BeforeYourNext Birthday-DeniseFisher’s Blog

Get fit, get organized, & get your financial affairs in order

Posts Tagged ‘Identity Theft’

What Happens To Your Online Accounts When You Die?

Posted by denisefisher on May 14, 2009

Fortune Cookie of Impending Death Here are some thought-provoking questions that may elicit a sense of uncertainty, if not panic:

  • Do you know how many online accounts you have?
  • Do you have a list of them anywhere?
  • Is that list written or printed out (not just on your computer)?
  • What about passwords to your accounts?
  • Have you informed anyone about your account info, and do they know where/how to find and access it?
  • Where are your digital photos and important electronic documents kept?
  • Where are your purchased music files and other purchased downloads stored?
  • Are your media files and other documents accessible to someone you’d want to have them?
  • What about your private files or accounts – are there any you’d want destroyed or closed without being viewed?
  • Do you have any arrangements made for services or subscriptions that are automatically renewed and charged to your credit card or other financial accounts?

NPR’s program, All Things Considered, did a story on 11 May 2009 about this very topic. Click on this link to read about, or listen to, Your Digital Life After Death.

Over the past few years, several businesses have emerged with online sites and subscription services to deal with the related issues of legal matters, privacy concerns, electronic bequeaths, and designated access, as well as legacy wishes and remembrances.

Listed below is an extensive selection of online resources that might help you in planning the digital details of your eventual demise – they include all of the services I could identify as of the date of this blog posting. I have visited each of the sites to find out what they offer, how their system works, and the rates they are currently charging for their services. The summary descriptions are provided here:

AssetLock.net – This site provides a digital version of traditional estate planning. A template is provided to help remind you of what to include. You can store documents, instructions, and include a listing of accounts and passwords that will be accessible to designated individuals upon your death. You decide who can access which of your entries. There are 3 levels of services and pricing: 20-100-unlimited entries; 20MB-1GB-5GB storage; annual fee of $10-$30-$80.

VitalLock.com – This site describes itself as being in the “Alpha” stage of development and is not yet active.

LegacyLocker.com – A seemingly well-developed service and clearly, the most widely promoted system of its type, this site requires users to designate beneficiaries for their information as well as verifiers of their death. One of its defining criteria is the human oversight element, which requires that a human being provide the company with a death certificate before it will release information or access to the designated beneficiaries. There are 2 levels of services and 3 levels of pricing: the free account includes 3 assets, 1 beneficiary, and 1 legacy letter; the premium service includes unlimited assets, beneficiaries, and letters, and can be paid by a $30 annual subscription or a one-time fee of $300.

SlightlyMorbid.com – This site’s purpose is to send messages or notifications to your online friends in grave situations (not just the situation of your death). Plans are priced as one-time fees, which is described as being similar to the way you would pay for someone to prepare a will. It covers situations of death, natural disaster, accident, serious illness, or whatever you specify. You designate one trusted friend (or up to 5 or 10, for premium plans) and that friend will send out a message to 10 (or 30 or 50, for premium plans) of your online contacts to notify them of your condition, based upon messages you have written in advance. Your trusted friend cannot view or change the messages – they can only activate their delivery. Changes and updates are free for 3 years; after that, changes can be made with a small update fee. The one-time set-up fees are $10-$20-$50.

GreatGoodbye.com – This site’s tagline is “e-mail from the grave.” Its service allows a trusted person with activation codes to send out your final e-mail message with a photo attachment upon your death. When the trusted person activates the process of delivering of your message, a notification is sent to your e-mail address and you are given 21 days in which to cancel the ultimate delivery of your message(s).  I suppose this is in case your trusted person makes a mistake, becomes no longer trustworthy, or you make a miraculous unexpected recovery. Premium packages can include audio or video attachments. There are 4 levels of services and each service has the option of an annual or one-time fee: 1-3-10-500 e-mails; yearly fees of $10-$20-$36-$50; one-time fees of $39-$87-$150-$219.

MyLastEmail.com – This site’s service is basically an online memorial page that you set up in advance, and is made accessible upon your death. The free service includes the posting of 1 document, 1 image, 1 video, and notification of 2 recipients. Premium packages are mentioned on the website, but apparently are not yet available.

YourPersonalScribe.com – This service is unique in its personalization of creating your life story. Sharon Scribe (yeah, that’s who provides this service) writes your personal obituary in advance, with your help. She uses a questionnaire followed by a personal interview with you, as well as interviews with close family members, friends, and colleagues, to prepare your life story. I don’t know what will happen when Sharon Scribe dies, but she also writes wedding toasts, poetry, and tributes for other special occasions in one’s life. The base rate for this service is $300, but has some flexibility for lower income clients.

Deathswitch.com – This site’s model has a very futuristic sci-fi feel to it (even the audio you hear when the page opens or when you roll over a link is very space-age sounding). They call it information insurance. I’d call it a life-watch service. It’s very different from others in that it does not require you to designate a trusted person with the responsibility for initiating the services upon your death. The website summarizes it nicely as “an automated system that prompts you for your password on a regular schedule [at intervals designated by you] to make sure you are still alive.” If you do not respond to multiple follow-up prompts, pre-scripted messages are automatically e-mailed to your named recipients. The company encourages you to test out the service by having the death messages sent to yourself. If for some reason you did not reply (but are still alive) you will get a preliminary message allowing you to click a link that says “Wait I’m still alive!” You can set up a free account that will send your message to 1 recipient with no attachments. The premium account sends up to 30 different messages to up to 10 recipients each (300 recipients total). I could not find the rate information for premium accounts on the site, but an Associated Press article about this service mentioned that it was $20/year.

I scanned through my hand-written list of online accounts (I have 7 pages worth) and found these representative accounts among my listings:

e-mail accounts AOL, Yahoo, G-mail
social networks Facebook, Twitter, Linked In
financial accounts credit union, bank, mortgage company, Visa, home equity line of credit
investments/retirement Thrift Savings Plan, brokerage accounts, retirement account
travel-related sites frequent flier miles, Travelocity account
merchandise accounts Amazon, PayPal, ebay, iStockPhoto, iTunes
image/video/communications Flikr, YouTube, Skype, Oovoo
recurring/renewable payment accounts Verizon DSL service, AOL internet service provider, Corporate Housing ad, GoDaddy domains, Franklin County property tax

My listing will probably remind you of some of your accounts that need to be considered in your planning arrangements. If you prepare and store documents or photos online (also referred to as “the cloud”) you need to take these files into account too. It’s not much of a virtual leap to go from the cloud down to earth and onto your computer and hard drives. You’ve got a lot of information on your computer to consider in your planning too.

These aren’t just issues to consider in anticipation of your death. With so much information being stored electronically, you’ve got a lot of digital eggs being kept in various compartments, but all in one basket.

Have you ever had your computer crash or had your computer lost, stolen, damaged, or destroyed? I have. And so have lots of others. Find someone and ask them about it – they’ll tell you what it was like. When my computer was stolen, the most devastating loss was my collection of family digital photos. The thief could’ve had the computer. I just wanted the files. I had some of the files printed or stored elsewhere, but most of them weren’t backed up, copied to others, or printed out as photos. They were gone forever.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by thinking you’re covered because you back up your files onto an external drive or some other media. If someone breaks into your home and steals your computer, and the hard drive or other media is stored nearby, they’re going to take them all. Same thing for a natural disaster. A fire, flood, electrical- or wind-storm comes along and all your electronic equipment and storage media is likely to suffer the same fate. Ask the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

You’ve got options for saving your data and planning for access and/or deletion of your online accounts, but you have to put the plans in place now. You may not have the advance notice of your impending death in which to take care of these preparations. And even if you do, will you want to spend the remaining months of your life getting your accounts and online documents in order? Will you even have the energy or ability? Think about it, make a plan, and take some preliminary action to get things started. It’s better than doing nothing.

Here’s a closing thought: You can put together your own service plan – a simple, low-tech version of the packages mentioned above. But you actually have to do it. If paying someone else will get you to take action, it would be worth doing that. Even if you start out with a free online plan or put together a paid premium plan for one year, you’ll have organized your information and considered the details of your arrangements, and would be able to cancel your service after a year, by switching to your own at-home version. Enlist another family member to take on this task with you. They need to do it too, and may not have thought about it or started it either. Use the power of partnership and accountability to get your affairs in order.

(Editorial note: for any of you who may be wondering about my previously mentioned grand finale of wardrobe organization, I am in the process of completing and editing it. It’s very long and detailed, even more than my usual posts. So it may be published in a format other than a blog post. Updates will follow.)

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What’s In Your Wallet? 10 Steps To Put Yours In Order

Posted by denisefisher on February 9, 2009

The 2009 Identity Fraud Survey Report was announced today by Javelin Strategy & Research. Their report said that identity fraud last year increased 22% from 2007. But the majority of these identity thefts were not due to online activity. Low-tech theft (or losses) of wallets, checkbooks, debit or credit cards were the most frequent sources of stolen identity and related fraud.

But this writing isn’t about about eliminating crime. It’s about personal organization and financial management. It’s about knowing what’s in your wallet. Purses, messenger bags, backpacks, briefcases or other carrying cases which hold your identification, money, financial cards and other valuables are even more critical, because they can hold even more of your treasured stuff. And if you carry them every day, you start to accumulate even more stuff and you don’t even remember what you’re carrying.

Do you know how much money you have in your wallet at this very moment? If your wallet were stolen (or if it fell over the side of your yacht) and you had to replace its contents, would you be able to recall everything inside? This may seem like a trivial topic in the overall scheme of financial management, unless you find yourself in the situation of having to deal with a lost or stolen wallet or purse and its contents.

Another reason to consider what’s in your wallet, however, is the simple issue of awareness. The same way in which you must be aware of each handful of snacks you consume, when you want to reform your eating habits, you must also become conscious of your daily financial transactions if you want to transform your financial habits. And, of course, the efficient handling of all those receipts, bank slips, and other cards and papers that fill your wallet has an effect on your financial management as well as your overall organization. Each aspect of your finances and personal organization that is in order contributes to the larger image of how “together” your life is.

When you’re starting out on a financial organization journey that may seem overwhelming, it helps to start out with smaller, manageable tasks that are easily doable and quickly completed. So here’s my 10-step plan to organize your wallet or purse and its contents.

Wallet-Purse Reorganization - Before

1. Empty out everything from every compartment. (As a documentary type of option – or if you’re preparing a blog post – spread out the contents onto a table or floor surface and photograph the entire collection from overhead.)

2. Brush out lint, fuzz, and debris from interior sections of your wallet or purse (use an old toothbrush, Q-tip, vacuum cleaner attachment or whatever) then use a damp cloth or paper towel to wipe off surfaces.

3. Purge the contents of trash, expired cards and coupons, and set aside receipts and other items you don’t need to carry with you in your wallet or purse.

4. Gather together all the cards you carry (driver’s license, work ID, membership cards, bank ATM cards, credit & debit cards, grocery, restaurant, and retail merchant gift, discount, or bonus point cards, medical/health insurance cards, auto insurance cards, library cards, etc.), lay them out on a color copier and make a photocopy. Then turn them over and copy the backs. Make sure you can read the account numbers, and the phone numbers to call in case the card is lost or stolen. If you can’t get a legible copy of the fine print, hand write the info in the margin of the print-out, where you can read it. File this copy with your other important documents. You may even want to have more than one copy for filing in more than one location. Remember, you’ll need to be able to find this copy if you need it.

5. Sort out the remaining contents into categories (cash, coins, checkbook, stamps, calculator, small notepad and pen, coupons, claim tickets, punch or scan cards, hygiene/cosmetic items, medical/health items, gum/mints, spare key, back-up cash, personal/business cards, grocery list, library receipts, receipts for purchased items that need to be returned or adjusted, etc.). Some organizers suggest removing cards, receipts, coupons, etc. that you don’t use on a regular basis, but I think it makes things very inconvenient – you have to store the items somewhere else, remember where “somewhere else” is when you need them; you have to coordinate the details of your errands and their associated cards/receipts/coupons etc. in advance, and if you just happen to be at the store where you need to have the associated items, you’re going to want to have your card, coupon, or receipt with you – right then, when and where you need it.

6. Survey the items you plan to return to your wallet or purse, noting what may be missing or needing action and replace or restock as required (a pen that works, sufficient number of checks, good mix of coins, meds, etc.).

7. List anything you need to do or buy, based on your wallet survey (e.g., go to the post office for stamps, buy a pill box, pick up dry cleaning, renew your library card, etc.). And while you’re at it, check out the condition and suitability of the purse or wallet you’re using to see if it’s functional for you and your lifestyle. If your wallet or purse has a smooth leather surface, you may even want to polish it, like you would a nice pair of shoes. You can figure out if your purse or wallet can use or needs a cleaning or treatment product (or some other minor repair). This is just a reminder for you to consider it.

8. After assessing the contents and available compartments, mentally designate what goes where. Anticipate the receipts, coupons, business cards, and other papers that will again start to accumulate, and assign an appropriate place/compartment for them.

9. Put the contents into their designated places and savor the accomplishment of having reorganized your purse or wallet. (This would be the point where you would take that “after” photo.)

10. This final step is an important one that mustn’t be omitted – put away any of the receipts, cards, etc., that are not trash but are not going back into your wallet either. Items with a designated home are more easily dealt with. But if you don’t have a designated destination for these items, take a few minutes to create one that you will use “from now on.” But make them easy to find and easy to use or they won’t be functional and it will defeat the purpose.

Wallet-Purse Reorganization - After

I did this process myself, in order to document the actual steps and determine how long it would take. It took me much longer to write this post than to clean out and organize my purse. I started at 1:10 pm and finished at 1:50 pm. 40 minutes total, including the photocopying and photographs.

The photo to the left shows my reorganized purse,  along with a stack of receipts and some expired insurance cards that need to be filed elsewhere.

Posted in Finances, Organization, Spaces & Things | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »