BBB advice on identity theft, home security systems

August 10, 2011 4:39:30 AM PDT
Better Business Bureau President and CEO Steve J. Bernas visits ABC7 to offer tips on preventing identity theft and securing your home.


Better Business Bureau Advises Students: Secure Your Identity

College students often feel they have enough to juggle when it comes to school, work and their social life. Protecting their identities and credit ratings often doesn't make the list of their priorities. Because college students are so susceptible to identity theft, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) recommends that they take several simple steps to help protect themselves on campus.

According to the 2011 Identity Fraud Survey Report released by Javelin Strategy and Research more than 8.1 million people became victims of identity theft in 2010. For young adults, "friendly fraud" is on the rise. This is fraud perpetrated by people known to the victim, such as a relative or roommate. "Friendly Fraud" grew seven percent last year.

"Identity thieves don't care if you're a struggling student and don't have a penny to your name. Sometimes all they want is to exploit your clean credit record," said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois. "Young adults who establish good habits for protecting their identities, as well as monitoring for fraud, are laying a foundation for a healthy financial road during the rest of their lives."

The BBB recommends the following tips for students take to help fight identity theft on campus:

  • Never loan your credit or debit card to anyone, even if they are a friend. Also, just say no if a friend wants you to co-sign a loan or finance agreement for items like TVs or computers.
  • Don't share too much on social networks. People using social networking for five or more years are twice as likely to suffer identity fraud as those newer to these sites. Javelin research found that 36 percent of people aged 65+ do not use the privacy settings on their network, potentially exposing crucial information to fraudsters. The good news is 89 percent of 25-34 year olds were actively using the privacy settings on social network sites.
  • Make sure your computer has up-to-date antivirus and spyware software. Be diligent with installing updates and patches to your computer's operating system or browser software, which help keep your computer safe from hacking attempts by online identity thieves.
  • Important documents should be stored under lock and key. These include social security card, passport, and bank and credit card statements. Shred any paper documents that have sensitive financial information rather than simply tossing them out. Also shred any credit card offers that come in the mail.
  • Always check your credit or debit card statements closely for any suspicious activity. The sooner you identify any potential fraud, the less you'll suffer in the long run.
  • School mailboxes are not always secure, and mailboxes in a dorm or apartment can often be easily accessed. To combat sticky fingers in the mailroom, have sensitive mail sent to a permanent address, such as the parents' home or a PO Box.
  • When shopping on unfamiliar web sites, always check the company out first with BBB at Also look for the BBB Accredited Business seal along with other trust seals and click on the seals to confirm that they are legitimate.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year with all three reporting bureaus for any suspicious activity or inaccuracies. You can do this for free by visiting

    Summer Months Bring Highest Rates of Burglaries - More People Show Interest In Home Security Systems

    While the summer months are an ideal time for a vacation getaway, they are also the perfect time for home burglaries. Homeowners are becoming more aware of this as inquires to the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois (BBB) about burglar alarm systems are up 30 percent in the past 12 months.

    Although no security system guarantees to make your home burglar-proof, a home security system may dissuade criminals from breaking in and alarms often give you more peace of mind. The BBB is advising homeowners, who are looking to secure their property this summer, to do their research when picking a home security system.

    "It's important to investigate the purchase of a home security system with the same care you would any major purchase," said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois. "There are many door-to-door salespeople selling home security systems out there that don't always have your best interest at heart."

    BBB advises consumers to do the following when looking to invest in a home security system:

  • Choose a professional installer. The best home security system will accommodate your lifestyle and the specific valuables you want protected. Carefully consider your security requirements and budget. You may also get recommendation from the insurance company that covers your home. Check out the company first and find BBB Accredited Businesses at
  • Contact at least three companies before selecting an installer. Find out if they are properly licensed and if they screen employees before hiring. Make sure to check with the Electronic Security Association website for a list of member companies that have agreed to abide by the National Code of Ethics.
  • Ask about all charges up front. Prices for home security systems will vary, based on the level of protection and type of technology used, so be sure to compare apples-to-apples bids on similar systems. Do not forget to factor in the initial installation charge, as well as monthly monitoring charges. Talk to your insurance agent; some systems may qualify you for a discount on homeowner's premiums.
  • Know the ins and outs of your contract. If your alarm system will be monitored, either by your installing company or by a third-party monitoring center, find out the length of the contract. Typically, monitoring contracts are between two to five years in length. What is your recourse if you are not satisfied with the services provided? Can you cancel the contract? What are your rights if your monitoring company is purchased or acquired by another alarm company? These are the types of questions you need to consider before you obligate yourself to a long-term contract.
  • Insist that the installer "walk" you through your system until you fully understand how it works. This will prevent the most common problem: false alarms. False alarms are an indicator of the quality of the alarm installation and user education. Ask for a complete inspection of your property and an itemized written estimate. Review the sales contract closely to ensure you understand exactly what equipment and protection you will be provided.

    For more information on finding businesses and consumer tips you can trust, visit

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