Protecting Yourself From Internet Identity Theft

Protecting Yourself From Internet Identity Theft

Most people don’t think twice when using the Internet to shop online, pay bills, follow the latest news or get the weather forecast.  However, the Internet is a lot more dangerous than people think, and there are precautions that should be taken into consideration when providing personal information online due to concerns over identity theft.

Identity theft continues to grow and much of that growth could be attributed to increased Internet use on your computer and handheld devices. In Wi-Fi areas you should be extra cautious, especially if you’re using a credit card to purchase items online.  Make sure you’re using a secure and trusted network. There is no guarantee that your information is always 100% safe.

By using protected networks about where you input your personal information, you’ll decrease the chances of your information being compromised.
Here are some ways to help protect yourself from Internet related fraud and identity theft:       
  • Set up a firewall:  This helps to form a blockade between your trusted network and any unknown or untrusted networks trying to access your device/computer.
  • Encryption: This provides excellent protection against most forms of traffic interference. You can’t assume your data will never be hacked. Encryption is a security precaution that works to ensure your documents and messages are secure and essentially unreadable to everyone other than the anticipated receiver. 
  • Secure Network Password:  Make sure your network is password protected with a code that only you know – and do not give this out to just anyone.
Having an identity theft protection plan can also be beneficial if any of your personal information is stolen or compromised. Be careful when surfing the web to make sure your identity is secured.

How To: Address Credit Report Inaccuracies

Have you seen your 3 bureau credit reports and noticed an inaccuracy? Are you now wondering what you can do? You should immediately contact both the credit bureau and the organization that provided the information to the bureau. Both parties are ultimately responsible for addressing inaccurate or incomplete information on your credit report.

The first step is to submit your issue in writing to the credit bureau, be it Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. 

Your letter should include the following items:
  • Your name
  • Your address
  • Identify each item in your report you want to dispute
  • State the facts to explain why you are disputing those items
  • Request an update or deletion
  • Include a copy of the report
Once your letter is complete, send it by certified mail with return receipt requested for documentation. The credit bureau must then investigate your dispute, and will usually do so within 30 days.

The second step is to write the appropriate creditor or information provider to tell them you are disputing information provided to the credit bureau. This letter should also include copies of documents to support your dispute.

If the provider again reports the same information to a bureau, it must include a notice of your dispute. To make sure you are aware of this, request that the provider copy you on all correspondence with the bureau. Once the dispute has been resolved, in many states you will be eligible to receive an updated credit report directly from the bureau.

However, resolving one error doesn't mean that you should stop monitoring your credit reporting and scores.  You need to be reviewing your credit reports from each of the bureaus. Certain credit monitoring services (such as PrivacyGuard for instance) provide 3 bureau credit reporting that makes it easy to compare the bureau reports side-by-side (making it easier to spot inaccuracies).

Fight Identity Theft By Choosing Plastic Carefully

"Will that be debit or credit?" How many times have you heard this question in your lifetime? Chances are, you've been faced with this decision on a daily basis. But did you know that your choice could mean the difference between becoming a victim of identity theft or not?
Federal laws safeguard consumers from monetary loss in fraudulent purchase and identity theft cases. These laws change based on how quickly you report your losses and the type of card you use.
When it comes to using your debit card, your chances of identity theft rise significantly. In fact, data shows that nearly half of all identity theft cases occur through the unauthorized use of debit cards. Debit cards are especially susceptible because thieves can watch you type in your PIN number when making a transaction. Advances in technology have made this even easier, since thieves can take a video or photo of you typing in your pin number with their smartphone.
Another common way that identity theft occurs through debit card use is through "skimming" devices, which are secretly installed in ATMs. These devices store all of your debit card information, including your PIN number. If “skimming” devises get hacked you could be in big trouble.
No matter which card you use, make sure you routinely check your statements for any errors or warning signs. You should also research identity theft protection services, which can immediately alert you to signs of certain activity that you may find suspect.

Don't Let Your Identity Get Hijacked

If you've been reading the news lately, you may have heard about a new kind of sophisticated identity theft scheme that involves the Internet.
Earlier this month, Corey Thompson pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to file false claims and one count of aggravated identity theft. After hijacking the cable and internet access they had installed, Thompson and his co-conspirators filed more than 27 fraudulent 2011 tax returns totaling more than $90,000 in refunds. Thompson worked as an independent contractor for a cable company. As an independent contractor, Thompson installed cable and internet access. While installing cable and internet service at people’s houses, Thompson hijacked the internet service of customers for whom he had performed work.
Thompson used his expertise and technology to take over - customers' networks and Internet connections, steal important information and then file false tax returns that appeared as if they were coming from the customer. These tax returns, which were placed on pre-paid debit cards, were intercepted by the U.S. Postal Service.
This incident is just one example of the many cases of identity theft that occur on a daily basis. Recent statistics cite that, on average, there is one new ID theft victim every three seconds. With the rise of the Internet and mobile devices, this crime is occurring on a more regular basis.
Here are a few ways to keep your information safe on the Internet:
·         Memorize passwords and log-ins - Commit all of your passwords and login information to memory instead of writing them down. Use different logins and passwords to ensure that if one gets compromised, you’re still protected elsewhere.
·         Pay direct - When buying items online, always try to pay the seller directly with a credit card, so that you can dispute any charges, false or other, that may occur later.
·         Be careful with prizes and giveaways - On the whole, websites offering free prizes or giveaways may be fishing for your personal information in return for an unwanted "prize."
·         Child safety features - Activate parental safety features for when your children are using your computer. This will guard against unwanted and potentially dangerous downloads and visits to malicious websites.
·         Limit personal details - Limit the amount of personal details you are sharing via social media. Identity thieves can easily leverage personal information you publicize via Facebook, Google+, and other popular social sharing sites.
·         Encrypt your computer and Internet connection -This will make it harder for hackers to access your information. There are a number of good encryption tools available.
·         Identity theft services – There are a number of services available that provide identity theft protection, as well as restoration, insurance, and support. Identity theft, once it happens, can be costly and time consuming to fix on your own.
The safety of your identity should not be taken lightly. Protect yourself from unethical people that will try to make a buck on your identity. Take all the necessary precautions to safeguard your personal and financial information online.

Is Your Credit Making it Harder For You To Get a Job?

It’s finally here. The time you have been working toward for so long - your college graduation. While you may be proudly wearing your cap and gown, you can’t help but feel worried and afraid about the future.

If you are like many recent college graduates, you may not have landed that first real job yet, and you’re beginning to feel the pressure. Is it your resume? Your work experience? Did you ever think it could be that credit card payment you’ve been blowing off?  Fact is: it could be.

Some Americans are finding it difficult to get a job due to the information in their credit reports. A recent news article suggests that many of Americans were required to go through a credit check when applying for a new job. Of those who did, about 10% were denied the job because of what was found in their credit history.

By the time a potential employer runs a credit check on you, they typically want to hire you. Some companies, as a policy, routinely run credit checks (as well as drug tests, criminal background checks, employment, education and reference checks) on all prospective employees as a standard practice.

Companies simply want to get the big picture on how you handle your personal finances, and will be looking at your debt ratio and ability to live within your means. A job candidate for a position that handles the finances at a company and who has a high personal debt-to-income ratio may be a red flag to an employer.  This person might be a higher risk for embezzlement or fraud.

Here are a few steps that you can take to minimize any damage an employer might find in your credit information:
·         Check your credit report - If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to check your credit report. To be sure your data is consistent and correct, check your information at each of the three major credit reporting bureaus – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax.
·         Address credit issues - If you find any errors on your credit report (such as accounts opened in your name you don’t recognize, or incorrect historical address information, employers, etc), you will want to address those immediately and contact the bureaus to correct the issues.
·         Pay off your balances - If you have small balances on credit lines that you can pay off, do so.
·         Pay you credit card bill monthly - Pay as much as you can on your credit cards each month (paying more than the minimum balance if you can).

Getting your credit score back on track will not be an overnight task, but it will be well worth the time and effort. You should be thinking about your credit score far in advance in case you ever need to switch jobs. Employers will pull your credit history so you want to make sure it is in tip top shape!

Getting Married? How to Keep Your Financial Independence

Ah, the wedding season. If you’re a lucky bride-to-be, you’re consumed right now with decisions about seating arrangements and centerpieces, tulips versus daisies, and indigo or sapphire cummerbunds.

Even though you’re busy making wedding day plans, now is the best time to educate yourself on financial independence. Joining together in holy matrimony as a singular unit is a beautiful thing, but couples still need to be careful not to lose their individual financial identity.

This advice isn’t just for brides-to-be, newlyweds, or only women for that matter. Men and women, recently married or not, should establish and build their own credit and monitor their own personal finances, even if finances are shared.

Financial independence isn’t just about bringing in your own income. Many American families rely on a sole-earner’s income. It’s about maintaining credit in your own name. To start, you need to understand your credit profile and information. Here are some ways to do this:
  • Take a survey of your finances by first checking your credit reports. Check for errors. Learn what goes into a credit report and score, and what to do if you do find mistakes.
  • Make a list of the total debts you owe to get a picture of your overall debt.  If you haven’t yet taken out a line of credit, you could start by opening a secured credit card. You can slowly start to build your credit by using your new cards responsibly. 
  • Create a budget. Make sure you know what you can afford to spend so you do not charge more than you can pay off. 
  • Use cards wisely. Regularly using credit cards (even just a little each month) and paying them off in-full and on-time is an excellent way to maintain credit. 
  • Monitor your credit. Make sure credit cards are not being opened up in your name for which you did not apply. If you weren’t checking your credit reports and scores, this could easily go unnoticed for months and your credit could get badly damaged in no time.
How you handle your family finances is up to you and your spouse or partner. There is no one right way to manage your money, but you should stay on top of your spend and credit history so that you can maintain a solid credit background.