Why Junk Mail is More Important Than You Think

You've just been to the mail box, and once again it’s filled with pesky junk mail and pre-approved offers for credit cards. Once you get back to the house, you know all this junk mail will be going straight to the trash.
However, while junk mail may just seem like a daily annoyance, it can actually be much more. Junk mail is also a window of opportunity – if not a treasure trove -- for identity thieves. See more on this below.
While opening pre-approved credit offers may seem like a waste of time, they can provide you an indication of your credit rating, for instance, if you're getting offers for credit cards with high fees, then you might have poor credit. Many companies will send these types of offers to people with lower credit scores because they assume that they are desperate enough for credit to accept a less than great deal. A common tactic of identity thieves is to comb through your mailbox - not looking for a card from grandma - but for pre-approval offers or junk mail with personal information. Identity thieves can then use this information to open false credit lines in your name.
To fight this, it’s always best to shred credit card and like solicitations before throwing them away in your trash, as identity thieves are also known for “dumpster diving”.  Mailbox combing and dumpster diving are amongst the most effective tactics for identity thieves to get your information and open new accounts in your name.
Here are a few tips to reduce the amount of solicitations and junk mail you're receiving:
·         Zip on Zip Code. Stop giving out your zip code when asked by major retailers. A recent news report revealed that giving out your zip code in the checkout line can link them to your personal information, and lead to even more junk mail and telemarketing calls.
·         Opt Out. Sign up for OptOutPrescreen, which is a free service that takes your name off the lists that the three major consumer credit reporting companies supply to financial services companies.
·         Hold Mail. While you're on vacation, arrange for a neighbor or friend to pick up your mail, or ask your post office to hold delivery until you get back.
·         Credit Monitoring. Credit score monitoring services can alert you to unexpected changes in your credit reports and scores from each of the bureaus. You may want to evaluate use of these types of services.
So next time you visit your mailbox and find a stack full of junk mail, take a minute to look through it, and then shred it instead of throwing it into the nearest trash can. In the end, the simple actions listed above could save you thousands of dollars in identity theft restoration costs, not to mention countless hours of time and trouble in restoring your identity.

Protecting Your Identity on Wireless Internet Networks

Protecting Your Identity on Wireless Internet Networks

Wi-Fi is a wonderful thing! How many times have you picked up free wireless internet in a coffee shop, airport or restaurant? It’s easy, convenient, saves personal wireless mobile phone data, and is fast. But it’s not perfect. In fact, wireless internet connections can be dangerous.

“Unsecured” network connections are open to hackers who can try to hijack your session. In doing so, they can steal your personal information including private documents, contacts, photos, login info and more. These hackers can use the information they get to impersonate you, compromise your identity, and potentially scam your friends and family.

Hackers can also test your username and password to try to gain access to other sites, like your online banking or savings accounts, credit card accounts, etc. Having access to that kind of information could make it easy for hackers to cause serious damage to your credit report and score. 

Here are some ways to protect yourself from identity theft when using public Wi-Fi:

·         Secure Sites. Only login to websites that you know are fully encrypted.  To determine if a website is encrypted or not, look for “https” at the beginning of the web address (the “s” stands for secure). Note that some websites only use encryption on their sign-in page, but if any part of your session isn’t encrypted, your entire account could be vulnerable.  For this reason, it’s important to look for https on every page you visit, not just when you sign in.
·         Wi-Fi Encryption. Even if you’re on an encrypted network, not all are 100% safe. Always take precaution when on a public network. If you must use Wi-Fi often, install free browser add-ons such as Force-TLS or HTTPS-Everywhere. These are free browser extensions that compel the browser to use encryption on popular websites that may default and/or link to unencrypted pages.
·         Password Usage. Remember not to use the same password on different websites. If a hacker is able to get access to your login info for one site, and you use the same login info for multiple sites, the hacker could get access to any/all of your accounts.  Manage your passwords carefully, and be sure to use different passwords for different sites.
·         Logging Out. Especially when you’re accessing a public computer, be sure to log out of your accounts when you’re done with them. All too often, users can inadvertently leave a sensitive web page open, which is an open invitation for hackers.
·         Fraudulent Site Alerts. Pay attention to warnings from your web browser about fraudulent websites. Some browsers and antivirus software will let you know when you’re visiting a suspicious site.
·         Software Updates. Be sure to have an up-to-date version of your antivirus software, and always try to use the latest browser versions (as these generally offer the best and latest security provisions).

Identity theft is a widespread and growing issue. A single instance of identity theft can cost you thousands of dollars to fix, not to mention countless hours of your precious time to manage. That said, when surfing the web – especially on public Wi-Fi networks – always take the right (and smart) precautions to safeguard your computer and personal information.


Paper or Plastic: Should College Students Have a Credit Card?

Paper or Plastic: Should College Students Have a Credit Card?
If your high school graduate is headed off to college in the fall, you may be debating what the right answer to the timeless "paper or plastic" question is in terms of whether or not they should carry a credit card. However, for most students, the answer should be “paper over plastic” – as in paper money.
For some students though, having a credit card is a good way to start building credit early. If your child is financially responsible, consider letting them sign up for a credit card, but be sure to follow these tips to keep their use in check:
·         Do your research. Don't just sign up for the first card that you see. Instead, find a card with little to no annual fees and lower interest rates.
·         Keep it simple by only applying for one card. This will keep you from racking up large bills.
·         Charge only what you can afford to pay off each month or use the card only in case of an emergency.
·         Try to pay your bill before it’s due, so that you don't accidently end up paying a late fee or having a late payment added to your credit report.
·         Always keep copies of your receipts, so that you can check them against your bill for any mistakes. If you suspect an error or identity theft, contact your credit card company immediately.
When in doubt, it's better to not let your child sign up for a credit card if you don't think they are ready. While they may complain, they will be thanking you later when they don't have thousands of dollars of credit card debt in addition to their student loans!

Protecting Your Child from Identity Theft While on Vacation

Protecting Your Child from Identity Theft While on Vacation
A vacation is something that most families dream about all year long; it's the perfect time to spend time together and unwind for a few days. However, family fun can quickly turn into a disaster if you aren't properly safeguarding your youngest family members -- your children -- from identity theft.
Children are actually some of the easiest targets for identity theft due to the fact that, typically, they won't have any need for their financial information until they become of legal age. This makes it easier for identity thieves to get away with opening new accounts and such unnoticed.
Vacations, especially if children are traveling away from their parents, make it even easier for identity thieves to garner the important information they need, as many travel documents can contain confidential information.
Here are a few ways you can help protect your child's identity from fraudsters:
·         Store important documents in a safe, secure place. Make sure you are wary about giving out your child's birth certificate, social security card, etc. as these are primary identification documents for children.
·         Keep your computer protected. Make sure your family computer has antivirus software that helps secure yourself from online ID theft. Also, make sure your children are aware of the security risks of giving out their information online or in person.
·         Check your credit regularly. Checking your credit report from Equifax, Experian or TransUnion is key to safeguarding yourself against identity theft. There are services available that can monitor your child’s social security number and other information for signs of potential identity theft.
Another way to consider protecting your child from becoming a victim would be an identity theft protection program.  In case of any potential issues, you will have the guidance and care to help keep your child protected.

Protect Your Child’s Identity During Spring Break Trip

Protect Your Child’s Identity During Spring Break Trip

This time of year means Spring Break for college students across the country – a break from studies, lectures and research projects. They can relax and spend time with friends perhaps somewhere warmer, such as the beach.  And while your college student is thoroughly enjoying him or herself this week, as a parent, you’re likely a worried mess the entire time.

Spring break to parents often means extra worry about their children. And as if a week of concern about their physical safety and well-being wasn’t enough, there’s the added fear of your child falling victim to identity theft. 

Your young adult may not make the best financial decisions on a spring break trip -- carelessly using a credit card, not keeping track of their expenses and even worse, and not keeping close tabs on their purse/wallet, credit cards and other personal information.

Vacationers of any type are at an increased risk of identity theft; take into account a young person’s naivety, inattentiveness and tendency to lack caution (especially around peers), and your student may be at an even further increased risk of falling victim to identity theft.

Credit monitoring services can alert you and your child to suspicious activity (like newly opened credit accounts or other lines of credit). Credit monitoring scans your credit information at each of the bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) for changes you may (or may not) be aware of.  This could provide you an early warning on certain potential identity theft and fraud. If an issue is found, you would be able to take action immediately.
  
Identity theft services can provide further protection in the form of insurance, identity restoration, a support hotline, and more (including computer security, which could be especially critical in countries or areas with lower network security standards). 

Whether home or on vacation, it’s always good practice to think about the best ways to protect against fraud and identity theft. Ensuring your children are well informed on these matters can help in making their vacation a great one!

Spring Cleaning...For Your Wallet

Spring Cleaning...For Your Wallet
As many of us are busy spring cleaning our homes, we oftentimes forget to spring clean one other very important aspect of our lives -- our wallet.

While it may be easier to keep the proverbial “door to your wallet” closed and ignore the clutter that is inside, making sure your home and your personal finances are all cleaned up is a good thing.

Here are a few tips to get you started:
·         Bring in the Professionals: While from the outside it may not appear as if your wallet is in desperate need of professional help, it's always good to talk with your credit company and bank to get a full picture of your finances before you start cleaning up.
·         Consider Consolidation: Tired of keeping track of numerous credit card bills? Look into finding a zero or low-interest balance transfer credit card with a high enough credit limit, so that you can shift smaller balances all into one place.
·         Keep it Open: Even though you've transferred smaller credit balances onto one card, don't get rid of your unused cards just yet. Remember that credit utilization, or the ratio of credit limit to credit balance, is an important consideration for your credit scores. By closing your cards, you are lowering your credit limit without lowering your credit balance, and you may also be getting rid of cards that are boosting your credit history's length.
·         Reward Yourself: After all of your hard work, be sure to check your cards for any unused reward points you might have forgotten you were earning. Some rewards cards offer limited time perks or have points that expire, so it is always good to keep track of what you're earning.
Of course, cleaning up shouldn't be a once a year occurrence. Daily credit monitoring services can help maintain your credit and allow for early detection of suspicious activity all year round!

Using Your Tax Refund to Pay Down Debt? Think about Your Credit Report.

Using Your Tax Refund to Pay Down Debt? Think about Your Credit Report.

Thinking of using your tax refund to pay down some debt? Great idea. Just be cautious; paying down debt is a smart strategy, but closing lines of credit could hurt, not help your credit report and score.

When lending institutions are deciding whether or not you are creditworthy, they’ll look at your credit score, which is made up of several different factors. Keep in mind that credit scores can vary across credit reporting agencies because how they receive and interpret information from lending institutions may differ slightly. To better understand your score and what it means for your likelihood of receiving credit, here are the main factors that impact your score: 

·         On-time payments: On-time payments are weighted heavily in your credit score. Even one late payment can impact your overall score, so be sure to pay bills on time to keep your score looking good and show lenders that you are a reliable consumer.
·         Age of credit: The ages of your student loans, mortgages, credit cards and other lines of credit are looked at. Lenders like to see long credit histories, as this gives them a better picture of your long-term creditworthiness. This is an important factor, so closing out old credit accounts shortens your age of credit and could reduce the overall credit available to you (and why it is suggested that you do not close old accounts).   
·         Open Credit Card Utilization Rate: This is the rate of credit available to you compared to the amount you are currently using. Those with lower utilization rates (those who have the credit available, but aren’t currently using it) are more likely to have higher credit scores. So, avoid carrying high balances on your credit cards. Paying off as much of your monthly balance as possible could also benefit your score.
·         Hard Credit Inquires: Applications for credit cards, loans (personal, student, auto, etc.) and mortgages result in hard inquires, which signals to lenders that you are in need of credit.  Multiple hard inquiries could lower your score, so avoid this problem by only applying for credit when necessary and applying for one line of credit at a time.
·         Derogatory Marks: Liens, foreclosures, bankruptcies and accounts in collection can stay on your report for seven to 10 years. These signal to lenders that you have had problems managing your credit in the past, and may mean that you may not be approved for credit in the future.  
·         Mix of Accounts: Contrary to what you may think, those with varied accounts usually have higher scores (a mix of mortgages, credit cards, student loans, etc.). But, don’t open accounts just to increase the number of accounts you have. Instead, open new accounts as you can manage, make your payments on time and slowly and steadily build up your credit, keeping in mind that the above factors do not work independently of one another, but together, as an overall picture of your creditworthiness.

Check your credit report regularly – from each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) to make sure that you understand how these factors can impact your scores. And don’t worry -- checking your own report does not negatively impact your scores.

Don't Let Sporting Event Hype Get to Your Identity

Don't Let Sporting Event Hype Get to Your Identity
With the NBA playoffs just kicking off, many sports fans are doing just about everything they can to get their hands on tickets and memorabilia. However, consumers need to be wary of websites and individuals who claim to be selling the real thing only to take credit card numbers and personal information, leaving you with a case of identity theft and disappointment.
In order to ensure you get what’s expected, review these tips:
·         Does the price for those coveted courtside seats sound too good to be true? Then it probably is. Tickets, especially last minute tickets for huge sporting events, are always going to be expensive.
·         Beware of low quality, or even counterfeit, products.
·         If you are purchasing last minute tickets or memorabilia, never perform a wire transfer. Once your money is gone, it's almost impossible to trace or get the funds back.
·         While Craigslist and like type classified sites are a convenient source for finding everything from appliances and furniture to coveted sports event tickets, always take precautions in who you’re dealing with. Always make sure you know what the tickets are supposed to look like, check to make sure all of the information looks correct, and request a receipt and pay in cash when at all possible. This way, if your tickets do end up being fake, you won't have given away your valuable personal information.
If you do end up giving away critical personal information, having identity theft protection can help facilitate an easier process of restoring your identity. Or at the very least, making you aware there’s a potential issue. Monitoring your credit reports and scores for unexpected changes can also help tip you off to possible identity theft. 
The safest route is to always buy from legitimate web sites and ticket sources. While the pricing may be steeper than you might like, you'll know you are dealing with a trustworthy vendor. And as long as you're there to see your team's game-winning shot, it'll be worth it, right? That and the peace of mind, knowing your critical identity information is safe.

Buying a Car for your Graduate? What to Do Before Going to the Dealership

Buying a Car for your Graduate? What to Do Before Going to the Dealership

Buying a car for your high school student? Many parents look to purchase vehicles for their high-school or college-aged children either for graduation, summer jobs or sending them off to college. If you are in that position, there are a few things to do now to get ready for the major purchase of a new car.
 
Before you go to a dealer, do your research online first to compare vehicles and get familiar with features and prices. Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book are reputable resources for information gathering. Know the fair purchase price of the cars you are considering before you enter a dealership, so you will have the knowledge to negotiate on a price.

You also need to decide the price range you would like to stay within. Even if your child will be responsible for the payments, insurance or maintenance, consider the total price of ownership of the vehicle. Be realistic in what you can afford if your child is unable to keep up his or her end of the deal. If your name is on the vehicle, you’ll be responsible for making sure payments get made; so, be careful not to bite off more than you can chew.

You could also look into financing options. You can usually find good deals on new car financing at a dealership during manufacturer sales events. However, if you are buying a used car, contact your bank or credit union, which may be able to offer you a better interest rate than the dealership. 

Finally, be sure to know your credit score and related credit information. Check your credit report and scores from each of the bureaus to know exactly where you stand in terms of credit before you visit an auto dealership. Knowing your credit will help you know what kind of financing you should be able to receive and negotiate the best rates possible.


Celebrating Earth Day with Eco-Friendly Finances

Celebrating Earth Day with Eco-Friendly Finances
As Earth Day came around again, many people were looking for ways to make their lives more eco-friendly all year long. While many people think of ways to improve the environmental impact of their shopping choices or homes, they oftentimes forget that their finances could also benefit from this trend.
·         Go Paperless: You can help save a tree and still keep track of all your finances with paperless billing and credit monitoring. Many credit card and utility companies will allow you to sign up to receive your bills via email. You can also look into credit monitoring services, which send emails and alerts to help you stay on top of your credit information.
·         Pay Online: In addition to receiving all of your bills online, you should also be paying online. You'll save on paper, postage and the fuel required in transporting your check and envelope to its location.  Paying online can also help protect against identity theft, wherein thieves could get access to your outgoing and incoming mail – including sensitive bills.
·         Get Rid of Junk: Tired of getting junk mail? Who isn't? Instead of just promptly throwing all of your junk mail into the trash or recycling bin, take the time to opt out of receiving these messages. In the end, you'll be saving the environment and reducing your risk of identity theft.
·         Affiliate Environmentally: When opening new lines of credit, consider signing up for environmental group affiliate cards, so that each time you use the card, your group will receive a percentage of your purchase.
·         Eco-Reward: Similar to affiliate cards, some reward cards allow you to convert your earned points into donations for environmental groups.
It's time to start making the world a better place -- one less piece of paper at a time. And at the same time, do a better job managing your finances and protecting against identity theft!