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Saving For College

Saving For Your Child’s College Education—4 Things To Consider

It’s easy to put off saving for your child’s college education, especially when they are tiny, because it seems so far away. But the days turn into years much faster than you expect. Before you know it, your little one will be applying for college and buying extra-long sheets for their dorm room. But regardless of how old your child is or how much extra money you have to save, starting today will give your family more choices in the future.

Here are four things you can do today to get started:

1. Figure out how much you should have saved right now. Fidelity offers some advice to help parents know how much to save for their child’s college education. The financial services company recommends multiplying your child’s current age by $2,000 to get an idea of how much money you should save to pay for 50% of a 4-year degree at a public college. A 2017 CNN Money article estimates that expenses for four-years at a public college will cost state residents almost $57,000.

So, if you have an 18-year-old, between your $36,000 savings fund, financial aid, student loans, and other family income, you should be well on your way to financing your child’s college education. This $2,000 rule assumes you use a 529 plan.

2. Open a 529 plan for your child. According to the SEC, (Securities and Exchange Commission) the 529 plan is a “tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future college costs,” and it’s sponsored by states, state agencies or educational institutions. There are two types of 529 plans: prepaid tuition plans and college savings plans. Check the SEC website to determine which plan is best for your family.

3. Suggest that grandparents contribute to the 529 plan. Instead of giving your child more toys or video games, suggest that grandparents give the gift of education. By adding a contribution to the 529 for birthdays and holidays, they will be helping fund their grandchild’s future instead of just filling up their toy box. Their 529 contributions also qualify for the annual gift tax exclusion, so they can provide an estate-planning advantage.

4. Set up auto contributions to your child’s 529 fund. It’s easy to not miss money that you never see. By setting up an auto withdrawal, a set amount of money is transferred into the fund. When the funds are automatically deposited, you can’t “forget” to contribute or decide to spend the money on other things. Start small with an amount you won’t miss — even $50 or $100 — and watch the money grow over time. When you get extra money, such as a raise, bonus or inheritance, make a larger contribution.

Identity Theft for Business

Identity Theft for Business: 3 Ways to Help Stay Safe

Did you know that your business has an identity just like you do? Because you can open accounts in your business’s name, identity thieves can do the same thing to commit fraud. This makes businesses a prime target for identity theft. The IRS reported that business identity theft has increased dramatically in recent years, from 350 reported cases in 2015 to approximately 10,000 business returns with potential for fraud in the first six months of 2017. 

Because of this increase, the IRS updated its practices for 2018 and now requires additional information for businesses, such as the SSN of the company executive authorized to sign corporate returns, payment history, filing history and parent company information. The IRS has also published five red flags for business identity theft, which include:

  • The IRS rejects an e-filed return saying it already has one with that identification number.
  • The IRS rejects an extension to file request saying it already has a return with that identification number.
  • The filer receives an unexpected tax transcript.
  • The filer receives an IRS notice that doesn’t relate to anything they submitted.
  • The filer doesn’t receive expected or routine mailings from the IRS.

Here are three ways to help prevent business identity theft:    

1.     Use an Employer Identification Number (EIN) instead of your SSN for business purposes. 
Many small businesses use their SSN number for business purposes. Using an EIN means that if your business identity is stolen, the thieves do not automatically have access to your personal identity. You can get an EIN for your business on the IRS website. 

Once you have an EIN, view it in the same way you do your personal SSN. With your EIN, business name and address, a thief can open business accounts and commit fraud. Be wary of other applications asking for your EIN, and limit providing your EIN as much as possible. 

2.     Sign up for notification of changes to your business registration. 
Your state may offer a free service that will notify you about changes to your business information. If your name, address, registered agent, business owner or officer information is modified, you will receive an email. Because thieves often change business information, unauthorized changes can be an early indicator of business identity theft. Check out the business identity theft page for your state to find out if the program is offered and how it works in your area. 

3.  Use the latest computer and internet security protocols. 
Because thieves often head online to steal business information for identity theft, it’s important to protect your network and computers. Make sure employees use secure passwords and remove network access immediately when an employee leaves. The U.S. Attorney General’s Office in the District of Rhode Island recommends using firewalls, anti-virus software, spyware protection software and encryption software. Other precautions recommended by the Department of Justice include not sharing files with personal information on the network or internet, using only authorized software, and checking logging data and audit trails.

Sorting out a business identity theft costs time and money. By taking steps to actively prevent business identity theft, you can focus on growing your business and serving your customers. 

Identity Theft Information

3 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Identity Theft 

Perhaps you’ve read articles or seen news reports on identity theft and the latest identity theft scams. Maybe you’ve taken some basic precautions — you shred your mail containing credit card offers and financial information, you check your credit report regularly, and you use strong passwords for all financial accounts.

To get around new security measures, thieves have become smarter and are constantly coming up with new ways to steal personal information and commit fraud. This means you must constantly stay on top of information about new schemes and precautions. In the case of identity theft, what you don’t know can definitely hurt you. 

Here are three things about identity theft that may surprise you:

1.    Identity thieves are filing taxes. Yes, it seems like the last thing a criminal would do — file with the IRS. But tax identity theft is when a criminal files a fraudulent tax return using your personal information with the intention of stealing your refund. Most people don’t know what has happened until they file their own return. At this point, it’s hard to find the criminal because many deposit the refund to a difficult-to-track prepaid credit card. To prevent becoming a victim, file your tax return early — because the IRS only allows one return per SSN. 

2.    You are at highest risk for being a victim of fraud when shopping online. Buying online is part of everyday life for many people these days and in 2016 79 percent of American consumers have bought something online. Roughly 8-in-10 Americans shop online, with 15% who buy online on a weekly basis. The 2018 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research notes that despite industry efforts to prevent identity fraud, fraudsters netted 1.3 million victims in 2017. With the adoption of EMV (embedded chip) cards and terminals, the types of identity fraud continued to shift online and away from physical stores, making online shopping riskier. Card Not Present Fraud is now 81% more likely than Point of Sale fraud.

3.    Applying for a mortgage can increase your risk of identity theft. After you apply for a mortgage or preapproval, the credit bureaus sell the fact that you are in the market for a mortgage to companies that sell mortgage products. This is called a “mortgage trigger lead.” Criminals use this information to call people who have recently applied for a mortgage and ask personal questions to gain information they can use to commit fraud. If someone calls you about a lower-cost mortgage, verify their identity, ask if they can mail you the information, and don’t give out sensitive information over the phone.

Identity theft isn’t something you can just learn about once and assume you know 
how to protect yourself. To protect yourself and your financial future, you must stay 
informed and constantly learn about new ways criminals are committing identity 

Child Identity Theft Prevention

Protecting Your Child’s Identity—Start with A Social Security Number

You’ve just had your first child—congratulations! In addition to worrying about feeding schedules, colic, sleepless nights, and saving for college, should you worry that your newborn’s identity could be stolen?

Get Your Newborn a Social Security Number ASAP

The Social Security Administration recommends that one of the things on your “to do” list is to get your newborn a Social Security number (SSN). There’s no charge for getting your child’s SSN. You can report anyone trying to charge you by calling 1-800-269-0271 or visiting the Office of the Inspector General website.

You need an SSN to claim your child as a dependent on your income tax return, but here are a few reasons that you may want to get your child an SSN. 

1.    To open a bank account for the child
2.    To buy savings bonds for the child
3.    To get medical coverage for the child
4.    To apply for government services for the child
5.    Think about freezing your child’s credit (see April blog)

Once you’ve received the child’s SSN, the next thing to think about is keeping their identity safe. Start by filing your child’s SSN card in a secure place such as a bank safety deposit box, or a home safe. Don’t write your child’s SSN on school forms, medical forms, or other registration forms. They’re usually not required to obtain services. Don’t give your child’s SSN to relatives

So, you’ve been careful about keeping your child’s SSN private, but you start getting pre-approved credit cards and loyalty program offers. This could be an innocent marketing tool sent by an affiliate of your bank because you opened a college fund for your child, or it could be an indication that your child may be a victim of identity theft. 

If you think your child is a victim of identity theft, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by calling 1-877-438-4338 or going to

What You Need to Know About the Dark Web to Keep Your Identity Safe

You probably know that the dark web is where criminals sell illegal goods. It’s easy to assume that the dark web isn’t a place normal law-abiding consumers need to worry about. But this is not true. To keep your identity and other financial information safe and protected, it’s important to understand the dark web.

What is the dark web?

The dark web isn’t a place you can accidentally stumble upon. You must purposely download the Tor browser and, using it, go to a page ending with .onion instead of .com or other common extensions. While it has existed for many years, activity has recently increased because bitcoin now allows monetary transactions to happen anonymously.

Many people use the terms “dark web” and “deep web” interchangeably, which is incorrect. The deep web refers to all the data that is stored behind a firewall — such as company intranets, sites only accessible with a password and databases. The dark web, however, is actually a subset of the deep web. 

Just because someone is active on the dark web does not mean they are taking part in illegal activities. Many people use it for free speech, especially in countries where people cannot legally get online or eavesdropping is common. Other uses include talking about current events, buying rare books and whistleblowing. You could even find things you would never expect, such as a book on origami and a set of parrots.

How to protect your identity from landing on the dark web

The dark web is full of personal information for sale, such as credit cards, passwords and even social security numbers. After a data breach, criminals typically sell the stolen data on the dark web. As of March 2018, passwords for a bank account sell for an average of $160.15 and an Uber account password for $7. A hacker who steals an entire identity can typically earn about $1,200 on the dark web for that information. 

Other criminals purchase the personal information and use it to commit fraud such as identity theft. If your SSN is found on the dark web, it doesn’t mean that it’s been sold yet, just that it is available for purchase.  However, when your information is put on the dark web, many different thieves may be able to copy it and you cannot successfully get it off the dark web.

Instead, you should focus on prevention and securing your identity. Make sure to use strong passwords, which means they should be long and weird but not necessarily hard to remember, to prevent your information from being stolen. If you are part of a data breach, consider freezing your credit as a precaution. In case your information is sold, you want to catch any identity theft in the early stages. The best defense is monitoring your credit report regularly and quickly reporting any questionable activity. 

3 Apps to Help Keep Your Identity Safe on Mobile Devices

Your smartphone (or possibly your tablet) is likely the command center for your life. You may have banking information stored on it so you can easily take a picture and deposit a check. Maybe you have shopping apps so you can order anything with the click of a single button. Or perhaps you have birthdays and other personal information stored on your phone.  

While it’s convenient to have everything you need in your pocket, phones are often lost or stolen; and lost smartphones can mean lost contacts, photos, notes, and other information.

Here are three apps to consider to help keep your identity safe on your mobile devices:

Find My iPhone – Odds are, you are going to lose your phone one day. And when that happens, the best way to prevent your information from being stolen is removing the data from your phone remotely. If you have an iPhone, iPad or other Apple device, you can find your phone using the Find My iPhone app, to remotely wipe it if needed. The app is already included on newer Apple devices, but if you have an older device, you can install it. Then, just log in to your account from another device or a computer to see the location of your phone or tablet. If the phone is turned on, you can see on the map where it is located — and even activate a sound to help you find it which is particularly helpful if it’s just stuck between your car’s seats. If the phone is not turned on, or you are concerned it has been stolen, you can select the option to remotely wipe your data, which removes your apps, files and photos from the device.

TunnelBear (Basic free version) - Even though we know it’s not secure, it’s tempting (and sometimes necessary) to connect to a public wireless network. Public WiFi hotspots present tempting targets to hackers. Many people choose to use VPNs to help reduce security risks in these situations. By using a VPN, you have your own private network using a public wireless connection. With TunnelBear VPN, your IP address is masked and your data is encrypted, which means you may have a reduced likelihood of being hacked. 

LastPass - Knowing the dangers of a thief gaining access to your phone, many people use a password manager to help protect their data as well as make it easier to remember passwords. With LastPass, you only need to remember one password, which makes it easier to have strong passwords for all apps. You create your account with one long, secure master password, and LastPass uses AES-256 bit encryption to do the rest. Additionally, the app encrypts all your passwords and requires two factor authentications for added security. If you want to make it even harder for someone else to gain access, enable the fingerprint feature on the app.