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5 ways you can escape the evil clutches of identity theft.

What do you do if someone else becomes you?

5 ways you can escape the evil clutches of identity theft.
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Ad Council + AICPA

Identity theft is a very real villain in the United States.

GIF from "The Avengers."


In fact, it has been for a long time.

The very first identity thieves operated IRL. They used a technique called "ghosting," where they would take on the identity by literally obtaining and using the real documents of a dead person or, in more extreme cases, murder their victims and live their lives.

By the 1960s, scammers would frequently call an unsuspecting stranger, tell them they had just won cash, and ask for their personal information in order to release their "winnings."

Once the '80s rolled around, the authorities were more vigilant and criminals had to resort to other dirty tactics — like literally going through your trash and looking for discarded paperwork with personal information (bank statements, pay stubs, bills, you name it).

Yet as technology has continued to advance, so have the powers of identity thieves.

GIF from "Guardians of the Galaxy."

Now, someone can manipulate all your information without even being in the same country as you.

Using spyware, phishing, or pharming techniques, these criminals can hack your personal records, prevent you from getting a job, or worse, take out a loan in your name — all from the comfort of their own computer.

This is probably not a huge surprise to you. In a recent survey by the AICPA, 21% of respondents said they experienced identity theft in the past year, while 50% said they expect it to happen to them in the coming year — not a good sign.

But don't fear too much! This evil can be defeated with a solid plan of attack.

GIF from "Deadpool."

We teamed up with David Almonte, a CPA and audit senior at Grant Thornton, to find ways to combat this new breed of criminal. When asked about them, David said: "They're not trying to make things too complicated because they don't have time for that. They want the easy victims. So I think our job is to educate the people that don't know the basics."

The evildoers won't know what hit 'em. Here are five ways that'll help save the day.

1. Establish an impenetrable shield.

GIF from "Captain America: The First Avenger."

To ensure your online safety, start by using solid, complex passwords (not the word "password") for all your online accounts and changing them up every once in a while. Just make sure you memorize them and never write them down. (Don't be that person who leaves passwords sticky-noted to the computer for the whole office to see.)

In fact, some go the extra mile and install added security measures such as text or email verification. If you're not sure how to do this, just contact your bank and they'll be happy to help you out.

2. Maximize your arsenal of information.

GIF from "Iron Man 2."

You have unprecedented access to all your personal information, so use that to your advantage. But where to start? Well, if you're just paying attention to this issue now, David says, "The most important thing you can do is to get your credit report. Make sure everything's on there."

Check out your bank statements regularly as well. If you have trouble keeping track, you can download a personal finance app to make it easier to see your accounts at a glance. When you're in control, nothing will get past you.

3. Outsmart the enemy with a clever strategy.

GIF from "Guardians of the Galaxy."

Hackers aren't the only ones allowed to have tricks up their sleeves. Stay out of sight and make yourself harder to track — request paperless statements, use cash and checks more often, or even limit your online transactions.

If you're a heavy card user though, David suggests reaching for your credit card rather than your debit card when you're out on the town.

"With your credit card, you're usually liable for $50 of fraudulent charges, and most credit cards will waive that. ... If someone steals your debit card and ... say you have $5,000 in your account and they spend all $5,000, whether or not you're going to get that back, you're out $5,000 until it gets handled."

4. Set up emergency signals.

GIF from "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice."

This is your last line of defense. Since our phones are always by our side, best to make the most out of it. Customize your security settings so you can monitor your accounts much better through apps, SMS notifications, or any other mobile options they may offer.

"Set up the free alerts, get the apps, everything!" adds David. You want to be contacted right away whenever a certain amount gets charged to your card.

Sadly, things can still go wrong and you could find yourself compromised. If that happens...

5. Don’t hesitate to call in reinforcements.

GIF from "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

You are never alone, my friend. And David knows that. "If you do end up getting your identity stolen or you think it got stolen, freeze all your credit cards, contact the Federal Trade Commission, your local police, and your credit card companies. The worst thing you can do is do nothing."

No matter what's thrown your way, the moment something feels wrong, you have to take action. After all, that's what superheroes always do, right?

Have no fear — you got this.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!