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

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. 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.

3 Ways to Prepare Your Credit for Buying a House

Credit Score for Mortgage
Buying a house is a big milestone that you likely have spent months and years saving and planning for. While it’s easy to get caught up in saving for the down payment and scouting out the perfect neighborhood, you should also make sure that your credit is in order before applying for a mortgage.

If your credit score is low, you could potentially find your application for a mortgage turned down and you lose your dream home to another buyer. Even if you qualify for a mortgage, if you have less than ideal credit you may find yourself paying a high interest rate.

Here are three things you should do to get ready to apply for a mortgage:

·         Reduce Your Credit Utilization Percentage – Your credit utilization percentage is the amount of available credit compared to the amount of credit you are currently using. This accounts for 30 percent of your FICO score. To reduce your credit utilization percentage consider paying off your debt or increase your credit limits.
·         Have multiple credit or loan accounts – Mortgage lenders want to see that you regularly pay your bills on time and have successfully managed multiple accounts. If you only have one credit card, you may want to get an additional card to establish a deeper credit history. However, make sure you apply for the new card well in advance of your mortgage to give your credit score time to recover from the slight drop that occurs after opening a new account.
·         Review your credit report for errors –Keep an eye out for errors on your credit report which could lower your credit score, especially incorrect credit limits and erroneous accounts, recommends U.S. News & World Report. Obtain copies of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies and verify that all information is correct. You should dispute any incorrect statements on your credit report, so the mortgage company makes their decision based on accurate and timely information.

Buying a home is a big investment, and you want to make sure that you get the best mortgage terms possible. The time and effort you put into getting your credit score and report in shape before applying for a mortgage can make the mortgage process smoother and lower your interest rate at the same time. 

Can Your Credit Score Keep You from Landing Your Dream Job?

Can Your Credit Score Keep You from Landing Your Dream Job?
You’ve made a few mistakes in the past with your credit. Maybe you have a high balance on one of your credit cards and make only the minimum payment every month. Or perhaps you paid a few credit card bills late last year. Now you have an interview for a fantastic new job, but you have a nagging feeling that your credit score could keep you from getting the job offer.

Will you be asked to undergo a credit or financial background check?

Sometimes the worry is totally unfounded, because not all jobs require employees to agree to a credit or financial background check. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers must ask for your permission before conducting a background check.

The 2016 National Financial Educators Council survey found that 26.3 percent of respondents reported that an employer or potential employer conducted a credit or financial background check. This means that the majority of potential hires are not asked to undergo a credit check. Additionally, if you live in one of the 11 states where employment credit checks are prohibited, an employer legally cannot conduct a financial background check as part of the pre-employment process.

What are employers looking for?

If you are worried about your credit score being on the low side, you do not need to be concerned. Employers do not receive the three digit number, but instead see the actual credit report, says Nerd Wallet. According to, when your employer reviews your report, they will see a list of any loans you have outstanding, mortgages and all of your credit card accounts, as well as their balances. Your report also includes any late payments, bankruptcies, judgments and liens.

Many companies use the credit history to gauge your overall trustworthiness and level of responsibility. However, some companies use the information for positions that have control over finances—operating under the assumption that people in financial trouble might be more tempted to steal funds from the company.

What happens if the employer does not like what they see in the credit report?

Yes, it is possible you could lose a job offer or promotion due to information in your credit report. According to a recent National Financial Educators Council survey, about 4 percent of people surveyed stated that they had been turned down for a job or promotion due to their credit or financial background.

However, if you do lose a job or promotion due to your credit history, you won’t be left wondering if that was the reason. The FTC advises employers that before they turn down an applicant due to information in a consumer report, which includes credit information as well as criminal history, the company must notify the applicant of the information and provide them with a copy. This gives the person the opportunity to confirm that the information is accurate.

There are many reasons to keep your credit in good shape. If you practice good financial management and pay your bills on time, your credit report could be one less thing to worry about when applying for a job.

Your Identity Has Been Stolen: What to Do First

What to Do First After Identity Fraud

It can be an overwhelming feeling when you find out your identity has been stolen. You fear the worst, but don’t know where to start. There may be a lot of work to be done to clean it up, but the first things you should do are take steps to stop new fraud from occurring. 

Here are five things you should do immediately after you discover you have been a victim of identity theft:

1.     Put a Fraud Alert on your credit reports. According to FTC Guide Taking Charge: What to Do if Your Identit­­y is Stolen, the very first thing you need to do is get a fraud alert placed on your credit report. This lasts for 90 days and will require banks or companies to contact you personally before opening new accounts or credit. You must call one of the three credit bureaus to report the crime, and that bureau is responsible for alerting the other agencies.
2.     Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. You can report the crime to the FTC through an online form. During the reporting process, the FTC will help you create a customized recovery plan. You will also be given an ID theft affidavit.  
3.     File a report with your local police. According to, you may need a police report, as well as the FTC report, to report the fraud to any financial institutions where you have an account. Bring your FTC ID theft affidavit with you to file the report. Although the police may not solve the case, it is still important to create a record of the crime to potentially help local authorities become aware of any larger problems in the area.
4.     Request your credit report and review for errors. You are entitled to a free credit report after an identity theft. Request your credit report from all three credit bureaus and carefully review the reports for any new accounts or lines of credit that you did not open. US News & World Report recommends checking any accounts that are dormant or that you are not currently using for new charges.
5.     Contact the banks and companies where the thief opened accounts. If you find fraudulent activity, immediately contact the company and request the account(s) be locked or closed.

Time is important when it comes to identity theft. Prioritize these five steps to help prevent any additional fraudulent accounts being opened. By quickly taking action to contain the damage, you can then begin the process of removing any blemishes from the crime from your credit history.