Protecting Your Identity After the Holidays

Just because the holidays are over does not mean identity thieves are not still hard at work. Here are some basic tips for protecting your identity after the holiday season since identity theft protection is an ongoing effort.

• Watch Your Wallet Or Purse Carefully: Many people keep personal information in their wallets, making it easier for thieves to commit identity theft using the information that they find inside.

o Never leave your purse or wallet in your car, even if it is out of sight in your trunk or under a seat.
o Keep your credit and debit cards, checkbook and cash with you at all times.
o Only carry the minimum number of credit and debit cards necessary for each shopping trip (leave the rest of your credit and debit cards in a secure place at home).
o Avoid carrying your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport in your purse or wallet.
o Don’t step away from your purse or wallet, even for a few moments to grab a last-minute item.
o Keep your eye on your credit card when you hand it to a cashier.
o Shred unwanted receipts.

• Monitor Your Mail: Each and every day, the U.S. Postal Service (and other package delivery companies) handles millions of checks, money orders, credit cards and other valuable and sensitive items, all of which are very attractive to thieves.

o Drop off any mail containing sensitive information (such as outgoing checks/bill payments, financial or insurance documents, etc.) at a secure postal mailbox instead of leaving it in your home mailbox.
o Know when credit card and bank statements should arrive; if they are ever late, call your bank or credit card company to find out when the statements were mailed and confirm that it was sent to your correct address.
o If you will be away from home for more than a few days, place a mail hold on your mail.
o Shred credit card offers, account statements, etc.
o Never send cash or coins through the mail; instead send checks or money orders.  

• Keep A Close Eye On Your Credit: Carefully monitoring your credit and existing accounts can help you catch identity theft before it gets out of control.

o Review your monthly credit card and bank statements, or monitor your accounts online on a more frequent basis.
o Review your credit report regularly and notify the credit bureaus of any mistakes.

Don’t let your guard down just because the holidays are over. By staying vigilant, you will help protect your identity from falling into the hands of thieves.

How Medical Identity Theft Can Affect You And Your Credit

It has been widely reported that identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America. What is not quite as well known is that one of the subcategories of identity theft is currently enjoying a rapid growth of its own. The category we’re talking about is medical identity theft.

Medical identity theft can start in a few different ways:

• Medical records can be stolen by hackers who are able to access poorly protected databases.
• Old medical bills or files that haven’t been protected or disposed of properly can fall into the wrong hands.
• Dishonest medical office personnel can copy patient information quickly and without detection on flash drives or other data storage devices.

If your medical information is compromised, the identity thief has a few different ways to use it for his own benefit. One tactic is the simple use of your name and insurance information for the purposes of obtaining “free” medical services. In this case, an identity thief uses your personal information to get medical treatment at a hospital or medical office and leaves you and your insurance company holding the bill for the services that he or she received. Pretty bad, isn't it? Well, as bad as that may sound, it gets even worse. Since this individual used your name and medical identification to receive treatment, your personal medical files and information database may now be contaminated with his or her medical information. At some point in the future, if you were to receive treatment for one of these nonexistent ailments, the results could be harmful or even fatal in some cases. An example of this would be if your medical file were altered because another person was using your name to attain medical treatment, the information pertaining to your blood type, allergies, or previous procedural information could be affected. Medical identity theft is not something to be taken lightly.

Another popular scam pertaining to medical identity theft is the filing of false claims in order to receive reimbursement from your insurance carrier. This particular type of identity thief will usually have knowledge of medical billing practices, and may even be a medical office employee or health provider. Excess billing can lead to a run up toward maximum coverage limits on your policy and increased premiums going forward.

Finally, any personal information that was used to access your medical information, along with any new information retrieved from your medical records themselves, can be used to open new credit accounts and run up bills on your credit. This can leave you with the double dose of unpaid credit card bills or loans and a big headache on your credit report.

We have all read about the effects of identity theft and the financial problems that it can cause many people. It seems that medical identity theft can be considered even more sinister, since it can have an adverse affect on your physical health as well as your financial health.

How Many Credit Cards Is Too Many?

Does having too many credit cards affect your credit score?

Do you fall into the national average? According to recent data, the average U.S. consumer actively uses three credit cards.

However, three is not the magic number. In fact, there is no magic number when it comes to how many credit cards you should have. The number of credit cards that you have is not, by itself, an indicator of your credit score.

Having too much credit vs. utilizing too much credit:

Your credit score isn't affected by how many credit cards you have, but by how you use those credit cards.

If you have high balances on all of your credit cards, you are utilizing too much credit and this can hurt your credit score. If your debt-to-credit ratio is too high, your credit score could fall.

Read the full story here.

DIY Credit History Monitoring Tips

Here are some helpful tips and facts for DIY credit monitoring.

You know that monitoring your credit is important, but you may not know where to start.

If you don't know the difference between credit reports and credit scores or if you are confused by other terms like credit history, you need a quick DIY guide. To help you, PrivacyGuard has created this starter guide for do-it-yourself credit monitoring.

Understanding the basics of credit reporting:

There are several terms that you will hear when discussing and researching credit monitoring. Below are the three terms that you should be familiar with.

Credit history: This is a financial profile that lists how you utilize credit. It includes open and closed (within seven to eleven years) accounts from creditors, including mortgage lenders, auto financing companies, credit card companies, utilities, and any other organization that acts as a lender to you.

Credit report: Your credit report is a compilation of your credit history and your personal information (e.g. name, address, Social Security number, etc.). This report is produced by the three main independent credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Credit score: Your credit score is a numerical representation of the information in your credit report. Credit scores generally range from 300 to 850, with under 400 being quite low and 700+ putting you in the healthy range.

Read the full story here.

Ring In The New Year With A New View On Your Credit

Congratulations, you've made it through another holiday shopping season. All the members of your family are happy with their gifts and you have a feeling of great satisfaction after another successful holiday in the books. Now it’s time to survey the damage. “So, how far over budget did we go this year?” seems to be a common phrase uttered among many of us just after the holiday season. Well, whether you've completely blown out your budget or you've managed to stay within your limits, there are a few things that you may want to think about when it comes to finances, specifically, monitoring your credit profile and protecting your credit score.

It’s important for us as consumers to keep control of our credit, not just as we see it from our own point of view, but from a potential creditor’s point of view. When lenders review a loan or credit application and its accompanying documents, they’re usually looking for answers to a few basic questions:

Has this person had credit in the past and has he paid it back in a responsible manner?
Does this person have enough or too much outstanding credit based on his financial means?
Does this person consistently pay his bills on time every month?
Does this person open up new credit accounts very frequently?
Has this person had any major trouble with his credit in the past and if so, why?

The answers to these questions could highly influence the decision of whether or not to extend new credit to a consumer. The majority of these questions may be answered by looking at a consumer’s credit report and credit score. Now, if you've done well with your credit in the past and you believe that your answers to the questions above are all favorable, you may be in good shape when it comes time to apply for a mortgage, car loan or credit card. 

However, what if your credit report and score paint a slightly different picture of what your credit looks like? What if there’s something listed on your credit report that you were unaware of until now? Perhaps a few missed payments on an unknown credit card account or an account that you closed years ago that still shows activity and a balance. Unauthorized activity or errors like these can cost you both time and money, especially if they are allowed to linger for an extended period of time.

If you find that you have issues like these on your credit report, you may now be faced with the arduous task of going through your credit history and trying and correct these problems before they have a chance to further damage your credit report and score.  So, how can you help prevent a small problem from turning into a big headache down the road?  Is there a way that you can find out if any activity has taken place in your account without your knowledge?  Enter credit monitoring.

A daily credit monitoring service can help you keep an eye on all three credit reports (Experian, Transunion, Equifax) on a daily basis. It can also serve to advise you of other activity such as inquiries that may be made into you accounts, new public records or derogatory information that may have been added without your knowledge.  As you can see, this type of service can help you stay in control of what happens with your credit and empowers you to maintain your credit report and score at the level that it deserves.

So, if you’d like to do something for your credit in this New Year, you may want to consider using a daily credit monitoring service like the one offered by PrivacyGuard. It can help you protect your credit profile and help you start out this New Year on the right path toward a safer, more secure credit profile.

Top 8 Myths About Your Credit Report

Based on all the information (and misinformation) that’s out there regarding credit reports and scores, we could just as easily be discussing “The top 80 myths about your credit report.”

Joking aside, managing your credit is an important part of your financial life. We all suffer from information overload from time to time, so it’s good to know what actions can truly help or hurt your credit scores. Hopefully, we can clear up some misconceptions about credit reporting and empower some of you to start taking a more active role in managing your credit. 

1. Checking My Own Credit Report Will Hurt My Credit Score
This myth is listed first because it has stood the test of time. Checking your own credit or ordering a copy of your own credit report will not negatively impact your credit score.  A personal inquiry into your own credit is termed a “soft” inquiry.

An inquiry where a potential creditor or lender reviews your credit due to an application for new credit is called a “hard” inquiry.  It is these “hard” inquiries that could impact your credit score.  
So, if you haven’t checked your credit report due to a fear of hurting your score or doing harm to your financial health, put that fear aside and start reviewing your credit now.

2. All Bad Debts Or Bankruptcies Automatically Fall Off In 7 Years
This statement is only partially true, depending on certain circumstances. One type of bankruptcy, called Chapter 13 bankruptcy, (which involves the reorganization of debt may fall off of your credit report 7 years after the filing date.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy (the discharge of debt) may  take 10 years from the filing date to fall off of your credit report.  In both instances, you may want to consider  keeping track of dates and actions that have been taken in order to ensure that these records are correct and that information does not remain listed on your credit report any longer than the law states.

3. I Pay My Bills On Time, I Don’t Need To Check My Credit Report
This may be one of the most deceptive myths on the list.  According to a study, as many as 40 million Americans have errors on their credit reports. In 20 million of these cases, the mistakes are described as “significant”. Any error on a credit report should at the very least, be considered an important item that needs to be corrected.

Would a potential lender or creditor agree that an incorrect address or name is an “insignificant” error?  Perhaps an even worse scenario to consider is the possibility that any error could be the result of an attempt at identity theft. Regardless of how well you manage the payment of your monthly bills, consider checking your credit report regularly.

4. All Three Credit Reports Are The Same
Each credit bureau has similar credit information on you, but there can be differences. Internal reporting differences and timing variances between information updates such as address changes or new credit extensions may also exist between the three reporting bureaus. Consider regularly checking the information listed on all three credit reports (Equifax, Experian and Transunion) for accuracy and consistency.

5. If I Pay Off All Of My Debts, I’ll Have Perfect Credit
Your credit is a running history of your ability to borrow money and pay it back timely and in full. If you've been late on a few payments with a certain credit card company, the act of paying off the entire balance on that card in a subsequent period will not clear the late payments from your credit report. Plus, there are many other factors that are involved in calculating your credit score.

6. Using My Debit Card Helps My Credit Score
Using your debit card is the same thing as writing someone a check for services or having money electronically transferred to pay for an item or service. There is no loan or extension of credit involved, so there is no benefit to your credit profile when using your debit card.

7. Outstanding Medical Or Utility Bills Won’t Affect My Credit
Although medical or utility bills are not reported on your credit reports, outstanding medical or utility bills that have gone into collections may indeed be reported to credit bureaus by the collection agencies. These can be very damaging to your credit since they may remain on your credit report for a long time before even being discovered. Be especially careful with medical bills, as these are notorious for being sent into collection after a very short period of time.

8. The More Money I Make, The Better My Credit Will Be
You may make more money today than you did ten years ago, but the credit bureaus don’t monitor annual earnings, nor do they use earnings figures in their credit scoring models. The mere fact that you earn more money than your neighbor or your brother-in-law does not prove that you would manage your financial matters any better than they would. So, while earning more money may make it easier for you to responsibly manage your finances, it has no direct effect on your credit score. 

7 New Year’s Resolutions For Your Credit

The New Year is just around the corner! The old traditions of great food, champagne, parties and fireworks have once again come and gone. However, there are aspects of one tradition that can last throughout the entire year and even beyond in certain circumstances. Yes, of course, we’re talking about New Year’s resolutions!

New Year’s resolutions come in all shapes and sizes. We've all made them, some serious and some silly, some strictly adhered to and some not. Perhaps this year’s list of resolutions should include a commitment toward giving your financial health some consideration. After all, most of us have made resolutions in the past about losing a few pounds or getting back into shape, so maybe it’s time to put your credit through a bit of a workout. With that in mind, we've outlined a short list of New Year’s resolutions that can help you stay on top of your credit profile.

In today’s environment of tight lending standards and ever-increasing occurrences of identity theft, consumers need to understand the importance of protecting their credit reports and scores. Your choice to undertake some or all of these resolutions can help put you on the right path toward a healthier credit life.

7 Important New Year’s Resolutions To Consider For Your Credit:

1. Review your credit report
If you haven’t done so recently, you may want to consider getting copies of your three credit reports and check every section for any errors or suspicious activity. You may want to do this every so often over the course of the year to verify that the information in your credit report is accurate and that it’s free of any unauthorized activity. 

2. Clean up your credit report
If you find any errors during a review of your credit report, follow the appropriate procedures to have them fixed or removed as soon as you can. While some errors may seem to be minor (spelling or omission errors with names or addresses are common), in certain circumstances, they could still affect your ability to obtain credit or secure favorable credit terms. Consider contacting both the reporting organization (bank or company that provided information to the credit bureau) and the appropriate credit bureau in order to have any problems corrected in accordance with their policies.

3. Check out your credit score
Your credit score is a very important element in the credit reviewing process. You may want to start keeping a closer eye on your score and gain a better understanding of what information is used to calculate your credit score. Once you have a baseline level of your credit score, you’ll be more aware of how it can be affected by your financial and credit management activities.

4. Monitor your credit report and score
Monitoring your credit report and score can help warn you of changes or unauthorized activity that may take place within your credit profile. A triple bureau credit monitoring service can save you some time by scanning your credit files for you and alerting you of any monitored changes that may occur in any of your three credit reports (Experian, Equifax, Transunion). If any unauthorized activity has occurred, you may find out quickly enough to stop it from becoming a major problem down the road.

5. Safeguard your personal information
Make an effort to be careful with any documents (statements, pay stubs, bills) or electronic devices (laptop, smart-phone) that may contain personal information like account numbers, social security numbers or passwords for financial accounts. If this type of information ends up in the wrong hands, it can be used to wreak havoc with your credit. 

6. Start reconciling your credit card statements
This should go without saying, but many people don’t even bother to check the transactions that show up on their credit card statements every month. Some simply open up the bill, check the amount (or minimum amount) due and start writing a check. This can be a big mistake, as any simple errors or even serious attempts at outright theft can go undetected while you pay for them out of your own pocket. It doesn't take long to reconcile your credit card statements and at worst, you’re simply confirming the activity that is being reported to you as correct. If you do find an error, you may just save yourself a few bucks. If you find unauthorized charges, you may save yourself a great deal more.

7. Make an effort to learn a bit more about your credit report and score
Information is key, so the more you know about your credit report and score, the better prepared you may be when it comes time to apply for a mortgage, loan or other line of credit.

Even if you vowed to make all of these resolutions and fell a bit short on one or two by the end of the year, you would probably still have learned a great deal about your credit life. Equally as important, you may have found a new process that can add a layer of knowledge and protection to your credit report and score.