You Signed Up for a Credit Freeze on Your Credit Report – Are You Safe?

Here are a few places you may want to look into regarding protecting your credit report and personal information.

  • To prevent others from accessing your Social Security information follow the recommended security steps listed on the SSA site to establish password protection. Check your work history and contact your nearest SSA office to report errors.
  • File your income tax returns early. If a false return is filed in your name  the IRS  will allow you to file a paper return with additional information. The IRS investigates the false return and will invite you to opt-in to a PIN program. The PIN is sent by mail with a number to attach to your return. New ones are issued annually. Note: If you have put a credit freeze in place – you must do a temporary lift so the IRS can confirm your identity to issue the original PIN. All future tax returns must have the PIN or they will be rejected by the IRS.
  • The breach can result in false claims for benefits from private health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. Read all correspondence from your health insurance providers including settlement statements. Your first clue that false claims have been filed may be a call from a collection agency. If you have evidence of theft, contact medical providers for your records and take steps to remove the false information.
  • Are you aware of MIB – not men in black, but Medical Information Bureau. If you have applied for life insurance or private health insurance they prepare a summary of your health records using information from their member insurers.  Milliman Intelliscript reports information about your prescription drug information.
  • Your driver’s license number can be used for identification on bad checks. To find out whether any bad checks are attributed to your accounts, request your free annual consumer report from major check verification companies – ChexSystemsCertegyEarly Warning Services, and TeleCheck.
  • Ask the motor vehicles department to give you a copy of your driving record; most states charge for this, about $10. To protect yourself, ask the motor vehicle department to flag your license number for the police if they stop someone using your number.

This breach caused more headaches for consumers – protect your identity!

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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Red Flags

My work in family finance has taught me to never give my social security number or the security number on the back of my credit card if the call wasn’t initiated by me. That practice has served me well on two recent occasions.

The first situation occurred after the purchase of a vehicle. The caller identified himself as an employer of the lender; he was verifying insurance coverage. I’ve received mail from lenders in the past asking that proper insurance coverage verification be sent, but never a call. The big red flag for me was when I was asked to give my social security number.  “The insurance issue was taken care of at the time of purchase,” I stated and hung up.

This weekend the call was from an individual that identified themselves as representing my satellite provider. The caller stated, “We’ve recently updated to a new satellite service and your receiver will not continue to function with the new service. Please turn on your TV and press menu twice. On the the screen please read the receiver ID number.”  (This all seemed accurate and a reasonable request.)

“Yes, your equipment will not continue to work properly, we’ll need to send you a new receiver,” he said. (More details about my service that were accurate.) Directions were given for how the exchange would occur. I stated the equipment had only been replaced a year or two ago and wondered how it could be out of date. “Your receiver is like a computer, he said, “over time the technology has to be replaced.”

The next item of business was the charge. The caller explained that I would be charged for the new equipment, but would receive a monthly credit for 24 months that would be twice the initial up front fee.  Then he confirmed my address, phone number and proceeded to read off my credit card number. It was my first red flag. I didn’t think I had ever shared my credit card with this provider. The number given was correct, but the expiration date was wrong. I immediately gave the correct one and then he read the security code. Pause, RED FLAG, RED FLAG, RED FLAG!  I didn’t give the right one. The caller seemed annoyed, “Are you absolutely sure that is the correct number?”  ” Yes”, I lied.  I was given a call back number, name and code number for the caller. My order would be shipped in one or two days.

I called the satellite provider next to verify and learned it was a fraud. I was directed to their fraud department for additional assistance. The next call was to the credit card company, even though they didn’t get the code they needed, there was too much information out there on that account. It’s been canceled.

I hung up on the call that came the next day!  Thinking back over the situation, it is very easy to be caught off guard. What saved me was a resolve to never share my social security number or the verification/security number on the back of credit cards unless I make the call.  Callers are clever, I’m adding the practice of saying, “In this case, I’ll call your company directly. Good Bye.”

Joyce

 

 

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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Are You Protecting Your Personal Information?

Following the recent identity data breach, are you in the 19% who have checked to see if Equifax has compromised their personal information?  Or are you in the 81% who have not done anything as of mid-September?

Of the people who took action, 36% said they have placed a fraud alert on their credit.  Another 28% enrolled in a free credit-monitoring service offered by Equifax.  Twenty per-cent purchased another credit-monitoring service and 21% have frozen their credit.

What this breach means to you the consumer: it exposes names, addresses, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and driver’s license numbers. All the items needed to open new credit.

Unfortunately, you the consumer need to do the heavy lifting when it comes to protecting your identity.  Even though Equifax is offering free credit-monitoring service – you the consumer need to go to their site to check to see if you are affected, and then go through their multi-step enrollment process.

I found some interesting data about who is most concerned about the Equifax breach.   Are you 45 and older? Among this group, 72% were concerned.   Among younger adults, 57% were concerned.  Women were more concerned (70%) than men (62%).

There are still many unanswered questions – why did the breach happen, how did it happen, why did it take so long for Equifax to alert the public?

About three in ten Americans have faced some form of identity theft in the past.  There are more incidents in higher annual incomes.  If you have not checked – do it!

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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Equifax Breach – What to do now

Informed consumers do everything in their power to protect their identity.  Unfortunately, sometimes events occur that are outside our control.  Today’s news of a major cybersecurity breach at Equifax is a reminder, affecting nearly half of American consumers.

Equifax has provided a way for consumers to find out if they were affected, and to take steps to protect themselves.  They’ve posted a page where you can enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security Number to find out if you were affected.  If there’s a chance that your information was compromised, you’ll be offered an opportunity to enroll (free) in an identity theft protection and credit monitoring service.

NOTE: Clicking on “Enroll” isn’t enough; you’ll need to follow up with more steps.  You will be given a date (mine was next Tuesday) when your enrollment is available.  At that time, you’ll need to go back to the website and follow instructions to enroll.  To enroll you’ll need to provide answers to several questions, and then respond to an email to finally activate your account.

Nobody likes to deal with issues like this, but if you are affected, be sure you take the steps required to protect yourself!

Phone Option:  Equifax has established a dedicated call center. The call center is available at 866-447-7559, every day (including weekends) from 7:00 a.m. – 1:00 a.m. Eastern time.  Note that the call center is currently experiencing high volume leading to busy signals for many callers.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Your Smiley Face to Impress

smileIs it your smiling face and eagerness to take out a loan that impresses the lender?  While that helps, it is probably not the key factor.

Your credit score is the lender’s first impression. Almost all lenders use a credit score to form their first impression of an applicant’s financial situation.  You actually have three credit scores –one each from Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.  Lenders may also have additional factors they consider in making a credit decisions, such as details of a person’s credit history, prior relationship with the company, or others.

The credit score is calculated to be a predictor of whether or not you will repay. Each credit reporting company has their own unique scoring model.  Some credit card companies like Chase and Discover offer your credit score monthly with their statement.  There are websites – Credit Karma.com, Quizzle.com and Credit.com that can show you a three-digit number representing your creditworthiness but it may only represent one of the credit reporting agencies – not all three. So be conservative when looking at those numbers.

Once a lender approves you for credit, lenders may pull your credit score or history regularly to determine whether you continue to be eligible for credit or qualify for special offers.

If you know you will soon need to replace a car or plan to buy a house – check your credit history about 4-6 months before your purchase.  If you find errors, you have time to correct them.  Start with www.AnnualCreditReport.com, the official free site to check your credit history.

 

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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Strong Passwords

I recently received word that my cellular company had a security breach. In the past three years, I have received replacement credit cards 3 times because of a similar scare. We all most likely remember the negative publicity certain major retailers received around the holidays because of credit card issue, AND I just read about a major hospital accidentally posting personal information on a web site.  None of these examples are due to mistakes made on the part of the consumers. Despite the fact that all of these companies have departments full of individuals whose full-time job is to protect the sensitive information of those using their services, they still face challenges staying ahead of identity thieves.

For this reason, it is important to use a STRONG password for your online accounts; one that will be difficult for others to guess. Knowing that it is recommended that passwords be changed monthly or at least several times a year, here are a few tricks that will make remembering easier.

Using a phrase or string of seemingly random words (that mean something to you) is one way to create a password. When using a phrase, consider using capital letters at the END of each word (instead of at the beginning). Subbing a symbol in place of a letter is another way to make a password secure. For example: @pplEp1E&1cEcre@M (apple pie & ice cream is my favorite dessert). I replaced all the A’s with the @ symbol; the last letter of each word is capitalized and all the I’s are changed into the number 1. Another trick would be to remove all the vowels from my phrase, Apple Pie & Ice cream becomes pplp&ccrm.

Once you settle on a password, a number could be added at the beginning or end.  Then each month when you change the password, you could keep the phrase portion of the password, and make the change to only the number…maybe increasing or decreasing by 1 number.

Share strategies you use to make changing and remembering passwords easier.

Brenda Schmitt

Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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Who Has Your Real Credit Score?

When you look at your credit score from your credit card company – you would think it is your “real” credit score.  Whether you paid for your score or not, the score is probably different from what the lender gets.

Recently, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced an enforcement action against two of the credit reporting agencies by deceiving consumers about the value of the scores sold.  In their advertising, Equifax and TransUnion have falsely represented that the credit scores they marketed were the same scores lenders used to make credit decisions.  The scores sold by TransUnion and Equifax were not typically used by lenders to make those decisions.

As part of the action, the companies will pay more than $17.6 million in restitution to consumers, and another $5.5 million in penalties to the CFPB.

CFPB wants consumers to realize there is no one magic three-digit number that lenders use to assess borrowers’ creditworthiness and set rates.  The scores you see can vary widely from source to source – as much as 40 points.

Why do scores vary?

Score type – Different models are used for each credit-reporting agency.  Many lenders use FICO or VantageScore brands.  Each model gives different weight to factors like how much of your available credit you’re using and your payment history.

Customization – Lenders “weigh” different factors like credit card debt or car loans.

Credit-scoring company – Use data pulled from your credit report at one of the three major firms.  Information will vary and there may be errors.

Score version – Scoring models are updated regularly, every 15-60 days – so the lender may not have the most current version.  Mortgage lenders tend to use older models.

Timing – Your score can change daily as the information on your credit report changes.

Variation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to your score(s), there are free ways to take a look, including third-party sites and a perk from your credit card issuer.

Every credit score that’s given away or sold to consumers has value.  You’ll be able to see whether you have a good or poor score regardless of the brand.  The key takeaway is any information provided with your score indicating why the number is what it is.  This information tells you what actions you might take to improve your creditworthiness.

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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What Draws You In While Surfing And Shopping On The Web?

Are you drawn in by emails from e-commerce sites in your inbox urging you to click and spend?  Or by ads you encounter while surfing? Are there ways to resist the temptation?

A CreditCards.com survey found that five in six Americans admit to impulse buying, with an increasing number of those purchases occurring online.  One in three Americans admit they have made impulse buys in the past three months using a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Retailers use analytics to track our preferences and show us digital ads that match our preferences; this strategy increases the amount of temptation we face online.  If you find yourself occasionally falling victim to online shopping madness, here are six tips to stop the shopping madness!

Block the Promotions – Unsubscribe from online retail email lists and delete shopping apps from your phone, tablet, and laptop.  The less you see, the less inclined you are to spend.

Do not Store your Credit Card information on a Shopping Site – Yes it is easier, you loss control of your information on another companies site. If you have to plug in credit card information, you might think twice before the purchase.

Shop with a Purpose – Shop only when you know exactly what you need.  Make a list, and before for you hit the buy button wait at least 30 minutes – or sleep on the decision.

Look for a Different Kind of Emotional Lift – Replace retail therapy with different types of experiences that make you feel good.  Volunteer, go to the gym, or call a friend to improve your mood.

Shopper, Know Thyself – When do you shop?  Identify when you are most likely to shop and shut off the computer during those times.

Get Help – About 6% of the U.S. population suffers from”compulsive buying disorder.” For those with this serious shopping problem, places to seek help include Debtors Anonymous, books, or a professional therapist.

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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Does Debt Technically Have an Expiration Date?

If you answered YES, you are correct – but be cautious in how you use that information.    

The statute of limitations on debt is the legal length of time during which creditor can sue a borrower for repayment of debt; the clock starts ticking at the time when the borrower breaches the contract.  It varies from state to state and by type of debt.  In Iowa, debt expires in 5-10 years, depending upon the type of account; the statute of limitations on court judgments, on the other hand, is 20 years.

It is a mistake to conclude that the statute of limitations is a solution to your money woes.   Here are a couple of reasons why:

  1. Expiration dates have nothing to do with how long an unpaid debt appears on your credit report – that time limit is 7 years.  One way to check on your outstanding accounts is to pull your credit report (free) from AnnualCreditReport.com.  Typically, any negative credit items in the last 24 months of your credit history will have the greatest impact on your credit score and ability to get a loan.
  2. In some situations creditors or debt collectors have successfully sued to recoup an unpaid balance, even after the statute of limitations has expired.  This may be especially likely if you do not appear in court to defend yourself.

Even if the statute of limitations has expired, a debt collector may still contact you to try to collect on the debt. However, if you give a written notice for the debt collector not to contact you, the law prohibits them from doing so.

If you have an old debt, should you pay?  Paying off the debt will remove the unpaid balance from your credit report, so paying the debt may improve your credit history.  However, it’s wise to be cautious, especially if you cannot pay the bill in full; if you make a partial payment on an old debt, you may “restart the clock” on the statute of limitations.  In that case, the creditor would again be legally entitled to take you to court to collect on the debt.

If you have relocated to a different state, but you have a debt in the former state, you may need to consult a consumer law attorney to find out which state’s statute of limitations will apply.  Other sources of legal information related to debt collection include reputable Consumer Credit Counseling agencies, the Iowa Concern Hotline (800-447-1985) or Iowa Legal Aid  (or Legal Aid in another state).

It is wise to be aware that debts have statutes of limitations; it is also wise to remember that outstanding debt appears on your credit history for at least 7 years.

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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Look for Money Smart Week Activities in Your Community April 22-29, 2917

Money Smart Week, started 15 years ago by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, is designed as a public awareness campaign to help consumers better manage their personal finances. There are Money Smart Week programs in every state. Here in Iowa, more than 200 partner organizations have joined in the fun to promote financial education and to provide learning opportunities.  All Money Smart Week programs are free, and strictly educational (no marketing allowed).

ISU Extension and Outreach has been a MSW partner for many years.  Educational programs are offered for all ages, from preschoolers to seniors.  Activities like scout nights, shred events, essay and poster contests, geocache for college cash, piggy banks, books, kites, and chances to win prizes make the learning fun.  Educational program topics include establishing a budget, protecting financial information, raising money-smart kids, and more.

Check the website www.MoneySmartWeek.org for more details about activities in your communities.  Check your local library for a display as well as programming.  Spread the knowledge!

 

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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