Tag: advice

Adventures with Identity Theft – Prevention, and what to do if the worst happens

Click here for the last part of the story that prompted this post.

So, if you’re wondering why I’m posting details about Identity Theft, I’d suggest reading my prior posts on my own experience with having my identity stolen.

So, in terms of prevention – what can you do? please bear in mind that this information is intended for a UK audience – I have no idea how these things work in different countries.

Surprisingly, not as much as you’d think. The person who stole my identity had key pieces of information – my full name, date of birth, place of birth, full address and my bank account number and sort code. As to how they got these? Either some hackery went on somewhere, or someone who knows me very well attempted to rip me off. The level of information they had in terms of security questions points towards someone who knows me, or has access to someone who knows me. But, I guess I will never know the truth!

Still, you can be somewhat proactive.

  • Check your credit report regularly. You can get a statuary credit report for free. This will show you any searches done against your credit. There are even mobile apps these days that will let you know when your credit report has changed! Here are the relevant links:
  • Experian will allow you to add a password to your credit file, adding an extra layer of security to jump through if you ever apply for any type of credit. You will have to sign up for your free credit report through them directly.
  • Shred all documents that contain personal information before disposing of them.
  • Don’t share personal information online. Keep your accounts (facebook, etc) private where possible.
  • Be careful with any online account – set up two factor authentication, use different passwords, etc. Be aware that someone getting access to these can get all kinds of personal information just by looking at what details you filled your accounts with.
  • Treat the answers to security questions as passwords – never set up an easy to find answer!
  • Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket – I know this may not be feasible for everyone, but if you can have a ‘parachute’ account or credit card with another financial entity than your main bank, you will still have access to some funds if they opt to freeze your account for an investigation. In this case, having my credit card really helped me to continue with my every day life.

With that said, bear in mind that I did/do all the above (bar the password on my credit file), and I was still done (although the security question bullet did prevent the fraudster actually accessing their ill-gotten gains). Sometimes, even doing all you can is not enough.

If you have been done:

  • Sign up with CIFAS for protective registration.
  • Check with Royal Mail that your mail has not been redirected.
  • Get in touch with the above mentioned credit agencies, and flag anything that you don’t recognise.
  • Get in touch with Action Fraud UK, if only to get a crime reference number for something they claim is not actually a crime.
  • Change all your passwords to all the things.
  • Change any information that was compromised, if you can.
  • Check all the above mentioned sites for victim resources, should anything new pop up in the future.

And well, I guess that’s all you can really do. Bear in mind that the process is not as smooth for the victim as it really should be. You will be looked at as if you compromised the information yourself by some agencies. Until you prove your identity, you will sometimes feel like you’re being treated like a criminal. Faceless entities like an Account Review team will hold god like power over your finances, and there will be nothing you can do about it.

So, do what you can to protect your information. Check everything regularly – and stay safe out there!

Money Talks – Know your worth

This is a topic that seems to pop up fairly regularly in various media – how much you get paid.

Some companies out there publish this information, to demonstrate how fairly they are paying their staff. Others don’t, and occasionally, the employees will start discussing this amongst themselves.

Both the above approaches always lead to the inevitable – people comparing how much they earn to how much their co-workers are (possibly) earning. One thing I have seen when this plays out is that someone always seems to decide that they’re being shafted, and they let jealousy take over. Things can often go downhill from there, depending on the personality involved.

I am of the school of thought that says I do not tell my co-workers how much I earn under any circumstances. While I may tell them how much I was getting paid in a previous job, my current salary is my own business, and no one elses. When co-workers start discussing their current salary in front of me, I keep my mouth firmly shut and attempt to evade the discussion. Even when it becomes apparent that they are being vastly underpaid.

That probably seems quite unsociable or even unfeeling of me. But here’s the thing – what I earn has no bearing on what anyone else earns. Just like what they earn has no bearing on what I earn, for one simple reason – I am in charge of my own situation. I can’t say I have ever found myself staying too long in a role where I feel undervalued. I keep an eye on the market rates in the area for my chosen profession, and I have no problem with asking for a raise if I feel it warranted. If the raise is not forthcoming, I choose to take myself – and my pay negotiations – elsewhere.

At no point in this process have I ever looked at my pay in comparison to someone else’s and thought ‘That person is being paid more than me, and I don’t think they’re worth it’. Again, this comes down to an acknowledgement that people are in charge of their own situation. If someone is actually being paid more than me, my first thought is that they made a better job of negotiating their salary than I did – in which case, good for them.

In my not so recent history, I found out that some co-workers were discussing my salary with a view to envy. I found out the figure that was being bounced about, and found it amusing that it was quite a bit lower than what my salary actually was. If the figure had actually been correct, then I would have been concerned how that number became public knowledge, since my salary is between me and the entity paying it. And as mentioned before, I don’t share my salary with co-workers (much like I don’t share my plate of food).

So, here are some lessons I’ve picked up about this kind of thing over the years that I’d like to share:

  • Just because you don’t discuss your salary with co-workers, that doesn’t mean that they won’t discuss it – and probably have it wrong. The office politics around this kind of thing can get very intense, but it’s not really something you can control. Accept that, and try to not get sucked in. I’d say the rule here is to keep out of it – joining the fray will not help you to take control of this. If you’re approached or confronted by people who are unsatisfied with their own lot, point out how they can always ask for a raise.
  • Know your worth before entering any salary negotiation – be it for a new or existing job. There are so many websites where you can check out the market rate for your role and position in your area. Don’t undervalue yourself when it comes to this. Be sure to check out this information at least once a year. This will help you to figure out the ballpark figure that you want to ask for, and shouldn’t be used as a hard and fast figure that must not be deviated from.
  • Don’t be afraid to move on to a place where you will be fairly valued. As mentioned in this post, you know how much you are worth. If you really are being undervalued, no company worth their salt is going to say no to a reasonable request to be compensated fairly.
  • Bear in mind that what your co-workers earn has no bearing on your own situation, and more importantly – is none of your business. Envy and jealousy are not healthy. For anyone. One of the worst things you can do here is try to justify your pay raise based upon what a colleague is apparently earning. Leave that kind of thing out of any salary negotiation.
  • Companies are there to make money. Which means they will go for the best deal to cut their own costs. It’s a pretty rare case that you will be given a significant raise without actually asking for it. If they can get your services for cheap, they’ll more often than not keep being cheap. After all, the reward for digging an awesome big hole is a bigger shovel, and very rarely a bigger bag of money. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Simples.

The main lesson here, however, is something I’m sure I have mentioned before – you are responsible for your own situation. Don’t like your situation? Then take control and change it, or get into a new situation. If you choose to bleat about how unfair everything is without doing anything about it, then you’ll find that any sympathy you were getting will slowly disappear. And at the end of it, you’ll still be miserable.

Presentation Feedback

Today was a good day – I realised I must have made an impression with my presentation last Friday, as I had a few people approach me today to discuss it a bit more.

The feedback was largely positive – they found the presentation relevant, and it all made sense. I was even praised for my courage in presenting what I did, as one of the newer members of the team. The main advice I got was how to try and approach management with my points.

First and foremost – I naturally speak quickly. I speak even faster when I am either nervous, excited or passionate about something. Which, on Friday, I was all three. I struggle with slowing down my speech at the best of times. I do need to get better at it, especially since one of the guys pointed out that it made me seem nervous. He then went on to point out that if I seem nervous in front of management, I’ll probably get eaten alive. He has offered to coach me through future presentations, and even present with me – which I find to be pretty awesome, so I’ll bite his hand off for that!

One of the main pieces of advice to come through from all who approached me, however, was to try and focus more on numbers. I need to find a way to prove that what I am suggesting can save both time and money. This one will be more tricky. I may have to wait a few months until a few more projects finish, collect up some data, and attempt to crunch it into a format that can prove my point. However, not all the projects finish at the same time. The project that is ringing alarm bells for me is nearing completion – and I’m not one of the people working on it. Yet my own project, where I can prove that what I’m proposing has benefits, isn’t scheduled to complete until late next year.

So – I need data. My current sources of data may not even be comparable. My thinking cap is back on once again. Given current workloads though, I do have a bit of time to consider my approach to this, and now I have a bit more help in presenting it. All in all – I’ll take this as a win for now!

Knowing when to quit

One life skill that I wish I was better at is knowing when to quit.

Our heroes are lauded to us as people who didn’t quit, even when the odds seemed against them. Conversely, people who are so intimidated by a task that they never even start to attempt it are derided.

So – when to quit?

There’s a definite line between quitting too soon, and beating your head against a brick wall for the sake of your own pride. This is constantly an issue I find myself up against (I’m no quitter, darnit!). I have been trying to redefine the parameters of this to try and get a better read on knowing where the line is.

For me, the answer to this has started to boil down to answering some questions.

First, is the battle worth fighting?
Second, can you afford to lose the battle?

So – pick your battle. This is all well and good, until the battle picks you. Once you find yourself in said battle, you’re then left with the second question – can you afford to lose the battle? This, in bad times, can then lead to a third question – do you actually have a chance of winning the battle?

If the answer to this last question is no, then you need to get out. You’ve already lost this battle. The only thing you have to lose at that point is your pride. Hanging on to a losing battle will cost you so much more (i.e. mental and physical health), in addition to said pride.

Silly yet true example here:

When I was 8, I was arguing with my Dad. I had been given some homework to do – the 8 times tables. By the time we got to 8 x 8, I was bored. I wanted to play. My stubborn streak kicked in. The conversation went on in a loop for *hours*:

Dad: What is 8 times 8?
Me: Don’t know!
Dad: 8 times 8 is 64. What is 8 times 8?
Me: Don’t know!

This had become a battle of wills. The victory for me would be refusing to say that 8 times 8 is 64. My Dad had another take on it, though. For him – he couldn’t afford to lose this battle, because being out-stubborned by his 8 year old child would set a bad precedent. The predictable thing happened, of course. I eventually gave in because I was tired. Dad won that battle through sheer perseverance, and I learnt that I couldn’t out-stubborn my Dad, ever. Which was the whole point, from his perspective. Incidentally, I’ll also never forget that 8 x 8 = 64. My Dad still beats me around the head with ‘what is 8 times 8?’ every time he thinks I am being stubborn.

Sadly, I didn’t really pick up the underlying message back then. I am still muleishly stubborn. This year saw me in a situation I should have walked away from as soon as I knew it for what it was – a battle that I could afford to lose, and a battle I couldn’t ever hope to win*. I stubbornly stuck it out, hoping to change the inevitable outcome of it, even against the advice of family and friends. If I’d walked away then, the first half of this year could have been awesome for me.

It’s a matter of (foolish) pride to me that I’ve never walked away from a fight in my life.

You can probably guess where this is going. Knowing it was hopeless, I stayed in the situation to fight it out. Ultimately, I still ended up walking away when the cost became too high. I wouldn’t be *me* if I hadn’t at least tried to fight my corner. In retrospect, If I had been a bit smarter about picking my battles – I would have chosen to walk away from this one. With hindsight being 20/20, it wouldn’t have been walking away from a fight – it would have been running towards something better. Not that the experience was a complete waste – I have taken away plenty of positives away in terms of lessons from the experience, as much as it sucked at the time.

So, in a nutshell, I guess I can sum up with this:

Only fight battles worth fighting.
If you can’t afford to lose the battle – don’t lose.
8 x 8 = 64.

* Protip – you don’t ever win against City Hall.

Toxic People

One thing that it is impossible to be prepared for is a toxic person in your life. Whilst my father often pointed out to me when growing up that ‘some people are just arseholes’, it did little to actually make me realise that some people can go beyond merely being an arsehole, and straight into what I would deem ‘batshit crazy’ territory.

I think we all meet someone who could be deemed toxic at least once. Usually, we can easily walk away, or limit contact with such a person so that they can have the minimum affect on us. Unfortunately, we sometimes end up in a situation where walking away is incredibly difficult.

I once had a housemate who I would deem to be toxic. She was my first housemate after flying the nest, and I didn’t deal with the situation then as I would now. I can only blame my own lack of spine, coupled with living in an area over 100 miles away from my family and friends where I knew no one. My usual support system was too far away to help. Plus, people who knew me assumed that I was ‘hard’ enough to not take being treated poorly.

It’s easy to stand up for yourself when you know you can leave the situation easily, and have a network of family and friends to support you through the fallout.

Anyways, I’m not going to go in to if my housemate had some kind of mental disorder – I’m no psychologist or psychotherapist to judge. What I do know is that over the period of 6 months, she almost had me running back to my home town with my tail between my legs.

She would blow hot and cold to extremes. She threatened to trash my stuff when I was going away for a weekend. Putting the toilet roll on the wrong way around resulted in one of the biggest telling offs I have ever received in my life. When going on a night out with her, she pretty much chose my outfit, as anything showing that I had a bigger bust than she did was a big NO. To my shame, I went along with it, as I was in a new town and thus in people pleasing mode. It was easier than being verbally trashed to the point of tears, even when I was getting more and more depressed over the situation. The night she came downstairs, naked, and asked me to take pictures of her to put on the internet had me on auto pilot. Because really, who expects someone to *do* that?!? I didn’t say anything, just took the pictures, handed back the camera, and then tried to figure out what the hell just happened. I could go on with some of the sheer nastiness or craziness that she inflicted on me, but well – we all have encounters with flat out strange people, and I feel I have given enough context here without dredging up further unpleasantness.

If I encountered this now, I would react very differently. For starters, I would get the hell out of that situation. There was no reasoning with this person. More to the point, she had a network of friends who on the surface, at least, seemed to think she was just lovely. It left me very confused at the time. Was I just misreading her unfairly? Was *I* the one with the problem? These days, I view it differently. Whether she was actually toxic in general was a moot point. She was toxic to me, and what other people thought of her really had no bearing on the negative effect it was having on my own psyche.

I’m better at dealing with toxic people now. I know to run the hell away, or to minimise contact. I’m better at saying ‘no’, even when I don’t have the fall back safety net of good people around me. I’ve also learnt that more often than not, I have good people behind me even when I don’t know it. But it’s always going to be up to me to take control of my own situation. One of the saddest things about adulting I have learnt is that I cannot expect other people to fix my problems without doing something about it myself first.

Things my Father told me.

My dad has the advantage of having numerous t-shirts in the ‘been there, done that’ category. I would do well to pay more attention to the advice he has given me over the years. Here are some of his nuggets of wisdom that have stuck with me – even if I haven’t always followed them when I should. My navigation of office politics or life in general would have been much smoother if I had.

  • To be seen as just as good as the boys, you have to be better than the boys.
    • I strive to do this. Probably the only place I consistently succeed is playing computer games. Unfortunately, this is coupled with being a rather graceless winner.
  • For once in your life, keep your head down and your mouth shut!
    • Father brought me up to be outspoken, and to question everything, and this does run counter to that. However, not every situation is helped by speaking my mind. Sometimes, I do need to just shut up. I’ll work on that.
  • You’re responsible for your own happiness.
    • I sometimes forget this. In a bad situation? It’s up to me to get out of it. There is no knight in shining armour waiting to save me, so I’d better get up and slay that dragon myself.
  • Don’t be a victim.
    • Sometimes, it’s too easy to wallow in self pity. In times when I’ve been depressed, I wish I’d kept this at the front of my mind.
  • You don’t give offense. You *take* offense.
    • Nothing is more annoying than someone who *looks* to take offense. Although the main thing that has happened as a result of taking this on board is that I find people more annoying.
  • Stop cutting off your nose to spite your face!
    • I’m a stubborn person. I don’t think this will change. Oops.

I think that will do for now. There are plenty more, but it would likely turn into a book. I guess the point of this post is that all the above pieces of advice, if I’d chosen to follow them throughout life more consistently, would have improved so many rubbish situations I’ve managed to land myself in. Make no mistake – the common denominator in all of my problems past and present is me.

I should probably listen to my Dad more. Even if he is leaving all the money to the cat.