Tag Archives: lawyer

Easy Target for Identity Theft Update

Less than a week after writing a blog about staying safe online and protecting your confidential DSC08847-Binformation from thieves, I made a rookie mistake. It’s embarrassing to admit that even though I know better, every now and then I throw caution to the wind and make a payment online using an unsecured wireless network on a site without proper encryption technology. This is the equivalent of inputting passwords on a public computer (Very bad). What happened to me is a cautionary tale that won’t happen to you if you’re reading this and take heed.

The office building where I work has an unsecured wireless network that essentially everyone in the building has access to. Guests and visitors can’t access it without the password, but the hundreds of other people on this floor are all sharing the same WiFi. For the four years of my business residence, this has been a non-issue. Then, suddenly I found the perfect guitar accessory online: a gold capo. For the non-musicians out there, a capo is a clamp that you use to change a guitar’s pitch for certain songs. The best part about this capo? It costed a mere $2.14. I was sold.

When I processed my payment, I used my credit card, pressed order and went on about my day. I received the capo about a week later, and life was good. Until a few days passed, and I noticed an email receipt for $5.00 at Coca Cola. Strange. I don’t recall buying anything for that amount. A few minutes later, I got an email receipt for $12.54 at a costume store in Las Vegas, Nevada. I knew foul play was afoot. Immediately, I called the bank and started the dispute process and hung my head in shame. How could I advise people on protecting their information when I’m online buying guitar accessories with reckless abandon?

I’m not sure if one of my coworkers stole my card information right before vacation or if a random teenage internet hacker caught me by surprise to teach me a valuable lesson. In any case, the hyper vigilance campaign is on. Learn from my mistakes and be smarter online and in life. Change your passwords often. Make your online purchases from reputable websites with payment encryption in place for their transactions. And never ever, under any circumstances, trust your fellow travelers on an unsecured network. You don’t know who you’re surfing with at that coffee bar or restaurant, so why take the risk?

For legal advice when it counts, contact me at (713) 574-8626

Are You an Easy Target for Identity Theft?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the course of my practice, I have met some lovely people facing unfortunate circumstances. No one is thrilled about filing for consumer bankruptcy, but that feeling is multiplied ten fold when it is due to someone else ruining your finances. Within the past few years, I’ve met an increasing number of identity theft victims. Not all of them had to seek  bankruptcy protection, but every single one of them felt vulnerable and violated. It is the attorney’s role to protect the private information of her clients, so we take the necessary precautions at the office to do so. It is also my job to share this knowledge with others in the interest of a more equitable and just society. Here are four key ways to safeguard your personal information.

1. Store your personal documents in a safe place. Your social security card, medical records, credit card offers, and tax returns should be kept in a locked cabinet or a safe deposit box in a bank. The number of people whose identities are stolen as a result of a stolen purse or wallet containing their social security card is astonishing. Don’t carry it with you. Similarly, your mail contains information that a thief can use to impersonate you in stores or online to open credit accounts. Be sure to check it promptly, and consider opting out of promotional offers.

2. Keep an eye on your accounts. Most banks and credit card issuers have a process for investigating suspicious transactions, but you can’t alert them promptly if you don’t check your account history on a regular basis. Sign up for online banking and be on the look out for transactions you don’t recognize. It’s also not a bad idea to subscribe to a monthly credit monitoring service to confirm that your debts are reported accurately and reflect only your account activity. If you don’t want to pay for credit monitoring, you can always request a free copy of your credit report every calendar year at www.annualcreditreport.com.

3. Be cautious about sharing on social media. Many people (myself included) are active on social media in one way or another. That’s fine. No judgment here. However, if you’re traveling to Tahiti for your yearly vacation with the family, it might be wise not to announce it on Facebook. You never know who your friends are connected to, and depending on your security settings, you could be announcing your departure to a large number of people you don’t know at all. No one likes to think about the fact that when you are abroad, your home is fair game for thieves for the entire duration of your trip. Tell your close friends and family your whereabouts. Your status updates and photos can come after you’ve enjoyed all that Tahiti has to offer.

4. Mind the shoulder snoopers. When you’re in the grocery store checkout, and the time comes for you to swipe or insert your card, sometimes you’re not alone. Sometimes there is a person  possibly unfamiliar with Western standards for personal space. That person may be hovering over your shoulder. What do you do? If you’re able to swipe your card, and you’re using a debit card, run it as a credit card. This way you can bypass the need to insert your pin. If you’re using an EMV chip card, it may be a good idea to cover the key pad or ask the cashier to enter your transaction as a credit purchase. A person who is physically close to you can look over your shoulder and clearly see your PIN number, and if he or she has a credit card cloning device, could make many more transactions from your card without you ever knowing. EMV chip technology has cut down on some of the risk of card cloning, but not every card issuer has embraced chip technology. It may seem rude to be suspicious of your neighbors, but better safe than sorry.

There are wallets that claim to protect your cards from cloning. They have mixed reviews at best, but with some simple common sense, you can avoid being victimized by thieves. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Be safe out there.

For more information on this topic, feel free to contact me at (713) 574-8626. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What Happened to Thanksgiving?

As I was getting ready for a holiday party a few days ago, I noticed all of the TV ads were about ttronslien-0825Black Friday sales, Veteran’s Day blow-out specials, and Christmas close-outs. Every few minutes, these advertisements were clamoring for my attention. My sweetheart yelled at me from the other room, “What happened to Thanksgiving? Did we jump from Halloween straight to Christmas?”

I had no good answer to that question. Seriously, what did happen to Thanksgiving? Most years go by with at least a cursory acknowledgment of the concept of gratitude, even if that comes in the form of reruns of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and vague references to turkeys being pardoned by the President. Personally, I bristle at the jilting of Thanksgiving. Halloween is fun. Christmas is great for the economy, but Thanksgiving is special. It’s a time for self-reflection, family, and football. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s the Jan Brady of the holiday season. Even though advertisers don’t care about giving thanks, I must do my part to make note of what I have to be thankful for, so here are the 4 things I’m most thankful for this year.

1. Good Health. This year I only took one sick day. Without my health and strength, I’m not able to effectively advocate for my clients. Thankfully, 2015 was very kind to me. Taking more interest in self-care and wellness has paid off in increased productivity, more efficiency, and better balance in my work and life. I have just enough time for my clients, my friends, and my family.

2. The National Spotlight on Police Brutality. Some shocking things happened in 2015. From Sandra Bland’s death to the riots in Ferguson, this year the intersection of race and our nation’s police came into the national conversation. People are becoming more aware of the inequalities present in American society, and we are finally starting to talk about the issues publicly. Sadly, people had to die to bring these issues to the forefront, but clearly their deaths were not in vain. We honor them with every step we take to hold overreaching police accountable and prevent these tragedies from happening in the future.

3. Marriage Equality.  This summer, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in United States v. Windsor that made marriage equality the law of the land. Same-sex couples now have the right to marry in all fifty states. The benefits that heterosexual couples and their children have are now afforded to all couples in this country. Religious groups still have the right to refuse to perform marriages that conflict with their religious views, but civil marriage is now a right that everyone can freely enjoy. Some of my friends and family have been able to solidify their loving relationships with the rite of marriage this year, and I am happy that this exciting time is now a reality for so many who were once deprived of a right to love in their own way.

4. Wonderful Clients. My business would not be possible without people entrusting me every day with the most important aspects of their lives. I handle some very sensitive topics for my clients. I listen to their stories of heartbreak on the verge of divorce. I walk them through the shambles of their finances when they contemplate bankruptcy. I welcome their new children into the world as we fashion an appropriate estate plan to protect their growing families. I meet their parents, their spouses, and their children. I become intimately familiar with my clients because I truly care about each and every one of them. My success depends on theirs, so anything I can do to help them is a step in the right direction for my firm. I fight hard for my clients. I tell them when they’re wrong, and I celebrate them when they’re right. We have ups and downs together, and I’m a better attorney because of those experiences. I am so blessed to have been able to serve my clients this year, and it’s my sincere prayer that I can continue to serve them and others in 2016.

If you’re looking for a lawyer who cares, look no further. For sound legal advice and a listening ear, call me at (713) 574-8626 to schedule your initial consultation. You’ll be glad you did.

 

3 Scary Halloween Facts

DSC_0594Halloween is right around the corner, so I thought it would be fun to celebrate the season with a few little known facts about the holiday. Whether you celebrate with costumes, decorations, and a posse of trick-or-treaters or simply leave the porch light on to pass out candy, these are a few things to keep in mind to keep yourself and your family safe this year.

1. Halloween is the most dangerous night of the year for pedestrians. AAA reports that the combination of children running around in costumes, along with drunk drivers on the road, creates a perfect storm. It is suggested that parents accompany kids if possible, make sure they are visible, and coach them on road safety. Reflective clothing as well as portable lights should be a part of your Halloween gear this year to ensure you’re visible to any vehicles you may encounter on your way, if you plan to trick-or-treat by foot.

2. Your Halloween celebrations are giving the economy a boost. From its vampy costumes and sweet treats to macabre household decorations, Halloween is big business. So big, in fact, that it’s the second-largest commercial holiday in America—only Christmas surpasses it in sales. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers spent $5.8 billion in 2010, and in 2015, Americans are set to spend $6.9 billion on Halloween.

3. In some places, the oldest you can be to legally trick-or-treat is twelve (12) years old. In 2010, Belleville, Illinois, became the latest city to ban trick-or-treating for kids over 12. Teens can face fines from $100 to $1,000 for going door-to-door (although according to officials, more often than not, over-age Halloween-goers are just given a warning). This city found that children over the age of twelve were using Halloween as an excuse to loiter in public places, commit random acts of vandalism, and basically be a nuisance. If you’re over the age of twelve, and still going door to door, perhaps it’s time to pass the baton to the next generation.

For more fun facts and great legal advice when you need it, feel free to call me at                    (713) 574-8626 to schedule your initial consultation. I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Halloween!

Should I Hire a Lawyer or Handle It on My Own?

ttronslien-8953 (1)I get asked this question in different ways from time to time, so I thought it would make a great blog topic. Is it a good idea to hire a lawyer or go pro se?

In most instances, we have no problem going to a professional for services. Car making a funny noise? Go to a mechanic. Need a haircut? See a barber. Broke your key in the door? Call a locksmith. But when it comes to legal services, people with absolutely no legal experience or training strangely believe that they can do it themselves, get the outcome they want, and successfully represent themselves in court. This is almost always a terrible mistake.

“I have the right to represent myself in a court of law”, you may be thinking. This is true. You absolutely do, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Like me, President Lincoln was an attorney, and he had a great reason for making this remark: the law has its own set of rules, guidelines, and vocabulary. There is a reason lawyers have to attend several years of school and pass their state bar examinations. Competence in the courtroom comes with years of experience handling legal problems again and again. A person without this background is simply not prepared to properly represent him or herself.

Typically when a person goes pro se, that person quickly realizes they’re in over their head and hires an attorney. When I meet someone who has filed their own lawsuit, I look at what they have done on their own and determine what, if anything, I can do to fix their mistakes and protect their interests. This often results in my new client paying more than he or she otherwise would if they had simply come to me with their legal problem from the very beginning. The additional work needed to pick up where a pro se litigant has left off usually results in me having to spend more time on their case, and therefore a higher bill. Sometimes they’ve waited too long to seek my help, and I can’t do anything for them because the case is too far gone.

Even a skilled lawyer who represents himself is at a disadvantage. We are humans, and our emotions tend to cloud our judgment when it is our own personal interests at stake. I take my own advice in this regard. When my grandmother passed away, I advised my mother (her executor) to hire an attorney. I did not want to bungle my grandmother’s estate. I had recently graduated from law school and had not yet learned how to handle probate matters. I wouldn’t pull my own tooth if I had a toothache, and something tells me you wouldn’t either. The same principle applies to the law: when in doubt, hire a professional.