many ways in which they avoid entanglements with objectionable companies. Hobby Lobby stores do not sell shot glasses, for example, and the Greens decline requests from beer distributors to back-haul beer on Hobby Lobby trucks.

 

 
Comparable options are available for companies that want to follow faith-based investing. To avoid supporting companies that manufacture abortion drugs or products such as alcohol or pornography, religious investors can consider a litany of mutual funds that do not include stocks that religious people might consider objectionable. For example, the Timothy Plan and the Ave Maria Fund screen companies that manufacture abortion drugs, support Planned Parenthood, or engage in embryonic stem cell research. Dan Hardt, a Kentucky financial planner who specializes in faith-based investing, says the performances of these funds are about the same as if they had not been screened. Apparently Hobby Lobby’s managers either were not aware of these options or chose to ignore them. This is a statement by Hobby Lobby in support of its appeal to the court:

 

 
We’re Christians, and we run our business on Christian principles. I’ve always said that the first two goals of our business are (1) to run our business in harmony with God’s laws, and (2) to focus on people more than money. And that’s what we’ve tried to do. [...] We believe that it is by God’s grace that Hobby Lobby has endured, and he has blessed us and our employees. [...] But now, our government threatens to change all of that. A new government health care mandate says that our family business MUST provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance. Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions, which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs. It goes against the Biblical principles on which we have run this company since day one.

 

 
The Greens have made it clear that any abortion and certain contraceptives are unacceptable, yet as previously stated, the company’s 401(k) plan has millions of dollars invested in funds that own companies that make birth control methods including Plan B, the “morning after” pill.

 

 
My concern in writing this article is not to focus just on Hobby Lobby’s management of its operations, its dealings with China, or its investments in companies that make the kind of birth control devices that gave cause to their court appeal. My uneasiness is on the effect of the Court’s partisan decision on the overall free enterprise system.

 

 
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg penned a powerful dissent to the Court’s majority ruling that the government cannot require certain employers to provide insurance coverage for methods of birth control and emergency contraception that conflict with their religious beliefs. Ginsburg wrote that her five male colleagues, “in a decision of startling breadth,” would allow corporations to opt out of almost any law that they find “incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Here are seven more key quotes from Ginsburg’s dissent:

 

 
• “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage”

• “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”

• “Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.”

• “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”

• “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”

• “Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”

• “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

 
The only kind of proposition that can be supported by a belief, sincerely held or otherwise, is a claim of value, such as “abortion is immoral.” The owners of Hobby Lobby did make such a claim, and the Supreme Court ruled that it was entitled to respect under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

 
However, Hobby Lobby also made a claim of fact that certain kinds of contraception caused abortions. And a religious belief, no matter how sincere, merely cannot be used to support a claim of fact. Only facts can do that, and Hobby Lobby was not required to meet even a minimal burden of proof on those facts.

 
By allowing the owners of Hobby Lobby to use a claim of “sincere religious belief” to support a claim of scientific fact, the court has opened a door that could lead to significant problems. It could possibly pave the way for a whole host of value-supported fact claims about things like evolution, homosexuality, climate change, public education, and a lot more.
Can a business owner, for example, refuse to pay property taxes that might be used to teach evolution in a public school? Does a “sincere belief” in the false and satanic nature of evolution entitle one to refuse to support its teaching?
“But Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood only object to four forms of contraception.” That is true. As the Guttmacher Institute’s Adam Sonfield points out, in their formal complaints, they also object to counseling for those forms for contraception. No one knows what that will mean in practice. But there are dozens of other plaintiffs in cases pending before federal courts who object to all birth control. For example, the owners of Freshway Foods object to all forms of birth control coverage. They already got a preliminary injunction at the D.C. Federal Circuit, where Judge Janice Rogers Brown described the coverage requirement as “the compelled subsidization of a woman’s procreative practices.”
I believe that Judge Ginsburg got it right when she said that the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision is going to create “havoc.” And as the repercussions increase, so do the questions in areas that range from economics and taxation to theology and philosophy.

 

 
The Court’s decision has created an understandable firestorm of confusion, since it does not define “closely-held corporation,” and it will undoubtedly raise many legal questions and issues in the very near future, but that’s just my take.

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MY TAKE ON THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION IN HOBBY LOBBY - PART 1

SupremeCourtOn June 30, 2014, in an astonishing male partisan 5 to 4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. that most companies do not have to cover contraception for their employees if the company has a religious objection to doing so.

 
Hobby Lobby Inc., a chain of arts and crafts stores, was founded by David Green in an Oklahoma City garage in 1972 with $600 in borrowed funds. Today, the family business has grown into more than 556 stores in 41 states – and 70 more scheduled to open in 2014 – with over 16,000 full-time employees. Yet the company remains closely held by family members. The Green family believes that “it is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured.” Therefore they seek to honor God by “operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

 
Hobby Lobby proudly touts itself as a Christian company that puts people over profits. However, some Christians say there is a gaping hole in that claim — namely, China. According to Mother Jones Magazine, products bearing “Made in China” labels are found all over the shelves at Hobby Lobby stores, evidence that much of its products come from Chinese factories that have a reputation for labor rights violations and very low wages. Employees at these facilities often end up working exhausting hours in appalling conditions and never earning enough to flee poverty.
“You cannot call your business ‘Christian’ when arguing before the Supreme Court, and then set aside Christian values when you’re placing a bulk order for cheap wind chimes,” wrote Christian author and columnist Jonathan Merritt in a recent article for The Week.

 

“Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions, which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill,” Hobby Lobby founder and CEO David Green wrote in an open letter in 2013. “We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs.”  Yet the company is contented with profiting from the business it does with China, critics argue, even though political conditions in that country have led to millions of abortions. Leslie Marshall, a radio host and born-again Christian, questioned Hobby Lobby’s policies in a column for U.S. News & World Report in March, invoking the teachings of the “guy who started all of this.” “As they say: What would Jesus do?” wrote Marshall. “He would remind Hobby Lobby that ‘he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.’ Hobby Lobby should put its stones down.”
In a 2013 blog post, Matt Chambers, the director of a non-governmental organization called SafeWorld, wrote that he disapproved of Hobby Lobby’s relationship with China for religious reasons. “You see, when it comes to carrying high the banner of ‘Biblical principles’, I believe a company who wanted that to be their public persona would be extra careful to NEVER do business with the very people who go against everything they claim to fight for as Christians,” Chambers wrote, according to The Christian Post.  Other Christian columnists, including The Christian Post’s Josh Stonestreet, have defended Hobby Lobby, saying that working with Chinese manufacturers is different from working with the Chinese government. “Doing business in a place where evil exists is not the same as directly supporting that evil,” wrote Stonestreet. “In fact, it may even be a force for good!”

 
Hobby Lobby has remained silent on this issue but in a column in the Rutland (Vermont) Herald in March 2014, Peter Dobelbower, the company’s vice president and chief legal officer, provided some insight into Hobby Lobby’s rationale for buying products made abroad: Those factories can’t control what their governments do, so it’s OK. “Our company sources from suppliers around the world,” Dobelbower wrote in response to an earlier op-ed, calling for a boycott that had appeared in the same paper. “Virtually all Hobby Lobby’s vendors are small entrepreneurial businesses without control over their government’s abortion policies.”

 
There is also China’s contentious record on abortion. The country’s one-child policy was slightly relaxed in 2013, but the family planning bureaucracy still exists. Since the government of china instituted the policy over 40 years ago, there have been over 330 million abortions, according to health ministry data cited by the Financial Times. Though fewer instances of forced abortion, infanticide and involuntary sterilization now happen because they are banned by the government, they still occur, the Washington Post reported last year. In addition, China is a communist nation and does not allow its people the freedom to worship. According to a recent annual report from ChinaAid (a Texas based organization that monitors religious freedom), persecution of Chinese Christians not only continues but has increased. There were 134 cases of persecution reported; many of its citizens fear retribution if they claim abuse.

 
Although the one child China policy was lifted in theory, abandonment and selective killing of female babies has continued. Forced abortion, although technically frowned upon by the government, is still a normal practice in China. Is the interruption of life creation only relevant as a Christian when it is an American life or does all human life count?
In a brief filed with the Supreme Court, the Greens object to covering Plan B, Ella, and IUDs because they claim that these products can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus, a process the Greens consider abortion. But researchers reject the notion that emergency contraceptive pills prevent implantation of a fertilized egg; rather they delay ovulation or make it harder for sperm to reach the egg. The Green’s contention that the pills cause abortions is the fundamental basis of their argument for challenging the contraception mandate. However, for years, Hobby Lobby’s health insurance plans covered Plan B and Ella. It was only in 2012, when the Greens considered filing the lawsuit, that they dropped these drugs from the plan. One might consider this action hypocritical.

 
Documents dated December 2012, filed with the Department of Labor three months after the company’s owners filed their lawsuit, show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. In addition, Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to the company-sponsored 401(k).

 

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