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.

Is Freezing Your Credit the Best Way to Prevent Fraud?

With breaches making headlines in the past year, you have probably heard experts advise people whose identities have been stolen to freeze their credit. Since no one wants their identity stolen, you may have wondered if this is good general advice to prevent identity theft as well. The answer — it depends.

What exactly does freezing your credit mean? 

The term is a bit of a misnomer since your credit isn’t actually frozen, rather your credit reports are frozen. You can still use your credit cards like you normally would and make payments as usual. However, when your credit is frozen, lenders cannot access your credit report to make decisions about letting you open new accounts or lending you money. This effectively means that no new credit can be opened in your name while your credit is frozen.

What are the downsides of freezing your credit?

The biggest downside is that you can’t just open a new account on a whim, which means no taking advantage of a promotion for a store credit card. Each time you want to unfreeze your credit, you have to contact each credit bureau and prove your identity using a PIN provided when you froze your credit, which can take a few hours or a few days.

On the surface, this may not seem like a big deal, especially if you keep credit cards to a minimum. But credit reports are run for other reasons as well — setting up utilities in a new home, starting a new job or even getting a new cell phone contract. You will need to unfreeze your credit for each one of these events and, to avoid delays or outright rejection, you should remember to do so in advance.

In some states unfreezing your credit costs more than just your time. If your identity has been stolen, you can typically have any fees related to unfreezing your credit waived by providing documentation of the theft. However, if you freeze your credit as a precaution you are charged a fee in some states, typically $3 to $10, each time you unfreeze your credit. If you are married, you will likely need to freeze both partners’ credit with all three agencies and fees can add up quickly if you want to unfreeze it.

Finally, freezing your credit does not protect you from all forms of theft. It only protects you from having new accounts opened in your name. Thieves can still gain access to existing accounts and rack up charges.         

So, when should you freeze your credit?

If you have been a victim of identity theft, you may want to seriously consider freezing your credit. The costs to start and end the security freeze could be waived if you have filed a police report. Because thieves sometimes steal children’s identities, some experts also recommend freezing your children’s credit. The youngest reported identity theft case was a one-month-old. Check your state’s laws before attempting to freeze your child’s credit. This is less of a hassle because your child is not likely to be applying for a job or opening a credit account at the hardware store — at least not anytime soon. If these scenarios don’t apply to you, when asking whether you should freeze your credit, the answer is “maybe.” You need to weigh the costs, both financially and hassle-wise, against the amount of peace of mind it will bring you. And, ultimately, the right answer may be different for you than someone else.

5 Things to Do If Your Information is Stolen in a Data Breach

With recent data breaches in the headlines, many consumers are concerned about protecting their personal information. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, companies and government agencies were the victims of 1,093 data breaches in 2016, which was a 40 percent increase over 2015.

By knowing what steps to take if you are involved in a breach, you can act quickly and potentially minimize the damage. Waiting to see what happens is a risky move; it’s important to move quickly and take action. 

Here are five things to do if your data is stolen as part of a breach:

1.    Sign up for credit monitoring. Credit monitoring alerts you to any changes in your credit, which can often be early signs of identity theft. You will likely receive an email or letter from the company letting you know what information was exposed in the breach. In many cases, the company that was breached will set up a website to provide information for victims or notify victims by mail.

2.    Put a fraud alert on your credit report. If your social security number was stolen, have a fraud alert placed on your credit report by calling one of the three credit reporting bureaus. This means that anyone issuing credit in your name will know to take extra precautions to verify your identity.

3.    Consider freezing your credit. This means that no one can open a line of credit in your name. If your identity was stolen and the theft was reported, the $10 fee for freezing credit at each bureau is waived. The freeze stays on your credit until you specifically remove the freeze.

4.    Monitor your credit closely. After a breach, you are entitled to a free credit report to make sure your identity has not been stolen. Be sure to request your free credit report and carefully look through the report to make sure no fraudulent accounts have been opened.

5.      Close any accounts with information that was breached. If your bank account information was exposed, close the account and open a new bank account. Close any credit card accounts included in the breach, then open new accounts and continue to review your accounts for fraudulent charges.

No one wants to be involved in a data breach. But by being prepared and knowing what to do, it is likely that you can minimize the damage. 

National Cyber Security Awareness Month: 5 Ways To Protect Yourself

National Cyber Security Awareness Month
Did you know that October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month? It’s easy to see that cyber security is something businesses and organizations need to worry about. However, since so much of our personal data and lives are conducted online, each person must also take steps to protect their devices and their home from cyber attacks. In fact, in 2016, 689 million people in 21 countries experienced cyber crime.

The Department of Homeland Security has identified three common cyber crimes committed against individuals:

·       Identity theft – Someone steals your personal information and then takes out credit or money in your name.

·       Phishing attacks – Criminals send an email from a legitimate-looking email address and includes a link or attachment that downloads a virus or malware onto your device.

·       Imposter scams –Someone emails or contacts you and pretends to be someone who needs money, such as a government official or family member. 

Once a criminal has your personal identifying information (PII), they can then commit identity theft against you. Here are five ways to protect yourself from becoming a statistic:

1.    Be careful not to open attachments or click on links from unsolicited emails. Even if the email is from a friend, their account could have been hacked. Phishing is a very common cyber crime, with the Norton Cyber Security Insights Report finding that 86 percent of people reporting that they have been the target of an incident.

2.  Practice safe password management. Many people do not take proper precautions with passwords, with 41 percent of online adults having shared their password with someone else, and 39 percent admitting they use the same (or very similar) passwords for all of their accounts. Consider using a password manager service for extra safety. Be sure to:

b. Do not use very common words such as user, password or 12345678.
c. Choose a password that is not in the dictionary, or a nonsense phrase.

2.    Set privacy settings on social media sites. Because crooks may use personal information gathered from social media to commit cyber crimes against you, block the people you do not want seeing your profile. Consider making all of your social media pages private.

3.    Secure your mobile devices. Are you one of the 28 percent of smartphone users who do not use a password to lock your smartphone? Password protecting your phone helps keep your bank account, home address and photos safer from criminals.

5.   Use a virtual private network (VPN) instead of public wireless networks. According to Pew Research Center, 54 percent of online adults use insecure public wireless networks, and 1 in 5 people have used public networks for transactions such as e-commerce or online banking. Using a VPN connection provides a much safer environment than public wireless. When you use public wireless, it is possible for others to eavesdrop on your wireless transactions and intercept your information, including passwords and banking information.

Recovering from a cyber crime can be frustrating, expensive and time consuming. By taking a few minutes each day to practice safe internet and mobile practices, you can prevent yourself from experiencing weeks, or perhaps months, of stress. 

5 Warnings Your Identity Has Been Stolen

5 Warnings Your Identity Has Been Stolen
One of the scariest parts of identity theft is that it can happen for weeks, or even months, without you being aware of it. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, 15.4 million U.S. consumers were victims of identity theft in 2016. However, the sooner you are aware of the crime, the less damage the thief is likely to do to your credit. By being aware of the subtle signs of identity theft, you can immediately put a fraud alert on your account with each credit bureau to prevent the thief from opening more accounts in your name. While some signs of identity theft are relatively obvious, such as withdrawals from your checking account or charges you didn’t make on your credit card, others are more subtle.

Here are 5 signs to look out for:

You get a call from a collection agency about an account you didn’t open. It’s easy to simply assume that the creditor has the wrong number or made a paperwork mistake if you get a call about an unfamiliar credit card or loan. However, collection calls are actually a red flag that your identity has been stolen.

Your mailbox is empty. If you stop getting mail, you might shrug it off that the mailman delivered it to the wrong house, but if it continues for several days, you need to take action immediately. One identity theft tactic is to forward mail from the victim’s house to a location the thief has access to. This way, you do not see bills for the accounts they opened. Your first call should be to the post office, and then your creditors, says CreditCard.com.

A refund check arrives from the IRS, but you have not filed your taxes. It’s easy to simply be happy with the refund, but this likely means that a thief filed a return in your name. Another sign is getting a letter from the IRS that you filed two tax returns, when in reality you only filed one. You will need to file a Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit with the IRS to correct the issue, in addition to taking the standard steps to stopping identity theft from continuing.

You apply for credit and are denied. When someone takes out a credit card in your name, they are not paying the bill. This means your credit takes a hit for late payments, which can then result in credit and loan applications being rejected. If you know you have a good credit score and are turned down for a card, your next task is getting a credit report to find out if there are accounts you did not open.

Your child gets credit card offers in the mail. Child identity theft has been on the rise in recent years with approximately 1.3 million victims annually, 50 percent of which are under the age of six. If you find pre-approved card offers in your mailbox addressed to your child, your child’s identity may have been stolen. To find out if it was an error or identity theft, check to see if your child has a credit report. If there is a credit history on file, it is likely that your child has been a victim.

Time is of the essence when it comes to identity theft. By being aware of the signs and taking quick action, you may be able to reduce the impact of identity theft to your credit. 

How Buying a House Affects Your Credit Score

When buying a new house it’s easy to focus on qualifying for a mortgage. However, it is also important to remember that securing your new mortgage impacts your credit score. By understanding how applying for a mortgage and purchasing a house can affect your credit score, you can more effectively manage your credit score.
Here are three ways buying a house affects your credit score:
Hard Inquiries from Potential Lenders – Before buying a house, you may apply with several financial institutions to try to find the best rate. This results in a hard inquiry on your credit report, which means that you have applied for a loan—which can drop your credit score. Redfin.com recommends that if you are putting applications in at multiple lending companies, make all of your applications within a window of 14 to 45 days. This way, the credit bureaus know you are applying for a loan and only count one hard inquiry instead of multiple.
Impact of Late Payments – It’s important to pay your bills on time—especially your new mortgage payment. Missing a payment could decrease your score. Keep in mind that 35 percent of your credit score is based on payment history. Because your bank will likely include your first payment in your closing costs, be careful not to forget your second payment, which will likely be two months after your closing date. You may want to consider setting up an auto-draft payment if you are prone to being late on bills.
Shortens Length of Credit History  According to Motley Fool, 15 percent of your credit score is based on the length of your credit history, which includes how long you have had your oldest loan, the average length of time you have had all loans, and the amount of time you have had each account. When you get a new loan, the average length of time decreases, as does the impact of the brand new mortgage as an individual account. Fortunately, this impact lessens as the months go by and you have the loan for a longer amount of time.

Buying a house is a milestone as well as a huge financial commitment. By taking steps to minimize the impact to your credit score, you can keep your credit in top shape while enjoying your new home. 

Impact of Identity Theft on Applying for a Mortgage

Identity Thief
No one wants to be a victim of identity theft. But it happened to 15.4 million people in the United States last year. While there are many ramifications of being a victim of identity theft, one of the biggest issues is that it can impact your ability to get credit afterwards. This is especially true if the theft occurs shortly before you apply for a mortgage.

Some Identity Thieves Purchase a Home
You most likely think of a identity theft as someone opening a new credit card account or making purchases in your name. But some thieves actually use someone else’s identity to apply for a mortgage and purchase a house. When checking your credit report for errors, be sure to also keep an eye out for mortgages you did not apply for.

New Accounts and Late/Unpaid Bills Can Affect Credit Score
After you apply for a mortgage, the lender will run your credit  to look at your credit report and your credit score. If you have been a victim of identity theft, you may have unpaid bills lowering your credit score. Experts say lenders want you to have a minimum credit score, depending on the loan you’re applying for. You also may have accounts opened by the thief that are increasing your credit utilization percentage. If you are not aware of the issues or they are not properly resolved, it is possible that the theft can cause you to get a higher interest rate or even be turned down.

Recent Fraud Alerts Require Extra Steps for Mortgage Approval
After you discover you are a victim of identity theft, one of the first steps is to request a fraud alert be placed on your credit reports. However, if you are applying for a mortgage during this period, the alert can slow down the mortgage approval process.

The easiest way to keep identity theft from affecting your mortgage application is to take steps to prevent identity theft. Be sure to regularly check your credit report for signs of theft, protect your personal information, and shred documents containing information that can be used to open accounts, especially preapproved credit card offers.