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Feb 21 2012

Tax Season Avoid ID Theft

Its getting to be that time of year again that we all love to hate. No its not the six more weeks of winter that the ground hog predicted, its tax season. Ahh tax season, the time of year I dread. Let nights trying to get all your information together and wondering if you should have check box A vs B or did you do all your math correctly?  All the feelings of if you make a mistake the IRS will be knocking on your door, yeah OK so I may be a bit more paranoid of tax season than I should be but hey what can you do. Then to top that all off ID thieves are out to get you when you have your guard down!

Many of us use popular programs and services like Turbo Tax, or any of other great software systems on the market. Or you may go to one of the more popular services like HR Block or Jackson Hewitt. All of these are great choices, and with the increased popularity of these services it makes them ripe for thieves to try to harvest. The most common scam right now is to send out a very official looking email from one of these services and say something like, “In order to process your refund we just need you to verify some information.” This will then take you to a fantastic looking website that will have you enter person information like your bank accounts and routing numbers along with some other personal information. They will use this information to steal money from your accounts, or use it to accounts in your name. If they try to create fake accounts in your name your credit monitoring service will alert you to these activities.  If you receive any of these emails do not open them! You can call the company you used that is “requesting” the information to report the scam, and to alert them to these types of emails.

The other one to watch out for is a official email from the IRS again requesting financial data. The IRS is scary and most of us will feel the need to respond to these emails. The IRS will never ask you over email for any personal information. The IRS will never contact you over email, they will always request information the old fashioned way via the US postal service. Again know that you having a credit monitoring service will help to keep you safe if you were to accidentally give one of these phishing scams your information. You just have to know that credit monitoring will only be able to protect you so far, and you have to be deligent about not falling for these phishing techniques.

I can not stress this enough, the IRS will never contact you by email, do not fall for these types of scams, even if it looks official!

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Feb 13 2012

Think Twice When Using Your Debit Card

Debit cards are great, they are extremely convenient, way better than a check, and they do not have the hassle that can come with a credit card. I love mine. I can not stress that enough, I use it all the time, and I would prefer to use the funds in my bank than to charge on my credit card, even if I plan to pay it off before it incurs any finance charges. Debit cards are just easy. As are my favorites super heros wise uncle said, “With great power comes great responsibility”. With the great ease of debit cards comes some pretty great risks.

 

Using your debit card can put you at risk, even with credit monitoring.

Debit cards look just like your credit card, they are accepted almost anywhere, but that’s about all they share in common. Debit cards take the money directly from your bank, credit cards charge the card and the money is not taken until you pay your bill. If you were to find fraud on your credit card you could just report it and refuse to pay it. A debit card the money is already gone.  With that difference it can become a major pain to get reimbursed from your bank. In a major breach of  TJ Maxx data center, there was 150 million of fraud charges. Those who paid with a credit card had a new card issued within a few days and were back to normal. Some who paid with a debit card took over 3 months to be reimbursed and the issue taken care of.

Places to be cautious of using your debit card.

ATM Machines

I can see you all out there now rolling your eyes at me, thinking this is where I use my card the most! Ok well hang on for one second, card skimming is becoming more and more common, and it can be very hard to spot.  No I am not saying all ATM’s are basically handing your debit card over to thieves, you just have to use a bit more street smarts when choosing which ones to use. ATM’s in open public spaces are the ones that are targeted most often. Any ATM that is in a public space is the easiest types to install a skimming device, they are high traffic, and most people will not notice if someone appears to be “working” on it. You are much better off going to one that is in your bank, or inside a retail outlet, anyplace that is well lit, and likely to have cameras pointed at it, in addition to the one that is in the ATM itself.

Gas stations are another easy target.  They are easy for thieves because many of them are not open all night long, they are out in the open, and this allows them to install a skimming device in time for the morning rush. They can install the device and sit near with a laptop and a wifi or Blue Tooth connection and collect your person information.

The Internet

The web is a big scary place, a place where thieves are around every corner, and princes in far off lands want to give us all there money. And speaking of that, as soon as my 1.5 million dollar check comes in from my dead relative in Nigeria I will not be writing this blog anymore…. Ok in reality the web is a very safe place to shop, it is getting better and better all the time. So why not use our debit cards online? It comes back to the protection differences offered by your credit card company vs your debit card issuer.  You are protected against fraud on your credit card past $50 dollars. So you may be responsible for up to $50 dollars but no more. With your debit card you have the same protection for 2 days. If you report it within 2 days you will only have to pay up to $50 dollars. After that it goes up, and quickly. Many are $500 dollars after 2 days, and then after 60 days you may be responsible for the full amount.  So even though it can be a pain to use your credit card for purchases online, as you will just have to then pay it off adding a separate step to the online order, it can be worth the extra bit of effort.

Your favorite take out place.

Hey I am guilty of ordering out more than I should, and I am also a creature of habit so that leads to me ordering from many of the same spots over and over again. And many of the smaller local places or even medium sized business will allow  you to create an account in which you can store you payment information. This is great, so easy to place an order and food shows up 30 minutes later. So whats the risk of paying with my debit card? It has to do again with the protection that is offered from your credit card vs your debit issuer. If these systems that hold your information are ever compromised you will now have your debit card out there which as we have learned could leave you responsible for any charges that occur.

These smaller shops are a bit of a catch 22, many of them have smaller databases of only a few thousand names, and payment information. This makes them not such a great target for would be thieves, they like to strike where they can get massive amounts of names and payment information. Then on the other hand most of these systems are not that well protected so they make an easy target, so the risk is there for sure.

So this is where the bad news on credit monitoring comes in, being enrolled in a credit monitoring services is my number one advice, it just is worth it for so many reasons… What it can not do is to protect your bank account from unauthorized transactions from cases like I listed above. What it can is to keep your protected in the event that your credit card information was ever stolen of skimmed and they tried to use that information to open up new accounts in your name. It really is the best way to keep your identity safe, and with the combination of using your credit cards at risky places, having your credit monitoring service in place you can rest pretty soundly at night!

 

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Feb 13 2012

Free Credit Monitoring?

Is there really free credit monitoring?

Well if you want to get really technical about it, then yes there is, I mean you can get 2 free weeks of monitoring from out site. The more honest answer is no, there is not a site where you can get free credit monitoring. Ok, well at least none that I have come across, and I do keep an eye on what is going on in the credit world! Most of you who are searching for this term in the Googles will come across a ton of sties that offer “free credit monitoring” or “free credit scores” you just have to look at the fine print. These sites are giving away a trial period anywhere from 1 day to 30 days, and then after that you will be charged a monthly rate. And if you land on one of these sites, and there is not fine print telling you what you will be charged then run, run very fast from that site! And never look back…

So why have a free trial offer?

Well I can not speak for any other site except ours, but we do it because we know you are going to like what you see. I mean you found our site most likely searching for credit monitoring or some other similar term right? So hopefully you are actually looking for a credit monitoring service, if not, well I am not sure why you are reading this blog! But hey I am glad you are here regardless, but seriously… We offer the 2 week trial because we want to make sure you are getting exactly what you want and that you like the service. It also gives you plenty of time to check out all the tools we have available and to get familiar with our system. After the 2 week trial if you are not happy, or it just want not what you were looking for then we want you to be able to get our of the service before you are ever charged! Just make sure you do it within the 2 week period.

I did write a post a few months ago about who you can monitor your credit for free. These tips are still a great way if you just feel you do not want to be locked into a monthly payment, but still would like to keep tabs on your reports.

 

 

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Feb 9 2012

Monthly Credit Monitoring Check Up

Credit Monitoring Check upFebruary’s Credit Monitoring Check up is here!

2012 is flying by at break neck speeds! Lets look back at the month of January and make sure we are still on track to make this the best year ever for our credit scores! First things first, did any of you have alerts from your credit monitoring service? If so did you know where they came from? Or were they random ones that you did not know about? Next did your scores stay the same or did they rise or fall?

Ok, so those of you who had something pop up on your credit report, if this was the first time and you got an alert from us at first it may be a little scary! If you applied for credit, or went to make a large purchase then most likely the lender pulled your report and you had an inquiry on your report that triggered the credit monitoring alert.  We wont go to much into this because, well, you know why its there!

If you had a surprise, was it one of the sneaky methods we talked about? If so well that sucks but we know that our credit is still safe. OK so not so good you had an alert that you did not know of. Good news and bad news, the good news is the service is working and its doing its job and keeping your protected and up to date. And more good news is that you caught it early and you can take the steps to have it removed and any damaged stopped before it gets started.  The bad news is that you may have had your personal information breached and someone could be trying to set up fake accounts with your personal data. For the purpose of this blog post we can not go into all the ways this could be happening, but you can work with our ID theft protection specialists to come up with the best plan of action in your individual case.

 

Monitoring our credit scores.

Ok so what about your scores, did the go up, stay the same or go down? If they went up great! Were on the right track. Keep up the good work. For those of you whose scores stayed the same or dropped lets take a look at the reasons why. If it stayed the same, well I am guessing that nothing major changed in your financial life. You payed your bills on time, your balances stayed about the same, and you had no new inquiry’s. Take a look at the score simulator in your account and see what you can do to have the largest impact on raising your score, and try your best to make it happen for February!

For those of you who’s scores dropped, log in your credit monitoring accounts and go to the score section, then look for factors that are reducing your scores. The most common will be balances are getting closed to maxed out, new credit inquiry’s, late payments, or any combination of the above. Again you will want to check the score simulator and see which items are in your power to fix quickly and fix the ones with the largest impact. If you can not do anything extra this month, its OK, just try not to do anything else that will make your scores slip even further.

I feel were off to a good start for 2012 and that by the end of the year we will all see some great increases in our credit scores. More tips and tricks coming soon!

 

 

 

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Feb 6 2012

Suprising Things That Can Hurt Your Credit Score

Here are a few sneaky items that can hurt your credit score. We all know the big thing that can hurt our scores, not paying bills on time, hard inquiry’s, open new account, maxing our credit etc. These are some sneaky ones that even I did not know bout.

Renting a car with a debit card.

This first one happened to me over the weekend, I had to travel to California on business, and it happened when I was picking up my rental car. I had made and paid for the reservation on the web and when I went to pick up the car I wanted to use my debit card as the card on file. The person working the counter asked if I knew about the rental policy and the used of a debit cards. They went on to explain that a $300 dollar hold would be placed on the card and that I would be subject to a credit check. This would lead to a hard inquiry which would in turn harm my credit.  The person behind the counter could not tell me why they would require a credit check, but said it was the policy to do so with debit cards.  I have yet to find a good reason for this, and I am not sure if it is more of a scare tactic of if in some cases they actually do it. I went a head with my debit card, and my credit monitoring has yet to show any new inquiry so I am pretty sure they did not pull my credit, but still it something to watch out for!

Open an account at a credit union.

The next is another one that is a WTF kind of thing. When you open an account with a credit union they will pull a hard inquiry, which again will hurt your credit score. Ok I know that for most people a single hard inquiry is only going to take off 5-10 points off your score, but if you were planning to apply for credit, or had applied for credit, then this could be a major drop in scores! Most of the time you will not know you had this happen to you at all until your credit monitoring alerts you to it. Most of the time the person opening your account will not even be aware that it will happen, but its in the fine print of your application, and for some reason credit unions love to pull your report.  I have been told many different reasons as to why they do this. First was to prove your identity, which to me is a bit of a lame excuse, you provide plenty of other documentation that this seems a bit of a stretch.  I have been told its to per-approve you for an over draft line of protection, which essentially is a high interest loan that goes in place if you overdraft your account. This seems more plausible but still you think you would indicate if you want this or not. Regardless of the reason its another sneaky thing that can hurt your score.

Applying for a new cell phone

This is another one which I think is not a legitimate reason for pulling your credit reports. Cell phones are not credit! You are not going to get a better rate because you have a great score, you will not get a better price because of your great score, so why do they pull your credit? Good question, and another that has yet to be answered for me. I have never once heard of anyone not getting a phone for bad credit, so again why do we allow this to happen?

These are just a few of the reasons to sign up for our credit monitoring services, you just never know whats out there that could be impacting your score.

 

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Jan 31 2012

Scary Facts On The Rise Of Identity Theft

1. Thieves are 1 step ahead.

Id Thieves are getting smarter, and the are more technologically save than ever before.  Whats even more scary is that the risk is worth the reward for these guys and girls. Fewer than 1 out of every 700 identity theft crimes leads to an arrest. The technology and tactics these guys use changes so fast that it is very hard for police to stay up to date with the latest techniques. Credit monitoring is your best line of defense against these crimes.

2. Cases of ID theft are increasing daily.

A scary new partnership is arising in the world of ID thieves. Hackers are now breaching large databases to steal the private information and then turning around and selling this to ID thieves. This is a scary trend as it now makes data that used to be only a select group of hackers could have access to is now transferring hands in to would be thieves.  These hackers are constantly setting larger and larger targets for themselves, and in turn much more of our personal data could be sold to hundreds or thousands of would be identity thieves.  This is very scary to us in the credit monitoring world as before you only had elite groups who used to hack into these systems, and generally the hackers were more after the company and not your information. Now that they are selling the data it opens the door to lower tier thieves who will try anything to make a dollar.

3. New Account Fraud is at an all time high.

With the data now being so easy account fraud is increasing at  an exponential rate.  Account fraud is when you have someone take your good credit and open up accounts in your name. Most of these types of fraud occur to consumers who have high credit scores. This is so that a thief can get instant approval and start using the account instantly. Our credit monitoring is the best way to fight off this type of fraud. You would be notified within 24 hours if anyone has created an account using your personal information, and then you would be able to stop the thieves before they were able to do any damage to your reports or scores.

4. It takes a long time to clean up.

Victims of ID theft on average will spend 40-50 hours trying to clean up a single case of ID theft. And on average they will spend $500-$1000 dollars out of pocket to fight these crimes. And the longer it takes to detect the theft the longer it will take to restore your credit, and make you edible to get credit at your pre-theft rates.  To be honest, its a pain in the ass, and we should not have to go through it, unfortunately the likely hood that you or someone you know will have to go through this is very great. If you are a member of our service we have a team ready to help you out and make it as painless as possible. 

More tips to prevent ID theft coming soon!

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Jan 26 2012

Protecting The Eldery With Credit Monitoring

The elderly and children, they should be victimless and carefree.  That just is not the case, there are so many people who choose to pick on these demographics and its just sick and wrong.  According to the FTC ID theft among the elderly account for over 10% off all ID thefts.  It is very important to all of us who have elderly parents, or care for the elderly to help to monitor there credit.  This is especially important if they live alone.

This is a silent epidemic as many are to proud to come forward and admit they are the victims of a crime.  Knowing this and knowing that the elderly control over 70% of the nations household wealth make them an idle victim to prey on.

Elderly are especially vulnerable to new high tech theft such as phishing, or other methods of ID theft.  Elderly people in general seem to be more trusting than us young whipper snappers. Through a little technology in and you have a recipe that is ripe to exploit for thieves.  An example I recently helped out with was a elderly woman received a text message from her “bank” I put bank in quotes because it literally said your bank. The message was something in regard to you missed your last payment you need to call us immediately or we will foreclose on your home. They seem to always have a since of urgency and over the top dire consequences if you do not respond to them quickly.

When she called the number they then in a very rapid fire way asked her to verify account information, checking numbers, and routing numbers. They had the balls to say they think that someone many be using her account and needed that information so they could track it down and verify all things that went out.  Luckily for this innocent woman a family happened to be visiting and overheard the conversation and immediately called her actually bank and had them protect her account and then filled a police report. These types of scams happen all the time. We need to protect our elders.

So what can we do? Well the most important thing we can do is to make sure we check in as often as we can, and do not be afraid to pry a bit into personal questions. Questions such as, “Has you bank called you?” Or “Any phone calls this week?” You can also look on their caller ID and ask about any suspicious numbers you do not recognize. Elderly people are extremely sharp and proud, and like I said before many will not want to admit to the fact they may have been scammed. You need to push a bit.

You could put a freeze on their credit reports. This will protect them from anyone trying to open an account with there information. And if they did need to get credit, it is very simple to remove it.

If you can get them to allow you, you should get in the habit of looking over their bank, and credit card statements. Keep a look out for any suspicious transactions. Many times these will be small amounts and easy to overlook, that is part of the scam, just keep leeching small amounts that most likely will be over looked.

If you can it is also very important to have them sign up for our credit monitoring services you can then have the alerts sent to you so you will know if there are any issues you need to look at.

Credit monitoring will not protect them from scams that go straight for their bank accounts, but it will protect them from becoming a victim of ID theft.

 

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Jan 25 2012

Can Credit monitoring Protect From Phishing?

In our last post we mentioned phishing and with that came some questions asking if our credit monitoring can protect you from phishing. The short answer is no it can not. What it can do is help you to know if you have become a victim of phishing if they have stolen your id, or opened accounts with your information.

Let me explain what phishing is and then how you can use some simple tips to prevent it from happening to you! Phishing refers to the fraudulent act of sending emails that look like they are coming from a legitimate source, they do this in order to gain personal information such as your bank accounts, routing numbers, credit card numbers, or any other person information. This is not just limited to email, although email is the most common, it can happen over the phone or through text messages.

Phishing is becoming more and more common, and the phishers are getting much better at their craft, here are some tips to help you stay safe.

Unfortunately phishing is on the rise and it shows no signs of stopping. Follow the tips above, check your bank balances, and credit card statements often and look for any anomaly’s that may show your accounts have been compromised. If anything looks suspicious do not hesitate to call your financial institution  to have them check into it for you.

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Jan 23 2012

Zappos Hacked

Online shoe retailer Zappos.com was recently a victim of a cyber attack which lead to 24 million accounts being hacked. You can read more about it here.  We want to inform our customers on how this can effect them, and what they should be worried about.

First off the breach could have been much worse, and Zappos has been diligent in their efforts to minimize the impact this will cause to its customers. The breach contained, names, email address, physical address, and the last 4 digits of your credit card numbers. Most of this information is easy to obtain, and most likely will present it self as any type of threat to your credit.  What we are concerned with here for our customers is where this information went and how it will be used. Our security experts warn you to be very careful in the upcoming months about phishing scams. The thieves could use the information stolen to then send out emails that look official asking for you to verify your account, and to give up personal information. This could come from email or even a phone call. Know that you should never give away your password or private data over the telephone or email. A company will never ask for this information.

The next threat we potentially see is that if you have used your same account information in multiple places. For example if you use the login you have at Zappos for any, and I can not stress this enough, any other site, you need to change them as soon as you can. It is very important to not use the same login and passwords on multiple sites on the web for this very reason. If one system gets hacked, then the hackers could then have access to all of your accounts.

Zappos has sent out instructions on the steps you need to take to secure your account with them, they can be found here.

We will keep you up to date on if anything changes in this case, but for now we do not see this as a major threat to your online identity. For those of your enrolled in our credit monitoring service you will receive updates if there are any changes to your account.  If you are not in our program and you have other accounts that use the same login and password as your Zappos account, I would highly recommend signing up for credit monitoring for the next few months to ensure that no damage is being done, and so you can catch it early!

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Jan 17 2012

3 Credit Scores? huh?

Q.  Why are there 3 credit scores? What gives?

A.  Experian, Transunion, and Equifax all use there own scoring system. So that is where the three scores come from. While ll three scores should be somewhat close, they all used different data and algorithms to come up with there own scores. And everyone will argue that theirs is the best and most accurate.  Regardless of whose is best, you have 3 scores, and they are all different, and you need to know all three.  Most creditors when you are applying for credit will take an average of all three, but some may choose to only use the lowest score.

And as I said they should be fairly close to each other sometimes that just is not the case. Since all three bureaus collect their own data and compute the scores from the data they have on hand, its normal to have a slight variation in the scores.  What can happen is that one report may have some information that is wrong, or for some reason has not been reported to the the other bureaus and that score could take a huge hit. This is why it is so important to monitor all three credit scores.

A common myth is that all 3 bureaus work together and share data, and unfortunately that is not true.  You also have to remember that these are private companies, and that offer a separate credit score is a way for them to generate revenue.  The place you are looking to get credit, or even credit monitoring services like ours have to pay for the reports, and the scores, so I would not expect the 3 scores to change anytime soon!

 

 

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