4 Ways to Keep the Grinch from Stealing Your Good Credit

GrinchDuring the holiday season, we’re more at risk for fraud and identity theft as we head out or online to shop. Theft of your credit cards or identity can be devastating to your credit, not to mention your finances and emotional well-being. Not exactly something we want to happen during this joyous time of year, right? Here are some tips to remember as we are holiday shopping.

1. Shop Safe Online

Be aware that just because you can shop in the comfort and safety of your home doesn’t mean you’re not at risk for identity or credit card theft. Stay safe online by entering your credit card number in as few places as possible – use a payment service such as PayPal; shop at reputable websites with names you know and trust; and avoid clicking on links sent to you in email or banner ads that could take to you websites other than where you intended to go.

2. Keep an Eye on Your Cards

When you’re out shopping at a brick-and-mortar store, keep an eye on your credit cards and make sure store clerks are not allowed to leave your sight with your cards in hand. Also, pick-pocketers are common this time of year, so make sure to keep your valuables safe when you are in public.

3. Check Your Statements

Checking your bank and credit card statements regularly – even as often as every day – is a great habit to start now, if you don’t already do it. This time of year, when you’re more likely to have increased activity on your accounts, it’s especially important to review them carefully and thoroughly. Get signed up for online access so you don’t have to wait for paper statements to arrive. If you see anything questionable, you can act on it right away and resolve any problems. You can also sign up for alerts to notify you whenever a purchase goes through.

4. Check Your Credit Reports & Credit Scores

The end of the year is also a great time to pull your credit report and/or get your credit score and compare it to your last one. Check your credit reports for any incorrect or unfamiliar information, inquiries, or credit accounts. Report any suspicious or wrong information to the creditor and the credit bureau. You can pull your credit reports for free every year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies on AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can see two credit scores for free on Credit.com.

With these four simple steps and by being smart and aware of your surroundings, you can help keep yourself, your identity, and your credit safer from the Grinch. Cheers to a happy holiday season!

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!

Article Source: Jeanne Kelly of Credit.com, http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2014/12/09/4-ways-to-keep-grinch-from-stealing-your-good-credit/


IRS Warning About Phone Scams

scamThe Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) often hear from taxpayers who have received unsolicited calls from individuals demanding payment while fraudulently claiming to be from the IRS.

“There are clear warning signs about these scams, which continue at high levels throughout the nation,” said the IRS Commissioner. “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact TIGTA or the IRS.”

Additionally, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS:

  • Never asks for credit card, debit card, or prepaid card information over the telephone.
  • Never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations
  • Never requests immediate payment over the telephone and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies.

Potential phone scam victims may be told that they owe money that must be paid immediately to the IRS or they are entitled to big refunds. When unsuccessful the first time, sometimes phone scammers call back trying a new strategy.

Other characteristics of these scams include:

  • Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.
  • Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number.
  • Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.
  • Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
  • Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.
  • After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:

  • If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to TIGTA at 1.800.366.4484.
  • You can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose “Other” and then “Imposter Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief), that also fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the email to phishing@irs.gov.

For more information or to report a scam, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box. More information on how to report phishing scams involving the IRS is available on the genuine IRS website, IRS.gov.

ID Theft Risks That Lurk in Your Child’s Backpack

Girl walking away from School Bus while texting on her phoneWhile you’re out searching for the perfect back-to-school backpack for your child, the more important consideration other than style, size, and color should be — what can happen if a dishonest person gets a hold of it? The things your child carries in his or her backpack can become a huge financial headache if they fall into the wrong hands.

With identity-related crimes at historic levels, the odds are better than ever that a dishonest person will know the basics of taking advantage of the kinds of personally identifiable information, sensitive data (like passwords and credit card numbers), and the many other keys to your household economy that can lurk in your child’s backpack.

Here’s a short list of what a relatively creative thief might find in your child’s backpack, and what you can do to prevent the worst from happening.

1. A Smartphone

While obvious to you (hopefully), does your child understand the serious potential for disaster that a walk-about smartphone can bring to your doorstep?

It can be as simple as a scammer dialing 611 and ordering new services. Chances are good that there’s enough information in your child’s backpack for a motivated thief to get your name and thus the keys to your telephonic kingdom.

But there are other identity indignities that can be done. Many people store user name and password information on the Notes app of their phones. The Notes may contain other informational cracks and crevices as well and open up unsuspecting third parties — relatives and friends — to scams. Email scams, grandparent scams, an iTunes or apps shopping spree, malware installation — so many tidbits to exploit.

What to do: Talk to your kids about the dangers of an unsecured phone and discuss basic data storage details with them — like what information shouldn’t be on their phones. Is the phone locked with a passcode? It should be! Also have them set strong (think creatively alpha-numeric) passwords, and a Find Me app to erase the contents should the device fall into the wrong hands.

2. Their Laptop

You don’t need to be a movie buff to know that a computer is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. Most issues associated with a lost phone come to bear here as well. Emails can be sent to relatives or strangers in the service of stealing money or wreaking havoc.

Beyond the irresistible cornucopia of files that may well be saved on the device, email is a treasure trove of personally identifiable information — everything from credit card numbers to more data like name, address, email addresses and birthdays — pieces of a puzzle that can be assembled to present a believable story to a customer service representative and then steal valuable goods and services, or used as a fly trap to accumulate even more personally identifiable information.

Does your child have access to your Netflix account? How about Amazon or iTunes? Where else have they gone in cyberspace that might have their information — or yours? Open social media sites that are set to login automatically afford a wide vista of scamming opportunities too.

What to do: Make sure your child gets into the habit of logging out of all their online accounts, and that they don’t store sensitive information on their laptops. Talk to them about the wisdom of not saving user ID and password information, and how to make a good one. Finally, have your child set a password — shared with you — to protect their device against the wrong person accessing it.

3. Keys and Name Tags

So, this is pretty straightforward: If your child uses a karabiner to attach his or her keys to their backpack, you’ve got a potential robbery waiting to happen.

Additionally, there are apps that can allow a fraudster (as well as a person who might want to use the app to avoid unnecessary inconvenience) to make a copy of a key that a locksmith can duplicate.

What to do: Tell your child to keep the keys to your home in their pocket rather than on their back.

4. Gaming Device

Playstation Vita is a popular gaming device — and not the only device that could cause you a world of woe should it fall into the wrong hands — but we’ll single it out for the sake of illustration.

The good news: Your personally identifiable information is safe even if someone grabs the device, because it’s password-protected and associated with your gamer’s access to the network.

That doesn’t mean that a bad player can’t do some damage. First, they can play games and wreck your child’s sterling reputation in the community. Worse: Whoever has that device can buy games and run up a hefty bill. One-click purchased games are something any malicious third party can rack up in the way of a very expensive just-because crime.

What to do: Have your child set a passcode for access to the device and make sure they share it with you.

When it comes to data security, best practices are universal. It’s your job to pass on what your kids need to know to stay safe and keep your family out of the crosshairs of ID theft.

Article Source: Adam Levin for Credit.com, http://www.today.com/parents/identity-theft-risks-lurk-your-kids-backpack-1D80042370

3 Ways Consumers Can Fall Victim to Identity Theft

Identity-Theft-CreditThere’s really only one way to protect yourself from identity theft. Stop spending money and trust no one. It’s pretty easy.

OK, it isn’t easy. Talk to enough victims of identity theft, and you start to realize that it really can happen to anyone – and sometimes, no matter how careful you are, it can happen to you. That’s why it helps to study how people’s identities were stolen and learn from it. Here a few ways identity theft happens along with strategies to prevent it.

1. Information is out there for anyone to see. Of course you don’t want to leave credit card statements lying around in public places, and when you discard your financial paperwork, it’s smart to run it through a shredder. But sometimes when you’re out in the world, your information can’t help but become a little exposed. You type a PIN number onto a pad and realize someone might have been looking over your shoulder. You hand your credit card to a waiter, who disappears for a while with it. Or you’re in a crowded store, practically rubbing elbows with an identity thief.

Sarah Dugo, co-founder of College Savings Dolls, got an unwanted education on identity theft when she was at a crowded Best Buy and bought a big-screen TV for the Super Bowl.

“The cashier took my credit card and delivery information, but they left it all on the computer screen and walked away from the check-out area. I was at one of the checkouts in the smaller section of the store, not the main front exit,” Dugo says.

It turns out that the thief used Dugo’s credit card information to order the same big-screen TV – and had it sent to his address. “That’s how they caught him,” Dugo says. Still, the crook did enough damage to her credit report and credit score that it took two years for her to straighten it all out.

She was in one of those situations where the employee ringing her up was interrupted by a customer before finishing her transaction. Dugo isn’t positive, but she thinks that’s how someone was able to see her information and either jot everything down or snap a photo of the computer screen.

Dugo isn’t sure what she could have done differently, but she figures that if she is ever shopping on another crowded weekend, she may make her purchase at the main entrance, where department sales clerks aren’t likely to be pulled away from the register.

2. You put your wallet or handbag in a vulnerable position. “Several years ago, I was shopping at a Safeway near my house. I was in the shampoo aisle and a well-dressed man asked me to help him find a product his wife asked him to get,” says Caren Kagan Evans, CEO of ECI Communications. While Evans pointed to the top shelf to show him where the product was, another man took Evans’ wallet out of her handbag, which was in the top part of her cart.

“I didn’t realize my wallet had been stolen until I went to check out,” Evans says. “I ran home, contacted the credit agencies, contacted my bank and of course contacted my credit card companies.”

Unfortunately, her Social Security Number was printed on her health insurance card, so the thief now had that information as well.

“This was a large group of people that were doing this kind of thing up and down the East Coast,” she says. “In a matter of just an hour, the team had used my cards at gas stations, Target, and other locations. They also were able to get checks printed since they had my social, and thousands of dollars disappeared from my checking account.”

Evans says she was lucky because she got her money back and was able to fix everything relatively quickly. “I have heard stories of people who had their identities stolen where the perpetrator took out mortgages on properties, and stories of people who literally spent years getting everything straightened out,” she says.

As for where Evans went wrong, she says it is easy to look at the situation now and realize her handbag was vulnerable. It was in the top part of the cart, and she was never planning on leaving it out of her sight. So you could take away from this story that you should never trust a stranger, even one who simply wants some help finding shampoo – or, better yet, remember to keep your eye on your purse or wallet since somebody else otherwise will.

Evans also says she no longer signs her credit card receipts, reasoning that a thief can study the receipt and later fake her signature. Sales clerks don’t push her to sign for merchandise, she says – they’ll just ask to see her identification. “And when they do, I thank them,” Evans says. “I appreciate it.”

burglar-for-identity-theft-small3. You trusted someone a little too much. Everyone knows the importance of vetting people who work for you, and yet you can never say it enough.

Arthur Gregory is a serial entrepreneur. He’s a partner in two restaurants and owns EatUsa.net. The printer who made his menus overheard Gregory tell a colleague that he was looking for a bookkeeper.

“I do that,” the printer said. And Gregory, who liked how his menus were made, figured he’d give him the job.

As it turns out, the man was trustworthy when it came to menus, but not when it came to bookkeeping. “He stole my identity,” Gregory says.

And he didn’t just go out to a department store and buy things in Gregory’s name. He took out corporate credit cards in Gregory’s name and tried to take over his business, contacting vendors and doing a ton of damage. He now keeps all of his personal information in a lock box, so not even his current bookkeeper can see it.

Gregory, unfortunately, is also a case study in why it’s impossible to prevent identity theft. Even if you were willing to live out the rest of your life on a deserted island or in a cave to wall yourself off from problems, you could still discover you’re already a victim of identity theft.

As you can see, identity theft is an immense problem throughout the world and only becoming more and more frequent. As previously stated, there is no way to completely prevent identity theft, but there are certainly ways to minimize your risk and protect your finances.To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today.

Article source courtesy of Geoff Williams of US News.