Don’t Go Into Debt This Holiday Season

It’s easy to get caught up in the spirit of the holidays and not realize how much you’re using your credit card.  Going over your credit limit can lower your credit score, which can make for a bad case of the post-holiday blues.  Here are some tips to prevent falling into holiday debt:

  1. Set a Budget.  Allot yourself a certain amount of money geared towards holiday expenses. Don’t let yourself go over that set limit!
  2. Make a List (and check it twice)!  Write down everything your money is going towards this season whether it be gifts, holiday food, or miscellaneous items like decorations. Making a list will help you keep track of what you need, and how much you can spend towards each item.
  3. Cash, not credit.  An easy way to not go over your credit limit is to simply leave your credit card at home.  Use cash at the store, and you won’t be tempted to rack up charges on your card!

Don’t let the holiday season affect your credit score.  Follow these tips to keep your season merry and bright!

Safety Tips for Cyber Monday

Even if you survived the Black Friday shopping frenzy, it isn’t too late to make sure you protect yourself during Cyber Monday.  See 8 tips to ensure safe shopping online. 

  • Make sure your antivirus and malware protection software is up to date.
  • Update your browser.
  • Don’t click unknown links in your email.
  • Don’t use public computers and unsecured wireless connections.
  • Save or print all payment confirmations.
  • Use your credit card, not your debit card.
  • Update your passwords frequently.
  • Shop only on encrypted sites.  Websites that begin with “https” are encrypted, rather than just “http.”

 These tips should be followed during Cyber Monday (and really everyday) to help prevent identity thieves from accessing your personal information online.  Shop smart, and be safe!

More Password Tips

We routinely post about how important it is to have a strong password.  This recent article gives even more tips on how to prevent hackers from discovering your password.  Some tips are:

  • Don’t pick words that show up in the Dictionary
  • Never use the same Password for multiple sites
  • Consider using a Passphrase- a longer phrase instead of just a word
  • Use multiple browsers when surfing the web

Troubles of Medical Identity Theft

An article today describes the nightmare that medical identity theft can be. Unlike other forms of identity theft, medical identity theft has consequences that can last a lifetime. 

 The harm of medical identity thieves is that their medical history can be linked to the victim’s own history. That could have serious healthcare ramifications for the victim. If incorrect medical histories are tied to the victim, it might hurt the victim’s chances for getting affordable health insurance. 

 As always, PrivacyGuard wants to remind you to protect yourself and your identity!  

A note on Voting

There's been lots of discussion about ID Theft scams related to the election.

As a brief reminder, if you get to the registration table and the folks working say you've already voted, you may be in danger of being a victim.

Beware of fake charities

While Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, leaving the East Coast (and the Northeast in particular) in rough shape, scammers have launched fake charity sites to accept donations.

Donations that go directly into the scammers' pockets.

If you're looking to help out in the aftermath, be careful of the charities you give to. If it isn't a charity you've heard of soliciting your donation, just simply find another charity to give you.

If you're very concerned, you'll never go wrong donating the the Red Cross.

It's My Lucky Day

If you were to comb through my e-mails today, you'd see that it's been a very lucky day.

  • First, a widow I don't know told me that she wants me to be the beneficiary of a $3.5 million lump sum. She asks that I donate most of it to charity, but I can keep whatever I deem as fair. All I have to do is send her my bank account info so she can make the deposit. 
  • Next, a SECOND widow I don't know sent me a note that she's about to pass away, but that she has $40 million she's willing to deposit into my bank account. Like the first widow, she is asking me to donate the money to charity, but to keep whatever I see fit. All I have to do is send HER my bank account info for her to make the deposit. 
  • Also, apparently during the Olympics, my e-mail address was entered into a competition sponsored by a British Company. Guess what... I WON!!!!! And now, all I have to do is supply my bank account information, and this company will simply deposit $750,000 into my account. 
  • Finally, some company asked me to send them $95 as an advance (for... um, something?), and they said that they will send me $5,000 per day via Western Union, for the next 104 business days. 
It's over $44 million dollars, just for getting online this morning*. 

I'm retiring. Today. 

Look, it's pretty obvious from reading these that they are scams, and since you're on the PrivacyGuard website, we expect that these aren't something you'll fall for (you know it's important to protect yourself). 

However, there's a reason that these e-mail continue to be sent, and that's because people actually DO fall for these. To end National Protect Your Identity Week, just a gentle reminder... Don't be silly. 

*Today was a $44 million day in spam, but it doesn't hold a candle to yesterday. Yesterday was actually a $2.2 BILLION day for me... and all I had to do was send my bank account info, along with my SSN, to the world's 2nd richest woman. 

Posted by Mike

Protecting your ID is about more than Credit Reports

While we harp on credit monitoring as one of the ways folks can keep themselves safe from ID Theft, the reality is that they're just one piece of the puzzle. 

This article gives an in-depth look at a full identity takeover, that lasted a decade. It includes discussion of being turned down for a mortgage, fraudulent employment, and even the need to use a high school yearbook to prove that" you," are actually you

It's a really sobering look at one of the toughest types of theft that our trained experts help consumers to mediate.


password is Not a Strong Password

The list of the world's most popular (terrible) passwords is out, and as usual, it's cringe-inducing.

The top 3 are:

1- password
2- 123456
3- 12345678

Coming in 4th was abc123

We've posted tips about creating strong passwords in the past. As a reminder, a strong password is 12 characters, includes numbers, letters and symbols, and isn't easily traced back to you (it shouldn't be your dog's name, or the street you grew up on, for example).

It's National Protect Your Identity Week. At the very least, check out the full list of over-used passwords and make sure you're not using any of them.

Data Breaches Are Big Business

According to a report from the Identity Theft Resource Center last week, we're closing in on 10 million records exposed in 2012.

The numbers indicate that breaches occur at all types of institutions:

  • 3.4 million records stolen from businesses
  • 2 million stolen from educational facilities
  • 2 million stolen from the military/government facilities
  • 2 million from healthcare providers and institutions
As we "celebrate" National Protect Your Identity Week, just remember, your personal information is always at risk. 

National Protect Your Identity Week

This week is National Protect Your Identity Week.

To "celebrate," we will be posting tips that can help you protect your ID, both here on the blog, and on the PrivacyGuard Twitter feed.

Happy National Protect Your Identity Week!

The first tip is an oldie, but a goodie:

Be certain to shred any documents that have personal information on them before throwing them away. This includes junk mail!

College breach larger than previously reported

Last Thursday, we highlighted a large breach at Northwest Florida State College. A report over the weekend claims that the breach has impact over 300,000 people, including students, alumni and faculty.

The latter link includes of list of some of the highest risk universities for data breach. NYU, George Mason University and Harvard are among those with the most risk.

More than 200,000 students’ data breached at Northwest Florida State College

A computer breach at Northwest Florida State College has potentially exposed data of 200,000 students and some of the university’s top employees.  It is reported by CNN, that about 50 employees have already reported issues of identity theft, including the college’s president.

 Check out our tips for college students to protect their identities. 

Realtors Beware

In what appears to be similar to many of the Tax ID Theft scams that happen every year, The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation is warning that there are scams targeting Realtors and other professionals who have state licenses.

You can read the full story here:

Hackers Breach 53 Universities

According to the New York Times, thousands of personal records from 53 universities were posted online Monday in a data breach.  The hackers responsible for the breach are calling themselves Team GhostShell, and have also been responsible for a previous Twitter breach.  Some of the universities affected in this breach include Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins.

 In previous blog posts we have highlighted the importance for college students to monitor their credit, and protect their identity. This large scale data breach reminds us that college students should be vigilant about protecting their credit.  Here are some helpful tips for students to use while attending school.

Four Possible Ways Identity Theft Can Immediately Impact Your Credit

This article posted on September 26th, discusses the four possible immediate affects identity theft can have on your credit. 

  1. Higher balances on existing accounts
  2. New Accounts
  3. Late Payments
  4. Inquiries
It is wise to proactively monitor your credit for any of these possible changes indicating identity theft.  The sooner you catch suspicious activity, the quicker you can resolve potential threats to your credit!

Make Sure the Leaves Are the Only Things Falling this Autumn Season

The fall season is now upon us.  As the leaves begin to change and fall, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make sure that your credit score isn’t changing and falling too! 

 Let’s recap what a credit score is.  Your score is a numerical reflection of your total credit picture. Credit scoring companies use formulas to derive your scores based on the information in your credit files at the three major national credit reporting agencies - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

 Let’s also recap why having a good credit score is important.  Many institutions including banks, credit card companies, cell phone providers, mortgage lenders and even some insurance companies are likely to view at least one of your credit scores.  In order to get the best rates on a loan, or to qualify for a credit card- you will want to have a good credit score.

 At PrivacyGuard we encourage you to know where your credit stands this fall! 

With a New iPhone...

Comes the potential for identity theft.

Today, folks will be at their keyboards ready to purchase the new iPhone from Apple.

Just a quick reminder: if you're going to be trading or selling (or even recycling or throwing away) an old phone in the near future, make sure you wipe all of the data off of the phone you're getting rid of.

Wrapping Up National Payroll Week

Just a reminder that today marks the official end of National Payroll Week.

While it's great to celebrate "The Paycheck" (who doesn't love getting paid?), it's important to also realize that Payroll and Tax ID Theft are a HUGE number of ID Theft related crimes each year. In fact, it was one of the most common forms of ID Theft in 2012.

Frank Abagnale Speaks at U.S. Bank sponsored seminar

Frank Abagnale is considered one of the world's most respected authorities on credit fraud, identity theft, and credit protection.  He has been associated with the FBI for over 35 years and lectures extensively at the FBI Academy and for the field offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  He also has been a consultant for and user of PrivacyGuard for over two decades.

 Last week, Mr. Abagnale spoke at a U.S. Bank-sponsored seminar at the Nashville Airport Marriott hotel.  An article written for The Tennessean recaps Frank’s commentary at the engagement. 

 Mr. Abagnale makes the point that it is much easier to commit crime today with all of the advancement in technology.  Forty years ago it was very difficult for him to forge a check at a printing press, and now all someone would need is a laptop. 

 Technology makes it very easy for people to commit crimes, including identity theft.

Here at PrivacyGuard, we understand how easy it can be for someone’s identity to be stolen.  That is why we encourage you to take proactive measures to protect yourself from identity thieves, and to register for ongoing credit monitoring in our service.  Our ongoing credit monitoring can alert you to suspicious activity in your account, which could be a sign of a larger concern. 

 Also check out our Top Ten Tips from Frank for more ways to prevent identity theft!
Posted by Katie

Tips for College Students to Deter Identity Theft

With the start of the school year quickly approaching, the PrivacyGuard team would like to offer tips to college students to prevent Identity Theft.   Research from Javelin Research & Strategy identifies 18-24 year olds as consumers who are most likely to engage in risky electronic behavior, so college students should definitely be mindful of their online behavior while at school!

 Tip #1:  Use a Strong Password on Your Computer

 The use of a strong login password on a computer is a way to prevent fraud from occurring in a dormitory setting.  Doing so can prevent roommates and strangers alike from logging on to a potential victim’s computer.  We recommend using passwords with upper and lower case letters, mixed with numbers and symbols. 

 Tip #2:  Protect Your Computer with Antivirus Software

 Be certain to install antivirus software and to regularly update it to protect your computer from online threats. This is particularly important as universities move their data to the cloud, and continual connectivity to the internet becomes more prevalent in day to day studies. 

 I was required to update my antivirus software every semester while I attended college.  Even if your University doesn’t require it, we highly recommend updating the software on your own!

 Tip #3   Don’t Transact Over Public Wi-Fi

 While Public Wi-Fi offers an exceptional degree of convenience, it’s important to realize that thieves are able to intercept information being sent over the technology. Students are discouraged from sending any personal information, from credit/debit card numbers to social security numbers via public Wi-Fi.

As a college student, it is nearly impossible to follow this piece of advice, but it is an important factor to keeping your identity safe at school!

We have mentioned University Data Breaches before in our blog, so we know that they do occasionally occur.  Don’t let yourself become a victim! Be sure to check out our previous series for college kids, and de mindful of protecting your identity when returning to campus this fall!

Posted by Katie

Digitally Erased

If you have a few minutes, head over to Wired and read about how one of their folks suffered from an unbelievable hack.

And after that, at the very least, change your passwords.

Olympics and Data Breach?

An article from the United Kingdom’s The Telegraph, warns our friends in the UK of the possibility of a data breach during the Olympics.  Many employees are working from home during the Olympic games, and are being cautioned to safeguard private company information.  The article suggests not printing off confidential information from laptops or computers at home, and using email or digital storage devices that are password protected. 

Although we can't say for certain ID theft will rise because of the Olympics, we want to remind our friends in the UK to be vigilant while homeworking is on the rise. 

Posted by Katie

A Scam Featuring BBB Credentials

As a note to folks in business, a rash of scams involving e-mails that purport to be from the Better Business bureau is making the rounds.

Here's a note from the Denver Bureau describing the fraudulent e-mail.

If you receive a note from the BBB that seems fishy, call your local bureau instead of clicking on the links in the note.

Elderly Folks Alleged to have been Victimized

A sad story in Illinois where two women are accused of stealing the identities of elderly patients at the hospital where one of them women worked.

As a reminder, "Friendly Fraud," the type where the victim knew the fraudster is extremely difficult to prevent and detect.

Out of pocket costs to victims of "friendly fraud" is around 6 times the out of pocket cost for other types of fraud, according to research published this year.

Mom always said don't talk to strangers

And don't you know it, that sage advice applies to the digital world as well.

A recent version of an old scam recently crossed my desk on Twitter. When doing a Retweet of someone else's post (like we did with the SocialMedia411 Facebook scam), a stranger saw my Retweet, used the @USER_Name function to get my attention, and only included a link that was shortened using one of the URL shorteners that you see regularly on Twitter (, TinyUrl, etc). Because it was a shortened URL, there was no way to tell where the link was going.

As it turns out, the link was to a site claiming I won a prize if I filled out some information.

Behind the link, of course, was malware for my computer, and if I would have filled out the info, I would have simply given personal information to thieves.

So, going back to Mom's advice, don't talk to strangers online, especially if all they've done is sent you a link.

-Posted by Mike

Possible Yahoo Breach Involving 450,000 Passwords

According to the Washington Post, Yahoo is investigating a possible security breach exposing 450,000 passwords. 

Right now, it is thought that a group calling themselves D33D Company is behind the attack. 

As always, PrivacyGuard recommends using smart password tips. 

Posted by Katie

Tax ID Theft Still a Problem

In February, we released the findings of our annual survey about consumer's attitudes toward tax preparation and ID theftWe found that roughly half of consumers don't know how the IRS will contact them. 

The dangers associated with this just become more apparent. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the IRS is estimating that more than 1.3 Million tax returns were related to ID Theft

As a reminder, the IRS won't initiate contact via e-mail

Obama Utility Scam

A new, unusual scam has been reported. People are going door to door acting as representatives of Obama, and pledging to help pay your utility bill. Of course in order to register in this program (scam), the representatives are asking victims for personal information- including Social Security Numbers.

Many people are buying into this scam under such pretenses that maybe Obama would offer to pay utility bills in order to gain support for the upcoming election.

Do not be fooled! The President doesn’t have a program running to pay your utility bills.

As always, this is a standard tip from PrivacyGuard:

Do not give out personal information like your Social Security Number to just anyone!

Posted by Katie

Being Caught Oversharing

Over-sharing on social media sites is nothing new.

From MySpace surveys that were engineered by thieves to find out personally identifiable information (many surveys included mother's maiden name, or the first address you lived at, etc... all of which are questions that can be used to validate a person's identity for a credit report), to telling thieves when you're going to be away from your home.

On Twitter, a new user name is punishing folks who post pictures of their debit cards online.

We'd obviously never condone such an action (either posting pics of your personal information online, or aggregating this information).

But, at least they're bringing more awareness to over-sharing.

Credit Card Cloning

The Sacramento Bee published an interesting article this week about credit card cloning.  Credit card cloning is a relatively new form of credit card fraud where a person can steal your credit card’s information when you swipe your card through a “skimmer”.  Your card data is then stored and can be re-created on anything with a magnetic strip like a gift card or hotel key. 

The Javelin Strategy and Research report, states that credit card fraud has increased 87 percent since 2010, culminating in aggregate losses of $6 billion nationwide.

Read the article’s tips on how to prevent yourself from being a victim of credit card cloning. 

Here at PrivacyGuard, we agree with taking preventative steps to protect your credit and identity!

Posted by Katie

Arrests for the FBI

The FBI has stated that they have arrested 24 suspects for Credit Card Fraud, after a two year investigation.

Needless to say, we here at PrivacyGuard approve.

We believe that identity theft is one of the hardest crimes to stop, because there are so many ways a person can be victimized, and also because of the global nature of the crime. Many of the countries where these thieves operate are non-extradition countries, so even if the authorities are able to identify a criminal, they are not always able to prosecute.

We'd like to applaud the FBI for their recent arrests and hope that justice will be served.

2012 Data Breach Re-Cap

An article written this week discusses the worst data breaches in 2012 thus far.  The top three include:

-          New York State Electric & Gas Co.

-          Global Payments, Inc.

-          California Dept. of Child Support Services

As we said in our post on the LinkedIn data breach, make sure all of your personal accounts have different passwords in order to prevent identity thieves from gaining access to all of your private information.  That is one simple way to help yourself in case you fall victim to a data breach. 

Posted by Katie

Summer Travels

One of my favorite tips for preventing ID Theft has to do with what you posted on social media, and how not everyone who is your "friend" online is actually a friend in real life.

As we're entering the summer, and folks are preparing to travel, please remember this tip. Over the past few weeks, I've seen dozens of folks saying things like:

  • I'm going to Boston for the next 10 days (said by a New Yorker)
  • So excited, I just booked my flight to California and am leaving on July XX (said by someone in Philadelphia). 
  • Look out London, here I come!

If you don't know everyone you're sharing this information with (and we are guessing there's a good chance you don't), you might just be telling a thief that your house will be empty, and unprotected, for whatever number of days.

Rather than posting a preview of your trip, you can always post a recap when you get back.

Safe travels this summer.

Posted by Mike

Alert: Possible LinkedIn Breach

Today it was reported that there was a possible LinkedIn breach, and 6.5 million LinkedIn user’s passwords were leaked to a Russian hacker forum. 

Tip 1- If you are a LinkedIn user, you should change your current password. 

Tip 2- You should change any other account password that shares the same password as your LinkedIn account (as we pointed out on Twitter, our research indicates that this is a majority of folks).  For example, if you use the same password for LinkedIn and your online banking account, it may now be possible for these hackers to know both.  Protect yourself and change your password! 

"Sort Of An ID Theft Victim" wrote an interesting article last week asking “Can You Be ‘Sort Of’ An ID Theft Victim?”  According to the article, even if an identity thief isn’t using your information to negatively impact your credit report and scores, they can still be using your information to avoid being reached by creditors. 

 This might be a lesser form of Identity Theft, but it still poses a huge time consuming headache for the victim. 

University Data Breaches

We previously did a series of blog posts with tips on how college students can protect their identity.  See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 of the series. 

Within the past month, several Universities have faced serious data breaches leaving their students susceptible to Identity Theft. 

UNC-Charlotte faced a breach, as well as The University of Maine. 

Look back at our College Tip series to learn what college students should look for in case their identity is compromised in a data breach!

Even in Death, ID Theft can Haunt its Victims

It used to be said that the only sure things in life were death and taxes. 

We've covered the ways in which ID Theft can happen at tax time, but surely, the other inevitability makes one impervious to ID Theft, doesn't it?

The short answer is "no, it doesn't."

Recent research indicates that more than once every minute, thieves use the personal information of someone who has passed away to their advantage. (The link includes some great tips for protecting yourself if you've lost a loved one). 

Posted by Mike

Protect Your Child's Identity

Not only is protecting your credit important, but protecting your family’s credit is essential as well. posted an interesting article this week about protecting your child’s identity.   As a parent, it is worth noting the potential identity theft risks that can affect your child.  

An article published May 2nd, describes a Utah mother’s struggle with identity thieves after their possession of her son’s social security number.  Don’t find yourself in this same situation!  Start taking steps to secure your child’s identity and future credit.  Here is a list of ID theft tips to get you started.  We will continue to post tips and tricks on keeping a secure identity- so check back!

Posted by Katie