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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.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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