Traveling with Your Credit Card: Safety Precautions to Consider

It’s summer, which means that many of us are packing up our bags and heading for the hills (or the beach, or the museums). The last thing you want to worry about is your credit card.

Unfortunately, all too many of us face hassles with credit card security while traveling — especially during trips abroad. These problems can range from the annoying to the devastating, but most of them are very preventable. Here’s how to have a worry-free vacation.

Pre-departure Preparations

You wouldn’t leave home without booking your flight or packing your bag, and credit card security is just as important. Make sure to add a few credit card specific tasks to your pre-departure list.

  • Call your card issuer to notify them of your travel plans.

Many credit card issuers have built-in fraud protection that could shut down your card if it’s used outside of your normal purchase pattern. The last thing you want is to have your card denied at that fabulous Italian bistro, so give your card issuer a heads up.

  • Do some research regarding foreign transaction fees.

If you carry multiple credit cards, you should know that there might be a wide variation between your cards when it comes to foreign transaction fees. Call your card issuers or do some digging online to compare fees.

  • Learn how to contact your credit card issuer while abroad.

Toll-free numbers don’t typically work abroad, so you’ll need a different way to contact your credit card issuer if you encounter problems during your travels. Some cards have international numbers printed right on the back. If yours doesn’t, call them up before you leave and ask them what number to use. Write down this number and keep it with your travel documents.

  • Make copies of the front and back of your credit cards.

This is one step that’s frequently overlooked, but if your cards are stolen, having photocopies can be very helpful. Many travelers also do this for passports.

  • Make sure your card will be accepted abroad.

Not all cards are taken around the world. Consider getting an EMV chip card (if yours doesn’t already have this feature), which is more widely accepted abroad – especially in Europe.

EMV Chip Cards

EMV security chip cards are fairly new to the U.S. market, but they have become the go-to standard in other countries. These cards feature embedded microchips that can hold a large volume of dynamic data. They also require entry of a pin in order to complete a transaction, and that means that a thief who simply has your card number can’t use your card.

If you bring an American swipe card abroad, expect it to be rejected at several common locations, including:

  • Gas stations
  • Parking meters
  • Many merchants and retailers
  • Destinations in Europe other than major cities

Handling Your Credit Card While Abroad

So you’ve taken all the precautions before boarding the plane: what about when you’ve reached your destination? There are several steps you can take to avoid fraud, theft, and unnecessary trouble abroad.

  • Avoid use of your credit card in less-than-secure situations.

The street vendor may have a lovely smile and even better food for sale, but this probably isn’t the best place to pull out your credit card.

  • Have your travel companion carry a different card as a back-up.

Even if you plan on relying primarily on one card, it’s not a bad idea to have a back-up along — and to have it carried by someone else. That way, if your wallet or money carrier is lost or stolen, you aren’t completely out of luck.

  • Keep your credit card in sight.

Try to hand your credit card directly to the person who will be processing the transaction. You’ll want to avoid situations where someone takes your card out of sight to process a transaction, because that scenario makes it easy for them to steal your information.

  • Be cautious with ATMs.

ATM fees can be extremely steep for international transactions. In addition, many foreign ATMs (especially outside of western Europe) are not as secure as we may expect from our U.S. counterparts. If you are traveling abroad and you must use an ATM, choose one that is attached to a legitimate business (preferably a bank).

  • Carry cash or travelers checks as back-up.

Try to carry enough local currency or traveler’s checks to get by each day (but not so much that you’re a ripe target for muggers). Credit cards are convenient, but if yours is declined or stolen and you don’t have an alternative method of payment available, you won’t think it’s very convenient. Look into getting a discreet carrying pouch specifically designed for passports and money, which is much more secure than a wallet or purse.

  • Document everything.

Keep receipts of all purchases in case mysterious charges are added to your account later. Keeping receipts also helps with expense tracking, so you can stay on budget.

The Bottom Line

This list may have left you a little uneasy. Don’t worry — you’ve already taken the first step by informing yourself. Credit cards are usually part of the solution — not the problem, when you’re traveling abroad. All you have to do is take proper precautions and exercise a bit of due diligence. Just think about how much more relaxing that well-deserved vacation will be, knowing that you don’t have to spend a moment worrying about your credit cards.

Bon Voyage!

Article Source: Ellen Gans for thesimpledollar.com

A Credit Freeze Won’t Help With All Equifax Breach Threats

If you’ve placed a security freeze on your credit reports at Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Innovis, that will help prevent fraudsters from opening new credit accounts in your name.

Freezing your credit report specifically at Equifax will also prevent crooks from registering as you at the government website “my Social Security,” and block them from attempting to steal your Social Security benefits. *Note: Setting up a credit freeze with Equifax will stop identity thieves from setting up a “my Social Security” account in your name.

But taking these steps won’t protect you against every identity fraud threat arising from the Equifax data breach.

With the information that hackers got, including access to Social Security numbers, birth dates, and an unspecified amount of driver’s license numbers, you need to take other steps to help lock down your finances.

Here are three important ways you can protect yourself.

Tax Refunds

With your Social Security number, crooks can file false income tax returns in your name, take bogus deductions, and steal the resulting refund. Though you are generally not liable for such fraud, if a criminal manages to change your tax records and receive your refund, it can take months to straighten out the mess.

How to protect yourself. The best defense is to obtain an Identity Protection PIN from the IRS, which is a code that must be filed with your legitimate return for it to be accepted. An identity thief can’t file the fraudulent return without your PIN.

But you can get a PIN only if a fraudulent return has previously been filed in your name, if the IRS determines that you’re an ID fraud victim, or if you live in a high tax-related identity theft locale such as Washington, D.C.; Florida; or Georgia.

The IRS did not yet say whether those affected by the Equifax breach would qualify for a PIN.

Andrew Mattson, a tax partner at the Moss Adams tax firm in Silicon Valley, recommends that taxpayers who don’t officially qualify for a PIN request one anyway, by filing a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit (PDF). “Even if the IRS says no, your account will generally be flagged for additional monitoring for suspicious activity,” he says.

Mattson also recommends that you periodically view your IRS account information, which shows when returns were filed and which refund payments were made. Activity there—if it’s not yours—can be a sign of fraud. The balance updates every 24 hours, usually overnight, but there is a one- to three-week lag in the time it takes for refund payments to show up.

If you suspect fraud, contact your local IRS office using the Taxpayer Assistance Center Office Locator.

Health Insurance

Data from the Equifax breach can be used to steal your benefits from private health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid when the identity thief uses your coverage to pay for their own medical treatment and prescriptions.

Many health insurers have internal special investigation units and anti‐fraud personnel to root out medical identity fraud, and if suspicious activity is detected, they’ll send email alerts to the policyholder, says Cathryn Donaldson, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the trade association of health insurers.

How to protect yourself. Get copies of your medical records from providers to establish the baseline of your health before your records are compromised. Increasingly, online patient portals make this easy to do. Check back regularly to see whether providers you didn’t use are listed and whether you’ve been charged for treatments you never received.

In addition, review your free annual MIB Consumer File, which contains medical and personal information about you reported by health, life, disability, and other member insurers. Do the same for your Milliman Intelliscript report, which tracks your history of prescription drug purchases.

The Federal Trade Commission also says consumers should ask each of their health plans and medical providers for the “accounting of disclosures” related to their medical records. That tells who got copies of your records from the provider. The law allows you to order one free copy from each medical provider every year.

If available, sign up for your insurer’s secure online portal, and regularly review the explanation of benefits, which shows which treatments you received when and from which providers. While there, sign up for fraud alerts via email or text message, which will keep you apprised of benefit payments.

Regularly review your credit report for medical collection accounts that don’t belong to you.

Your Driver’s License

Using your driver’s license number, identity thieves can create bogus driver’s licenses and hang their moving violations on you. With more work and information from phishing or further hacking, identity thieves can create bogus checks to pay a cashier, who “verifies” the shopper’s identity by writing your license number on the bad check.

If this happens to you, you may not discover how your license has been used until a police officer tells you, or perhaps, until a bank closes your account because of too many bounced checks.

How to protect yourself. Ask the motor vehicle department to give you a copy of your driving record; most states charge for this, usually about $10. To find out whether any bad checks are attributed to your driver’s license, request your free annual consumer report from each of the big three check verification companies: ChexSystems, Certegy, and TeleCheck.

If you find that your driver’s license is being used fraudulently, you can file a police report at your local police department and ask the motor vehicle department to flag your license number, which will alert law enforcement officers to be extra careful in identifying people they pull over with your license number. You should also request a new driver’s license number.

If you’re arrested or find criminal charges on your record, go to the Identity Theft Resource Center for advice on clearing criminal identity theft; if you find fraudulent checks on your record, follow the ITRC for advice on resolving checking account fraud. You can also call 888-400-5530 for free assistance.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Be sure to enroll in First Financial’s Identity Theft Protection Program from SherpaThe best part? You can enroll right online, 24/7. You can trust in First Financial and Sherpa to help keep your personal information protected. Packages begin at just $5.99 per month – so click here to enroll today! 

Article Source: Jeff Blyskal for Consumer Reports

 

How to Protect Your Money After the Equifax Data Breach

If you haven’t already, the first, best, and fastest way to protect yourself from the Equifax data breach is to place a security freeze on your credit files at the big three credit reporting bureaus.

Consumers should apply the freeze to Equifax, and also to Experian, and TransUnion. For extra security, you can apply a freeze to a fourth, lesser-known consumer reporting agency, Innovis.

You can do this by contacting each bureau either through their website or through the customer service number. There may be a fee for placing the freeze.

Equifax stated it would not charge for credit freezes for those affected by the breach.

The massive data breach involves the potential compromise of the personal data of 143 million consumers, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and birth dates.

In addition to the credit freeze, there are four more steps to put an iron wall around your money.

Activate Two-Factor Authentication

In today’s world of digital crime and internet fraud, two-factor authentication is an important extra layer of safety. It requires not just a password but a second element, such as a code texted to your smart phone, which you have but a crook can’t easily get. Set up and activate two-factor authentication on all of your existing mobile banking, savings, credit card, home equity line of credit, and other financial accounts that offer it.

Maximize Your Mutual Fund Security

Although the Securities and Exchange Commission requires mutual funds companies to identify, detect, and respond to red flags of identity theft, unlike FDIC-insured banks and NCUA-insured credit unions, these investment firms aren’t required to restore assets stolen by hackers.

You should call your 401(k) plan provider and other investment managers to learn their fraud protection policies, as they can vary from company to company. If your investment company doesn’t explicitly reimburse stolen funds, consider moving your money elsewhere.

Place a Fraud Alert on Credit Reports

A fraud alert is different from a credit freeze. The fraud alert is a notice on your credit report that warns both current and prospective lenders that they must take reasonable steps to verify your identity before granting credit, such as a new credit card or loan, or extending credit on an existing account.

You need to request a fraud alert at one of the big three credit bureaus, which will then pass it on to the other two, and separately place another alert with Innovis. An alert lasts 90 days. If you’re an ID-theft victim, you can get a fraud alert that stays in place for seven years. But you may be better off with the 90-day alert, because that allows you to get a free credit report from each of the four credit bureaus each time you renew the alert, which means you can get up to 16 free reports per year.

Secure Your Smartphone + Email

How you manage your smartphone and email accounts can be critical to your online security. Your phone is where all your second-factor text message codes are sent and where your mobile banking and other money apps live. Email is where your financial institutions send alerts and password reset links.

Here’s how you can make your phone and email harder targets:

  • Activate two-factor authentication on your email account. When you log into your email on an unfamiliar computer or phone, you’ll get a text with the necessary code to complete login. A hacker would need that code, too, but can’t get it without your phone. Better yet, download an authenticator app such as Google Authenticator or Microsoft Authenticator, which generates these codes without the need for texts, which can be intercepted.
  • Use a password management app such as LastPass on your computer’s browser and on your phone. LastPass creates and plugs different passwords into each of your accounts when you log in, so you don’t have to invent and keep track of dozens of passwords. This eliminates the temptation of using the same password for multiple accounts, which can provide a master key for hackers.
  • Never click unsolicited, unexpected, or suspicious-looking links sent to you by email or text. They could download malware capable of spying on your phone or personal computer activity.
  • Follow other security tips for your phone’s specific operating system using the FCC Smartphone Security Checker, a customizable interactive tool.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Be sure to enroll in First Financial’s Identity Theft Protection Program from SherpaThe best part? You can enroll right online, 24/7. You can trust in First Financial and Sherpa to help keep your personal information protected. Packages begin at just $5.99 per month – so click here to enroll today! 

Article Source:  Jeff Blyskal for Consumer Reports

5 Ways to Stop Identity Theft

As a lot of us have had to find out the hard way, identity theft is a real threat and it can be damaging to your finances and personal life. Make sure you’re doing all you can to keep yourself safe. Here are 5 things you can do to stay protected.

Have secure passwords.

Stop using the word ‘password’ as your password. And don’t use your mother’s maiden name. Create a complex password that only you can remember. For instance, maybe you’re a big Alabama football fan. Use initials, symbols, and numbers to create your password. For example: *BamaWins3020!  Nobody’s going to guess that one. According to howsecureismypassword.net, it would take a computer millions of years to crack that password.

Shred sensitive information.

Your weekly routine probably involves bringing your garbage can out to the street on trash day. Make sure when this happens, you’re not throwing anything away that an identity thief could find valuable. Anything that contains account numbers, banking information, or social security numbers would be a gold mine for a thief. Get online, buy a paper shredder and put it to work. This is the easiest way to help yourself stay protected.

Check your credit report.

If checking your credit report isn’t something you do regularly, you should make it one. If a thief opens up an account in your name, this will affect your credit score and that can be an easy red flag to detect. Try annualcreditreport.com.

Be careful with the internet.

Cybercriminals can get your information a few ways, one of which is phishing. Phishing is when a cybercriminal defrauds you of sensitive information by posing as a legitimate company that you trust. Make sure you never click a link in an email that’s asking you for personal information. You’ll never get an email like this if you didn’t request it, and even then, contact the company and have it verified. Also, make sure you’re not doing sensitive things like logging into your bank website from a coffee shop’s wifi. Wait until you get home to check your account balance.

Monitor your accounts.

It’s important to login to your online banking often, and review each transaction. If you find something that wasn’t purchased by you, contact your financial institution immediately. It’s very important to monitor your accounts regularly and keep a close eye on your money.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Be sure to enroll in First Financial’s Identity Theft Protection Program from Sherpa today. The best part? You can enroll right online, 24/7. You can trust in First Financial and Sherpa to help keep your personal information protected. Packages begin at just $5.99 per month – so click here to enroll today!

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

What To Do When Your Debit Card is Compromised

Have you ever gotten a letter in the mail from your bank saying that your account may have been compromised? If you’ve ever had this happen before, it elicits all sorts of questions. Was there fraudulent activity on my account? Who ‘may have’ compromised my card, and when? Am I liable financially?

First of all, getting a letter like this doesn’t necessarily mean there was a fraudulent transaction. Your bank is simply following a standard precaution. What it does mean is there was suspicious activity associated with your debit card. Your card number and name might have been obtained by an unauthorized source, usually at a retail location with a card processing system targeted by hackers.

Secondly, your bank may not even know where and when the card was potentially compromised. Mastercard, Visa and other card companies don’t usually release this information to the bank unless there’s a massive breach. Card companies simply notify the bank of suspicious activity, and your bank follows its standard policy – which is usually to cancel the card number and issue a new one.

Thirdly, even though you don’t know if, when, and where the compromise might have occurred, it’s important to do your own research. Besides credit card companies, banks also monitor account activity. This offers another level of assurance, but you can never be too cautious. We should always keep a close eye on our bank accounts, especially since small, ordinary transactions can be easily overlooked. Hackers often test a stolen card number this way before making major purchases or withdrawals (like dipping a toe in the water to test the temperature before plunging in). So if you do receive a letter like this in the mail, immediately check your account activity. If there are any unauthorized transactions, call the bank and report them.

Lastly, examine your habits for anything that is leaving your card number vulnerable. Have you been using your debit card more than usual? If you make frequent electronic purchases, use a credit card – which at least won’t risk your personal checking and savings accounts getting wiped out.

Along with this, consider the following precautions:

  • When making online purchases, always look for the secure “lock” icon.
  • Listen to your instincts if anything looks fishy about a website you’re entering personal information into.
  • Clear your web browser history frequently. Don’t let your computer save passwords, and delete cookies.
  • Don’t respond to emails requesting verification of personal information. Because of the risks, your bank will never ask you to do this.
  • Be skeptical of application downloads and updates, even if they look legitimate. Scammers are great at creating imitations that install spyware on your computer.
  • Use a quality anti-virus and anti-malware program and make sure it’s enabled to run routine scans.

If you have a First Financial Debit Card – Enroll it in Visa Purchase Alerts today! You’ll get an email each time your Debit Card is used over an amount you set, when your card is used outside the county, or when your card is used to make a purchase online or over the phone.

 Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for MoneyNing.com

3 Ways to Ensure Cyber Safety During Tax Time

Income Tax File Meaning Paying Taxes 3d Rendering

The IRS is now officially open for business as tax season gets underway. Here are three ways you can protect yourself over the next few months as you manage important and sensitive, financial documents.

Stay on secured networks: As with other financial transactions, make sure to only e-file your taxes (or view private documents) on a protected Wi-Fi network. You may be tempted to work from a coffee shop or the library, but remember using a public server can make you an easy target for cyber thieves.

Beware of IRS emails: The Internal Revenue Service will never directly reach out to you; if you receive a fraudulent message report it immediately to phishing@irs.gov. Use caution when dealing with these and be sure not to click on web links or open suspicious email attachments.

Set strong passwords: Most of us may think that choosing a password such as “password” or “123456” is an obvious mistake but according to TIME, these are in fact the most popular password picks. Review their list of these commonly used passwords and make necessary adjustments to yours to ensure your information stays safe online.

First Financial members get discounts on TurboTax products – get started today!

Article Source: Wendy Bignon for CUInsight.com