We love our Dogs too

Yesterday was #NationalDogday across the social media landscape. For one day, Dogs usurped Cats as overlords of the Internet, and real time updates showed some of the most adorable pictures imaginable. Look, we here at PrivacyGuard adore our pooches too. However, just a reminder to anyone who posted pictures and commentary about their best friend…. There are lots of sites that use “your pet’s name” as a password hint and/or reset option. If you posted your dog with some commentary, consider thinking about changing your password hints where applicable. 

Back to School Tips for Keeping Your Identity Safe

As students get ready to head off to school, perhaps for the first time, it’s important to keep in mind that just because someone is your roommate, it doesn’t mean they’re immediately your trusted friend. An FTC report from earlier this year shows that there were almost 12,000 victims of ID Theft under the age of 19 in 2013. We’ve previously addressed tips for protecting yourself from ID Theft (and we’re certain that most people have heard the basics like ‘don’t save your social security number on your computer,’ ‘don’t share your passwords,’ and ‘don’t leave credit cards lying around’ dozens of times).
Here is a pair of non-traditional tips that incoming students may not consider:
  •   Empty your pockets when you’re doing laundry- For many, dorm living is the first time that they have to do their own laundry. Make sure that important documents (driver’s license, student ID, etc) don’t end up stuck in the spin cycle.
  • Don’t let sticky fingers ruin your day- While it’s nice to think of the community spirit of dorm life, the reality is the some folks are a little less scrupulous than others. Here’s a great article on protecting your devices. 

Large Scale Breach Reported

A security firm based in Milwaukee has announced finding of a massive, 1.2 billion record breach, although it is unclear from the reports just which companies were affected. Also, the company who found the breach seems to be under fire for charging to find out if you were a victim of the breach.

And finally, since the breach seems to have hit e-mail and passwords, here’s a satirical look at creating strong passwords (our actual advice can be found here).

A Phishing Scam is Targeting Netflix Customers

There are currently reports of an online scam targeting Netflix customers. In short, while surfing the web, people are seeing a pop up (or received an e-mail with a link) that looks an awful lot like the Netflix log in (there is messaging saying something along the lines of ‘please log in, your account has encountered suspicious activity’).

Upon trying to log in, people are being directed to a customer service number, and the alleged representative is offering some sort of “suspicious activity resolution tool” in the form of a download. 

The download actually is a desktop sharing tool, which gives the perpetrator full access to a computer’s hard drive. Any info stored there (credit cards, passwords, picture, etc… any number of items that can expose people to identity theft) is suddenly available to thieves.

Keep an eye out for the scam.

My Personal Experience With PrivacyGuard’s Credit Monitoring Service

I wanted to blog about my own recent experience with PrivacyGuard’s credit monitoring service.  I will state that in this particular instance, it was not my intention to go out and “test” the performance of the service in any way.  I had already used PrivacyGuard to check my credit report and score and to verify that all of my credit information was correct, so I liked the service and I knew that it worked well for me.  However, I didn’t realize how efficient PrivacyGuard’s service could be until this most recent event.

It was Saturday, Dec 28 at about 4:30 pm when I was in a well known department store exchanging a couple of shirts that I received as Christmas presents and picking up a few more items courtesy of a gift card that Santa left under the tree for me. While at the checkout counter, the very friendly and helpful sales associate informed me of a sale on men’s shirts and told me that if I used the store’s credit card to charge the small balance of the purchase, I would receive an additional discount over the current sale price (which was already discounted almost 50%, mind you).  So, I whipped out my store card, blew the dust off and handed it to the associate who asked me about the last time I had used the card.  “About 2 years ago” was my response and she told me that I would probably have to renew the card in order to use it.  I agreed and it was all taken care of right there on the computer terminal at the checkout area.

Of course, I was careful about giving my information to the associate, but I was comfortable as I was able to input all of my own personal information into the system myself via the card keyboard and there were no other people around to “look over my shoulder” or listen to any of the dialogue that I had with the sales associate.  My credit was approved, the items were paid for and I realized further discounts on my merchandise, life was good.

Afterward, I got my goods and browsed through the mall for a bit, on the lookout for any other after-Christmas bargains.  I was able to pick up a few things here and there, and went back home satisfied and happy with my clothing and other purchases.  By now, it was probably about 6:30 pm and I looked forward to heading out to a small get-together with a few friends.

The next morning, Sunday, December 29, 2013, at 10:01 am, I received a text message alert and an e-mail alert from PrivacyGuard informing me of the following:

Attention….,
Member Number: XXXXXXXX
We have detected activity on your credit report.
Log in to your account at PrivacyGuard.com and view your updated score.
Understanding this notification
Your PrivacyGuard membership includes daily monitoring of your Experian,
Equifax, and TransUnion credit files.
Certain changes have been detected that may or may not be an
indication of fraud.

It’s important that you review the details of this notification immediately.
Our goal is to keep you better informed on your credit.
You can rest easier, knowing PrivacyGuard is working 24/7 to help protect your credit and identity

If you have any questions on your recent alert, please contact the Credit Information Hotline at 1-800-270-3819, Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. and Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (ET).

For questions on your membership account details, please contact us at 1-800-270-3819 or go to www.PrivacyGuard.com/secure/MyProfile.aspx

Sincerely,


PrivacyGuard Customer Service


When I saw the e-mail, I immediately thought of the transaction at the department store and I knew that they had probably made an inquiry into my credit report in order to approve the renewal of my store card.  The e-mail alert was direct enough to get my attention, yet balanced enough that it served to alert me of activity and not alarm me into any sort of panic situation.

However, since I had used my credit cards quite a bit over the preceding two weeks, I started to wonder if something else had triggered the alert.  Well, upon logging into my PrivacyGuard account and reviewing the recent activity, I verified that it was indeed the store card inquiry into my credit report that set off the alert.

I was very impressed with the PrivacyGuard service, as this notification reached me less than 24 hours after there was activity recorded on my credit report.  The service responded quickly, accurately and through multiple communication channels.  In this case, the activity was completely justified and there were no unauthorized transactions or activity that could have harmed my credit.  However, if this had been a some more nefarious, like a case of someone trying to open up a credit account under my name or social security number without my knowledge, I would have known about it less than 24 hours later and I could have taken the appropriate action to protect my good credit standing.  This is the very reason that many of us use credit monitoring as a credit protection tool. 

Please visit PrivacyGuard.com today to review their credit monitoring and identity theft protection services. I happen to work as a contractor for Affinion Group, the company that runs PrivacyGuard, but that hasn’t affected my opinion in any way. 

6 Tips To Organize Your Wallet

Organizing your wallet doesn’t just make it easier to fold and carry, it helps you know how much money you have on hand and allows quick access to everything important you might need; and, it can also aid in protecting you from identity theft. However, we carry so much information in our wallets that it can be hard to figure out what to toss and what to keep. 

Here are a few guidelines to help you get started:

1) Keep it simple. When it comes to identification, carry only what you need. Have your driver’s license in an easily accessible place, but other forms of identification, like your voter's registration card doesn’t necessarily need to be in your wallet unless you plan on voting in the near future.
2) Recipe for receipt keeping. If you hold onto a receipt, fold it up and keep all of your receipts together in one place. On a regular basis, consider logging your receipts in your checkbook register or check them against your account statement and then either file them for tax purposes or throw them out.

3) Organize your cash. Organizing your cash can make your money easier to find and lets you know how much you actually have on hand. Straighten out the bills to keep them from taking up extra space.

4) Limit yourself. We live in a world of credit and debit cards, so it’s important to have them on hand, but consider only carrying the credit cards you need. This way, an identity thief will have fewer of your cards in his possession if he gets ahold of your wallet. Similarly, it's easy to fill up your wallet with membership cards from libraries, civic organizations or museums but if you don’t need them, don’t pack them in your wallet. Instead, try placing them in a labeled envelope in a safe place at home.
5) Make a contact list. If you collect business cards, consider taking them out of your wallet as soon as you get to work or home. Then, transcribe the contact information or file the cards.

6) Protect private information.
Never keep your Social Security card or number in your wallet, doing so can be an open invitation to a thief to steal your identity.


Clean out that wallet, and start fresh.

Help! There’s An Error In My Credit Report

Inaccuracies in your credit history can hurt your credit score. Learn what to do and what to expect if you encounter a credit report error.


In theory, a credit report should contain every statistic that pertains to an individual’s finances, along with basic identity information. In the U.S., each of the three independent credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) compiles credit reports based on information supplied by banks, credit unions, credit card companies and other businesses that sell goods or services through credit accounts. Credit bureaus also get credit information from collection agencies and public records pertaining to court judgments on financial issues (divorce, bankruptcy, liens, etc.).

Mistakes can creep into credit reports. When this happens, the credit scores derived from credit report details can be adversely affected. If your credit scores drop, this may hurt your chances of qualifying for a low-interest loan and other financial benefits. That’s why financial advisors recommend keeping track of your credit scores and checking your credit reports. 
Credit scores are easy to check using monitoring services like PrivacyGuard. A useful feature of this service is an alert setting that automatically contacts you of certain credit-related activity that has been added to your credit report.  

What causes credit report errors?
Some credit report errors are caused by reporting mistakes on the part of a bank, service provider or creditor. For example, an incorrect social security number may have been given in association with a new credit account. In other cases, the consumer is responsible. It may be an innocent mistake for an individual to open bank or credit accounts in two names. But William Smith’s credit activity may not be recorded on the same credit report that holds Bill Smith’s information, even if they are the same person.  

Some credit report errors are simply small oversights, but they can manage to hurt your credit score anyway. For example, if you make a final payment that falls short of the total payment due by just a small amount (like a $3.75 interest charge), the creditor could potentially report the account as overdue. Even a small accounting error like this has the potential to hurt your credit score, because it can show up on your credit report as an overdue payment.

Identity theft is another cause of credit report errors that deserves mention. If someone gains access to your social security number, address and other personal information, he or she can open an account or multiple accounts in your name, resulting in false information being added to your credit report. The credit problem is exacerbated if the thief runs up expenses in your name. If your credit scores change unexpectedly –without significant financial or credit activity on your part—this can be an indication of identity theft.

How can credit report errors be corrected?

It’s important to correct errors on a credit report, but unfortunately it’s not easy. The Fair Credit Reporting Act makes it a legal requirement for credit bureaus (sometimes referred to as credit agencies, credit reporting agencies or CRAs) to investigate credit report mistakes when requested to do so by a consumer. Despite this legislation, such investigations rarely happen in a timely fashion. 

So how can a consumer speed up the process of correcting a credit report mistake?
Of course, the first step is to order a copy of the credit report (or reports) that you suspect of being inaccurate. You are legally entitled to see a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three major CRAs. The next thing to do is to check for identity errors, the easiest ones to find. On a photocopy of your report, highlight a name variation, unknown address, incorrect social security number or other error when you find it. Follow this work with a thorough check of all your bank and credit accounts. Again, it’s important to highlight a mistake clearly. In some cases, a mistake will be basic enough to explain in the margin. In other cases, you’ll need to write a longer explanation on a separate document, and include documents that back up your claim. 


Experts point out that you may get faster results if you go directly to the business or institution that is the source of the error. Since banks make regular reports to credit bureaus, it’s best to approach the bank if that’s where the wrong information originated. The same goes for a collection agency, landlord, cell phone service or utility company that provided inaccurate information.

Snail mail beats email when dealing with CRAs

Emailing a CRA may seem like the speediest way to get a CRA to correct credit report errors, but it’s not the approach most personal finance experts recommend. Instead, you’re more likely to get resolution by sending a registered letter containing a copy of your redlined credit report, along with detailed explanations, support documentation and a request for action. 

The good news about working with a CRA to correct credit report inaccuracies is that there are new and powerful incentives for credit bureaus to be more responsive to consumers.