8 Tips to Avoid ATM Identity Theft

ATM's are conveniently located, easy to use and provide us with an easy way to get some quick cash with just a swipe of a card and a few keystrokes.  This makes them a staple of everyday life here in the U.S. and unfortunately, a great target for thieves.  Since their early days, ATM's have been targeted by criminals in many different ways.  However, recent advances in technology have transformed ATM theft into a state of the art operation.

No longer does someone need to stand near you or look over your shoulder to secretly read your personal identification number or account information.  This can now be accomplished by the use of miniature cameras and electronic reading (a.k.a. skimming) devices.  These particular cameras are usually fitted into a false top on an ATM located directly above the keypad.  Skimmers can be positioned as a fake card slot that fits over the real slot on the ATM or as a false insert over the magnetic reader on the door to the lobby or entrance point of the ATM.

When an ATM user swipes his/her card to enter the lobby or inserts the card at the ATM, the false reader takes the bank account number and stores it on an electronic device or feeds it via wireless transmission to a storage facility on a computer or other external device.  The user’s pin is then read by the small hidden camera and is used in conjunction with the bank account number (and other bank information that may now be accessed)  to immediately withdraw funds, create new debit cards or open new credit accounts.

You can protect yourself against fraud and potential identity theft by being cautious whenever using your credit/debit card at any ATM and by following a few simple tips:

1. Try to avoid using private ATM's located at restaurants, bars or other small establishments, as these are usually privately owned and don’t have the same security features as those found in banks or other larger enterprises.

2. Avoid free standing or unsecured ATM's that are outdoors as these are very easy to rig with skimming devices and/or cameras.

3. Check the magnetic strip that is used on the access door to the ATM machine to be sure that it has not been tampered with in any way.  Thieves can insert false strips that can read the card’s information when it is slid through to gain entry.

4. Look around for hidden cameras that may be spying on ATM users in order to get access codes and other information during the login procedure.

5. Take a good look at the ATM machine itself prior to inserting your card to make sure that the slot for the card and/or the keypad have not been tampered with or altered in any way.

6. Try to always cover your hand when you use the keypad to enter your PIN.  This helps prevent any cameras from capturing your keystrokes.

7. If you have a problem where cash is not distributed from the ATM, notify your bank immediately.  It may be a legitimate problem with the machine, but you shouldn't take any chances.  Reporting the problem as soon as possible documents your action in case there is any fraud involved.

8. Monitor your bank account through your bank statements and check your credit reports regularly.

You can further protect yourself from ATM and other fraud by using a credit monitoring service like PrivacyGuard that offers numerous services including identity theft protection and identity fraud support services.

How To: Change Your Address When Moving

So, you've bought a brand new house, and are all ready to start turning your new house into a home. As you begin to pack up everything you own to move it down the street, across the state or even across the country, there is one thing you won't want to leave behind: your mail. Making sure you've properly updated your address with your bank, utility companies, loan institutions, credit card companies and even the credit bureaus is important to keeping your credit and identity safe.

Before you move, fill out a change of address form with the post office. Instead of waiting until you're settled in and potentially missing important mail or letting your important mail fall into the wrong hands, fill out the form in advance and schedule the date you want your forwarding service to take effect. 

However, just because all of your mail is being forwarded, don't assume that the senders have your new address; it is your responsibility to update your address with all of your creditors and anyone else you do business with.  Otherwise, you could end up in a situation where you are being penalized for late payments on bills you never received.

Before or right after you've moved, you'll also want to update the address in your credit file, and there are two ways to do this:

1. You Should: Update your address with all of your open credit accounts. Then, the next time these lenders report any updates to the three main credit bureaus, they will also include updates on your account information. 

2. You Should: Send two proofs of address such as a bank statement, driver’s license or utility bill, etc. along with a note stating you have moved to each of the credit bureaus.

The process to update your address with all three credit bureaus can take time, so be sure to check back when them after 30 days to see if the correct changes have been made.

With PrivacyGuard's credit monitoring services, you will be notified as soon as your updated credit reports reflect your new address. This acts as a safeguard to make sure your new address is not only reported correctly, but also as a warning sign of potential identity theft if your address is inaccurate or changed without your knowledge.

How Canceling Your Credit Card Could Damage Your Credit

If you are not using a credit card, should you cancel it? You may have heard conflicting information on this topic. Like many issues surrounding credit, it depends on the situation. However, properly closing a credit card does not automatically damage your credit.

High interest rates, yearly fees, and too much temptation to use a paid off card are good reasons to close a credit card account. However, be sure you understand how closing the account may affect your credit.

View the full article here.

Preventing Child Identity Theft

Carelessness with personal information may hurt a child’s chances of having a healthy credit history.

Taking necessary measures to protect one’s own identity is extremely important—but it’s just as important to protect a child’s. Parents can be busy filling out documentation relating to school enrollment and for participation in clubs or other extracurricular activities throughout the school year. Personal information is dispensed that identity thieves can use to sign up for a credit card or secure a loan. A study established that 2.5% of households with children (18 years and younger) have experienced child identity theft. 

Child identity theft often goes undetected.
Adults have numerous ways to detect identity theft because there’s a paper trail to follow and examine: bills, statements and notifications that arrive at regular intervals. Unusual activity, unauthorized payments and other evidence of identity theft will usually show up, as long as we take the time to look over this documentation. Many people also guard against identity theft by monitoring their credit scores. A sudden change in a credit score can indicate unauthorized use of your credit card, bank account, or personal data. 

Because children don’t have a credit history, parents wouldn't be checking their child’s credit information to check for identity theft.  Child identity theft can happen when the thief uses a child’s social security number to secure a credit card or a loan. Armed only with a child’s name and social security number, the thief can use a false birth date to create what’s known as a “synthetic identity.”  A “synthetic identity” can be created when the thief combines a social security number with a different birth date.

Preventing child identity theft involves awareness and action.
A small measure of diligence can go a long way toward protecting against child identity theft. For starters, it’s wise to discuss identity theft with your children, stressing the strategies that can be used to thwart this illegal activity. Never give out a child’s social security number unless it’s absolutely necessary and you feel confident that it will be secure. If possible, put paperwork with identity information through a shredder rather than simply tossing papers intact into the trash. 

Urge children to keep passwords confidential, whether it’s for a computer or for access to websites and online accounts. For children, computer identity theft may not result in financial losses. However, there’s definitely potential for emotional damage though social network postings. 

Establishing the relationship between identity theft and credit scores.
Most financial advisors encourage parents to help their children start building a credit history before they go to college. Discussions about identity theft could provide a good opportunity for parents to explain the importance of good credit and how identity theft can harm your credit score. Those first steps towards adulthood –getting a job, opening a bank account, getting a credit card—can also be the beginning of a good credit history. 

Two Shocking Facts About Identity Theft

Identity theft is not the first thing on people’s minds when talking about crime. Yet in this modern age with technology being the forefront of communication, it has become one of the most well-known crimes in America.

What’s even more disturbing is the fact that identity theft seems to be becoming more complex over the past few years. Identity thieves are becoming smarter, more creative and more audacious than ever in their exploits.

To put things into perspective, here are two shocking facts about identity theft:

1. On Average, there is one incident of identity fraud every 3 seconds.

The speed at which thieves are perpetrating identity theft and the number of victims affected has grown significantly. In fact, reported cases of identity theft have increased by one million in just the past year alone. This means that in the time it takes you to read this sentence, there will be at least one new victim of fraud.

2. More than 1.5 million victims know the thief.

What’s worse is that the majority of identity theft victims know their perpetrator! According to the 2013 Javelin Strategy & Research Report, there are more than 1.5 million consumers who were victims of familiar fraud, or cases wherein the victims know the fraudster. Here is just another example of how crucial it is to be careful of the company you keep!

If you think identity-related crimes are still the stuff that Hollywood movies are made of, think again. It’s very real and it’s happening right now. While the government does everything it can to help us keep identity thieves at bay, it’s up to us to protect our identities from anyone. Proper web browsing habits, securing personal items properly and enrolling in credit monitoring  are our best bets in stopping identity criminals.

Three Relatively Unknown But Exploited Ways To Steal Your Identity

Protecting your identity does not necessarily end at just shredding documents or choosing strong passwords. Identity thieves can be very creative and can attack where and when you least expect it.

Here are 3 ways through which identity thieves can steal vital personal information:

1. Unsecured Wi-Fi connections:

Free Wi-Fi in a public place is great, but can also be the perfect location for identity thieves to get your personal information. How? Not all public Wi-Fi networks are properly secured, which can enable hackers to sniff out your personal information.

This does not mean that you should completely stop using free Wi-Fi services. Be sure that you have the right security programs or apps set up on your device. Consider installing software protection such as firewalls, anti-spyware and antivirus software. Avoid conducting any online banking transactions on unsecured networks, too.

2. Smartphone theft:

Losing your phone to a thief is horrible enough. However, this can even lead to another, more dangerous kind of theft on your identity. Using the personal information stored in apps, thieves can easily break into your other accounts and retrieve data that can allow them to cash in.

You may want to install an app to allow you to remotely wipe your phone or make sure you’re taking advantage of the password function on your phone. Therefore, if your phone is ever stolen, thieves may have less opportunity to get into it.

3. Public records.

While you may not be posting much of your personal information online or on social networking sites, your data can still be found on other sites.

For example, some websites have information such as full names, addresses and zip codes that can be available on their public databases. This form of data is often used to verify the identity via security questions.

Being aware of these three areas of possible ID theft vulnerability can help you cover more of your bases. It can be a challenge to secure all potential routes to your personal information, but it has to be done because the alternative of getting your identity stolen is a much worse fate.

Do You Have Credit Report Errors?

Do you have credit report errors? There's a good chance that your answer to this question is "yes." 

Why is this cause for concern? Well, errors on your credit report can lead to a change in your credit score, which can be a key factor when determining your interest rates, and lenders sometimes have cutoffs for certain rates. 

For example, say you have a score of 695 and the cutoff is 700. Those 5 points on your score could keep you from receiving that better rate, which can mean more money in your pocket. Or, in an even worse case scenario, those 5 points could result in you not receiving the loan at all if your score becomes too low for lenders to deem you creditworthy. 

We have also blogged about how credit scores can be a determining factor for housing, employment and even insurance. Even a small error in your credit report like the one described above could result in you not getting the apartment, job or necessary insurance that you've applied for.

Even if there aren't any obvious errors in your credit history, try not to overlook factual errors on your credit report such as your name or birthday. 

So, what does all of this mean? This means you should consider monitoring your score more closely and on a regular basis, so you can find and prevent future errors on your credit report!