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Identity Theft: Could You Be Next?

 

 

Identity Theft: 

Could You Be Next?

Robo de Identidad:  ¿Será usted el próximo?

 

 

Identity theft is one of the most common crimes to strike consumers.  It is growing in frequency, and it is happening in new ways.  The new forms of identity theft are often harder to spot and stop.  Are you ready to defend yourself? 

 

 

Find & Stop 5 New Kinds of Identity Theft

 

1.Tax Return Fraud & Identity Theft
Be careful when you choose a tax preparer.  Scam tax return preparers may try to file false returns in your name, and may even try to have tax refund payments made to them instead of you.  Keep these points in mind:

  • Tip:  Avoid tax preparers who claim they can get you a better tax refund than other preparers or who charge a fee that is a percentage of your return.   Scammers may try to attract victims in this way.
  • Tip:  File your tax return as early as you can. Do not wait until the last moment.  Scammers may try to beat you by filing a fake return first.
  • Tip:  Check the business with BBB at www.newyork.bbb.organd make sure they have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).  Ask for references and check them.  Don’t provide your personal information to an unfamiliar preparer or tax preparation website until you have checked that preparer’s background.
  • Tip:  Do not allow a tax preparer to file your return electronically before you have reviewed and approved it. 
    - Check the tax return to be sure the details about your income, expenses, and deductions are correct.
    - Get a printed copy of the return that will be filed in your name, signed by the preparer. 
  • Warning Sign:  IRS sends you a letter saying that more than one tax return has been filed for you, or referring to unfamiliar financial accounts or activities.
  • Warning Sign:  IRS records show that you received wages from an unknown employer; that you owe back taxes on income you did not earn; or that you owe taxes for a year in which you did not file a tax return.

 

2. Debt Issues & Identity Theft

Debt collection scams are a major source of consumer complaints.  Pay attention if you get a debt collection call, especially if it is about a debt that you do not owe. This could be a warning sign that identity theft has happened.

  • Tip:  Do not provide or confirm your personal financial information to a stranger who calls you claiming to be a debt collector.  The caller may be a scammer who is trying to get enough information to steal your identity.
  • Tip:  Never ignore notices from courts or employers about possible legal actions involving debt issues, even if you do not think you owe the money.  If you do not respond, the result could be that money will be taken out of your paycheck or bank account to pay back the alleged debt.
  • Tip:  For detailed information about how to cope with debt-related scams and debt collection problems, visit the BBB’s “Take Control of Your Debt” website resource at www.newyork.bbb.org/debt
  • Warning Sign:  You are getting calls from debt collection agencies about products or services you didn’t buy, or debts that you do not owe.
  • Warning Sign:  You have not received your bills, statements or other important mail in a long time.
  • Warning Sign:  There are unexplained withdrawals and charges on your credit card or banking statements.

 

3. Mobile Devices & Identity Theft

Malware can infect mobile devices such as smartphones through spam emails or text messages, as well as through rogue websites. Scammers can then get access to your address book, your emails, and any personal identity information you may have stored on your device.

  • TipDo not open or respond to emails or text messages or click links from unknown senders; this might infect your mobile device with malware, or confirm that a spammer has reached a valid address.
  • TipDo not store personal financial information or financial account logins on your phone. Avoid sending such information in emails that could be stored on your phone, as well.
  • Tip:  Keep your phone’s software updated.  Check to see whether software is legitimate and what permissions you are giving before you download new applications.  Ask a reputable dealer whether anti-malware software is available for your phone and how that might affect battery life.
  • Tip:  Do not connect with public wireless networks. They could expose your device to scammers.
  • Tip:  Turn off features you don’t use and use your smartphone’s default settings, to minimize opportunities for attack. Use a password to protect your device.  Set the screen lock feature to lock after a few minutes of inactivity.
  • Warning SignYou notice unexplained charges on your mobile phone bill.
  • Warning Sign:  Check your phone for malware if the battery suddenly drains faster than usual.
  • Warning Sign:  Take action if you discover signs that your phone has received or even sent unfamiliar text messages.
  • Warning Sign:  Your phone has apps that do not open or do not work.

 

4. Social Media & Identity Theft

Social media users are accustomed to sharing personal information about themselves when they use services such as Facebook, sign up to play online games, fill out surveys, and so on.  This could be one reason why social media users frequently report that they have been victimized by identity theft.

  • Tip:  Do not share details in social media that could be used by someone to mimic your identity.  Avoid posting information such as your mother’s maiden name, birthdate including year, phone number, email address, details about your relatives, home town, or other personal information that you might use to confirm your financial identity.
  • Tip:  If you must post personal details for social media purposes, carefully restrict who can see the information; include only people you know and trust.
  • Tip:  Be cautious about clicking links you discover through social media, even if they appear to come from friends. 
  • Warning Sign:  Avoid online games, quizzes, surveys, apps or services that require you to submit a lot of very personal identity details.  Do not provide personal identity information to any unfamiliar website or online service.  Check unknown businesses with BBB at www.newyork.bbb.org.
  • Warning Sign:  Take action if you see any social media accounts appear that use your name and feature details about your life – but that you did not create.  Some criminals try to set up phony accounts using your name, so they can get access to social media networks to carry out scams.  Fake social media profiles can also be used to mimic your identity for employment purposes.

 

5. Medical Identity Theft
Medical identity theft happens when someone misuses your personal identity or health insurance information to get medical services.  This can be very dangerous, especially if the thief’s medical records are confused with your own medical history.

  • Tip:  Protect your health insurance information and related paperwork, just as you would protect your financial identity information.  Do not carry insurance cards with you unless needed for that particular day, and store them in a safe place.
  • Tip:  Check with your health insurer regularly to make sure your records do not show payments for medical services you never received.
  • Warning Sign:  Someone offers you “free” or low-cost medical services and then asks for health insurance details or other sensitive information. This could be a trick to get you to provide personal or medical identity data.

 


How to Protect Yourself

 

Take the key steps that can help you prevent, find and resolve identity theft problems sooner.

 

1.  Monitor Your Credit Report

Order and review your credit report on a regular basis.  You can do this for free, once a year, through this website:  www.annualcreditreport.com

By Phone:  (877) 322-8228.  By Mail:  Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105283, Atlanta, GA, 30348-5283.

 

  • Look for unfamiliar accounts or activities on the report. 
  • Check to see whether the information about you is all true. 
  • Write the credit reporting services to challenge any information that is factually incorrect. 
  • See the Resources section of this article for more information about credit reporting agencies.

 

2. Guard Personal Identity Information    

Put it in a safe place.  Don’t store it in locations that are not secure, or leave it lying around the house.  Shred any sensitive documents that you do not need.

 

Social Security Number:   We all know this is critical information to protect.  And yet, scammers sometimes manage to get it from us anyway.  If you believe that someone is misusing your Social Security Number for work purposes or other purposes, report it to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  See the Resources section of this document for information on how to contact these government agencies.

  • Yourself.  Do not give your number to strangers, or to businesses and organizations that do not really need it.  Watch out for online job application or work at home scams that may try to trick you.  Never give your Social Security Number to a potential employer that you have not met. 
  • Children.  Children are increasingly victims of identity theft.  Avoid giving your child’s number to strangers or others who do not need it.  If you must provide it to your child’s school, ask how they will protect this information.  Check your child’s credit report now and then, to see whether a scammer may have stolen your child’s number and identity.
  • Seniors.  Check your senior’s credit report and other financial records to spot any unusual or questionable activity.  Sadly, family members, friends and caregivers are sometimes the offenders who victimize seniors.  Put your senior’s important identity papers in a safe place, out of sight.

Individual Tax Identification Number:   If you do not have a Social Security Number, you can get an individual tax ID number, or “ITIN” number free of charge.

 

  • ITINs are issued regardless of immigration status.  Both resident and non-resident aliens may have a U.S. tax filing or reporting requirement under the Internal Revenue Code.  
  • Download an ITIN application here:  www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw7.pdf
  • Call 1-800-829-1040 for IRS assistance.

 

3. Be Careful When Using the Internet    

Digital technology is a good thing, but it has opened the door to many new kinds of identity theft.

  • Avoid clicking on emails or links from unfamiliar sources.  Also, watch out for emails that try to imitate trusted business or nonprofit entities, or that appear to be using the name of a friend or family member to get your attention for a spam message.  If you are not sure whether a message is legitimate, contact the supposed sender directly and ask about it before you click on any links.
  • Do not send personal identity or financial information by email.  Send reports and documents containing sensitive personal information by regular mail or fax them to a secure fax location.
  • Install firewalls and anti-virus software to help protect your computer from hacking.  Keep this software up-to-date.  Run diagnostic tests often and delete any malware you find.
  • If you suspect that your computer has been infected with malware, do not use it to make purchases or transmit sensitive information until it has been completely cleaned and you are sure the malware is gone.

 

How to Fight Identity Theft

 

1.Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Reports

Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name.  Contact the three major credit reporting agencies to place an alert.

 

Be sure to request and review your credit report right away.  If you are an identity theft victim, you should be able to get the report without a charge. 

 

       TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

       Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

       Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013

 


2.File an Identity Theft Report with Local Police

This is a very important step.  You may need to provide a copy of your identity theft police report, in order to dispute unauthorized charges or deal with other problems caused by identity theft.  By filing a police report, you create an official record demonstrating that you are aware of the identity theft problem, and you show that you are taking steps to combat it.   Keep your police report safe, once you get it; it is a vital document that you should save.

 

  • Call your local police precinct and tell them that you want to file a report about your identity theft.   Ask them if you can file the report in person.   
  • If you cannot do an in-person report, ask whether you can file a report over the Internet or telephone. 
  • In some cases, police officers may be busy and reluctant or unable to do an identity theft report.  If this is the case, you can ask to file a "Miscellaneous Incident" report, or check with another jurisdiction, like your state police, to see if they can take the report.
  • You also can check with your state Attorney General's office to find out if your state law requires the police to take your identity theft report.

 

3.Get the FTC’s Guide to Stopping Identity Theft

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has published a comprehensive, step-by-step guide listing detailed instructions about how to fight many types of identity theft.  It is called Taking Charge: What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen.

 

It also includes sample letters and forms to use with credit reporting agencies and other organizations, when you are dealing with an identity theft case, as well as contact information for resource agencies.  This important reference document is available for free online in both Spanish and English:

 

       English:  www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/idt04.pdf

       Spanish: http://ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/sidt04.pdf

 

4. Close Affected Accounts

Close all financial accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.  Be sure to alert financial account providers immediately when you suspect identity theft.

 

       Call and speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each company.  

       Follow up in writing, and include copies (not originals) of supporting documents. It's important to notify credit card companies and banks in writing.  Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Keep a file of your correspondence and enclosures.

       When you open new accounts, use new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

       If the identity thief has made charges or debits on your accounts, or has fraudulently opened accounts, dispute those transactions in writing.

 

5.   File a Complaint with the FTC

This helps government authorities to catch identity thieves, to identify identity theft trends, and to help consumers deal with this crime. You can file a complaint with the FTC in several ways:

       File the complaint online:

https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/

       Call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free:  1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.   You can call the Hotline to update your complaint if you have any additional information or problems.

       Write the FTC:   Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.  The FTC affidavit for a mailed-in identity theft complaint can be downloaded here:

-      English:
www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft2012/pdf/identity-theft-affidavit.pdf

-      Spanishwww.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14039sp.pdf

 

 

Get IRS Help with Tax-Related Identity Theft

 

If you are affected by tax-related identity theft, try these steps one at a time, in order.  If you use one of these options and do not get enough help to address your identity theft problem, then try the next step.

 

1. Call the IRS Identity Theft Hotline.  First, contact the IRS Identity Theft Hotline for guidance at 1-800-908-4490 (for Spanish, select option 2).

 

2. Visit an IRS office.  If you are not able to obtain assistance over the phone, visit an IRS office.   Explain that you are an identity theft victim and ask for help in your language.  You can find an IRS office in your area through the IRS website at www.irs.gov/uac/Contact-Your-Local-IRS-Office-1

 

3. Use online IRS resources.If you have access to a computer and the Internet, see IRS tips at http://www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection.  

 

4. Call the IRS Taxpayer Advocate.If none of the above options resolve your issue, contact the Taxpayer Advocate office at 1-877-777-4778.

How to Choose a Tax Preparer

 

It’s important to be very careful when you are choosing someone to prepare your taxes.  That person will have access to your personal identity information.

  • Do not use return preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.
  • Avoid preparers who earn their money by charging a percentage of the refund amount.
  • Be aware that a reputable tax preparer should sign your tax return and enter his or her preparer tax identification number (PTIN) on it. The preparer should also give you copy of the return for your records.
  • Find out whether the preparer or that person’s firm will be around to help you with questions about how your tax return was done.  Seek a reliable preparer who can demonstrate he or she will be available for months, even years into the future to assist you if needed.
  • Never sign a blank tax form.
  • Questions to ask: 
    - Does this tax preparer possess any IRS credentials?  If yes – check with IRS, to see whether the credential is valid. 
    - Who else has used this tax professional’s services?  
    - Can you get a reference from someone you know and trust? 
    - Were prior customers satisfied? 
  • Check the tax preparer’s record with the BBB at www.newyork.bbb.org.

 

 

Resource Guide

 

Help with Your Taxes

 

1. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

The VITA program provides free tax help to people who make $51,000 or less and who need help in preparing their own tax returns.  

  • Trained VITA volunteers who have been IRS-certified provide free basic income tax return preparation to qualified individuals in local communities.

 

2.  Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE)  

The TCE Program offers free, priority tax help to people who are 60 years of age and older, and also provides tax assistance to others.

Through the TCE Program, you can get answers to questions about senior issues such as pensions and retirement matters.  The IRS-certified volunteers who provide TCE tax counseling may often be retired individuals associated with nonprofit organizations supported by grants from the IRS.

 

For More VITA Information:  Visit this page at the IRS website:

www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers

 

Assistance with Identity Theft

 

National

 

Better Business Bureau

www.bbb.org

 

Wherever you are in the United States or Canada, your local BBB can offer advice and take complaints about identity theft issues.  Contact the BBB to report abuse by tax preparers or problems with identity theft.  The BBB can also provide information about trustworthy sources of help in your area.

 

 

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

www.ftc.gov

877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357)

 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the nation’s consumer protection agency.  It is a key source of information about identity theft.  If you are an identity theft victim, be sure to file an identity theft complaint with the FTC so that your information can become part of the national effort to fight this crime.

 

FTC Identity Theft Hotline:

877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 866-653-4261

 

FTC Information on Identity Theft:

www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft2012

 

File an Identity Theft Complaint with FTC Online: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/

 

Get Form to File an Identity Theft Complaint with FTC by Mail:

       English:
www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft2012/pdf/identity-theft-affidavit.pdf

       Spanishwww.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14039sp.pdf

 

Write the FTC:  

Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580

 

FTC has published a comprehensive guide to solving identity theft problems, in both English and Spanish, entitled Taking Charge: What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen. 

 

You can view and download this valuable publication online:

 

English:  www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/idt04.pdf

Spanish:  http://ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/sidt04.pdf

 

Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

www.irs.gov

800-829-1040

 

The Internal Revenue Services (IRS) is the government’s tax collection agency, and the authoritative source of information about tax-related issues.  IRS provides identity theft resources and tips by telephone and through its website.

 

IRS Identity Theft Hotline:

800-908-4490 (for Spanish, select option 2)

 

Find an IRS Office:

www.irs.gov/uac/Contact-Your-Local-IRS-Office-1

 

IRS Tips About Identity Protection:

http://www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection

 

IRS Taxpayer Advocate:

877-777-4778

 

VITA Information:

www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers

 

ITIN Application:  www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw7.pdf

 

 

Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

www.ic3.gov

 

If your identity theft case relates to the Internet, you can report it easily to all governmental authorities with jurisdiction through the IC3 website. 

 

 

Social Security Administration (SSA)

www.ssa.gov

800-772-1213; TTY: 800-325-0778

 

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is the national agency of government that administers the use of Social Security Numbers and Social Security program benefits.  SSA provides information on its website about what to do if your Social Security Number is stolen or is used for identity theft.  If you suspect someone is misusing your Social Security Number for work purposes, report it to the Social Security Administration.

 

SSA Information About Identity Theft:

www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10064.html

 

 

Credit Reporting Agencies

 

Free Annual Credit Reports

www.annualcreditreport.com

877-322-8228 

Hearing Impaired:  877-730-4104

Write to:  Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105283, Atlanta, GA, 30348-5283

 

You are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report once per year.  To get your report at no cost, go to the website or call the numbers shown above. 

 

Credit Reporting Agencies

You may also be eligible for another free report if you are the victim of identity theft or other special circumstances.  If you think identity theft has occurred, make sure to contact at least one of the three main credit rating agencies:

 

Equifax: 1-800-685-1111; www.equifax.com

Experian: 1-888-397-3742; www.experian.com

TransUnion: 1-800-916-8800; www.transunion.com

 

 

Help with Legal Issues

Local bar associations and pro bono legal groups can help you find a qualified attorney who will fairly represent your interests.

www.LawHelp.org:  Visit this website to see information about locating and qualifying for free or low cost legal services, in your state.

www.Findlegalhelp.org:  This is the American Bar Association (ABA) website resource, which can link you to sources of qualified legal help in your state. 

 

 

New York State

 

Better Business Bureau

www.newyork.bbb.org  (Southern NY)

212-533-6200

 

www.upstateny.bbb.org (Northern NY)

716-881-5222

 

Your BBB in New York can offer advice, take complaints, and refer you to law enforcement organizations for more help.  Check with the BBB before using the services of a tax preparer.  Contact the BBB to report abuse by debt collectors, debt settlement/relief companies, or problems with identity theft.  The BBB can also provide information about trustworthy sources of help in your area.

 

New York State Office of the Attorney General

www.ag.ny.gov

1-800-771-7755

 

Contact the Office of the Attorney General about identity theft or any other consumer abuse. 

 


New York City

 

New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) and

New York City Office of Financial Empowerment

www.nyc.gov/consumers

3-1-1 or 212-NEW-YORK (outside NYC)

 

DCA’s Office of Financial Empowerment offers free financial counseling to residents at centers throughout the city, including assistance in Spanish at some locations, where counselors may be available to walk you through reporting identity theft.  For details, call 3-1-1 in the city.

 

Law Help-NY

www.lawhelp.org/NY

 

Law Help maintains a website that offers legal information for persons who want to represent themselves (“pro se”) or who are trying to learn more about legal issues.  They also provide links to other legal advice resources or places to look for volunteer lawyers who may be able to assist you at no cost.

 

 

New Jersey

 

Better Business Bureau

www.newjersey.bbb.org 

609-588-0808

 

Your BBB in New Jersey can offer advice, take complaints, and refer you to law enforcement organizations for more help.  Check with the BBB before using the services of a tax preparer.  Contact the BBB to report abuse by debt collectors, debt settlement/relief companies, or problems with identity theft.  The BBB can also provide information about trustworthy sources of help in your area.

 

New Jersey Office of the Attorney General

Division of Consumer Affairs

www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/ocp/

973-504-6200   

Contact Information in Spanishwww.njconsumeraffairs.gov/espanol/spbrief/dcaoff.pdf

 

The Division of Consumer Affairs takes complaints from consumers and directs them towards sources of aid.  For information about your rights under New Jersey’s “Identity Theft Prevention Act”, go to this link:

English:  www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/ocp/idtheft.htm

Spanish:  www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/espanol/spbrief/securityfreeze.pdf

 

Legal Services of New Jersey

www.lsnj.org/directory.htm

1-888-576-5529

 

Legal Services of New Jersey provides assistance to low-income defendants in civil court cases.  They also have a hotline that provides free legal advice and referral.  Contact their main number or the local Legal Services office in your county to get help if you need legal assistance with tax questions, wages garnishments, or other legal problems.

 

 

Connecticut

 

Better Business Bureau

http://connecticut.bbb.org

203-269-2700

 

Your BBB in Connecticut can offer advice, take complaints, and refer you to law enforcement organizations for more help.  Check with the BBB before using the services of a tax preparer.  Contact the BBB to report abuse by debt collectors, debt settlement/relief companies, or problems with identity theft.  The BBB can also provide information about trustworthy sources of help in your area.

 

Connecticut Office of the Attorney General

www.ct.gov/ag/site/default.asp

860-808-5318

 

The Attorney General’s office can help inform you of your rights as a consumer.  Contact them for information and referrals to sources of help in your state. 

 

Statewide Legal Services

English:  www.slsct.org/get-help

Spanishhttp://ctlawhelp.org/es/quienes-somos

1-800-453-3320; from Middletown and Hartford: 860-344-0380

 

SLS gives legal advice and referrals to people with low income.  Call their hotline to learn more about dealing with legal issues and to see if you qualify for free legal representation.  Their website also contains self-help information for those representing themselves in court (pro se):

http://ctlawhelp.org/self-help-guides

 

Judicial Branch Court Service Centers

www.jud.ct.gov/csc

 

The Connecticut Judicial Branch provides Service Centers where you can learn about court procedures, get help filing forms, and find information.  They cannot provide the same legal assistance that a lawyer would but can help those representing themselves (“pro se”) to navigate the legal system.  They are located at the Superior Courts in each county.  The courts also provide self-help information online: www.jud.ct.gov/selfhelp.htm.

 

 

© 2013 by the Education and Research Foundation of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York, Inc.  All rights reserved.  Permission is given for this material to be duplicated and distributed, in unaltered form, at no charge, for public benefit purposes.

 

The contact information for resource groups in this publication is provided as a public service, but does not indicate endorsement by the Better Business Bureau, nor does it indicate that any particular nonprofit organization has met the BBB Wise Giving Standards for Charity Accountability.

 

For information about nationally soliciting charities reviewed by the Better Business Bureau, please go to www.give.org.  Charity reports for the New York City, Long Island and Mid-Hudson Region may be viewed online at www.ny.give.org.

 

Information in this publication is not intended as legal advice or financial advice.  Please consult a reputable attorney, credentialed financial adviser, or qualified counselor for professional help with such matters.

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