Tag Archives: credit report

Do-It-Yourself Identity Theft Protection

Identity theft is a growing problem in the United States, and dozens of companies offering various forms of identity theft protection have sprung up to combat it. Unfortunately, these services often do little to actually protect people’s identities, according to a study released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Both the GAO study and consumer protection organizations like The Identity Theft Council point out that consumers have more effective, low-cost methods to protect themselves from identity theft. Here are some of their tips:

Monitor your own credit. You can get a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can stagger your request from each agency so that you can check your credit history for any suspicious new account openings every four months.

In addition, one of the most effective things only you can do yourself is to scan your monthly credit card and bank account statements. If you see any irregularities, contact the financial institution at once and let them know if you believe any charges are the result of identity theft.

Place a fraud alert. You can place a free fraud alert on your identity if you believe you’ve become vulnerable for any reason, either because you lost your wallet, had your home or car broken into, or had your information stolen online. All you have to do is call any of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax 1-888-766-0008; Experian 1-888-397-3742; or TransUnion 1-800-680-7289) and they will notify the other two.

Placing a fraud alert lasts for 90 days. Any credit provider will have to take extra steps to verify the identity of any person who tries to use your credit and open new accounts. It can be renewed for free every 90 days.

Freeze your credit. If you aren’t going to be applying for new credit for a while, one of the most effective things you can do to combat identity theft is to put a temporary freeze on your credit. You’ll have to call each of the three credit reporting agencies and may be required to pay a small fee ($5 to $10 each) to freeze your account, after which no one will be able to access your credit to open new accounts. It won’t affect your credit rating or your ability to use your existing accounts.

Keep in mind that while this shuts down other people from accessing your credit, it also stops you from opening new accounts. It typically takes three days for the agencies to unfreeze your accounts, so keep that in mind if you want to apply for new credit, or need to allow a potential new employer to access your credit report as part of a background check.

Do your taxes early. One of the most common kinds of identity theft is when people use a stolen Social Security number and other personal information to file a fraudulent tax return in the hope of snatching a refund. Your best defense is to simply file your return as soon as possible. Once the IRS receives your return, it shuts the door on potential identity thieves.

The College Student Tax Scam

School is well under way and the IRS has reminded us to pay attention to a new scam that is targeting students and their parents. Here is what you need to know.

  • The scam – Callers will contact your student and demand payment of an unpaid Student Tax. This tax does not exist. The contact is typically via phone call, but can take the form of a realistic looking email.
  • It will seem real – The caller will say they are from the IRS. They will have your student’s name and some of their personal information stolen from another source. There may be a caller ID displaying IRS. They will often call multiple times and may even threaten arrest.
  • Their goal – To get your unwary student (or you – the unwary parent) to provide them with payment through a prepaid debit card, credit card, or other type of gift card.
  • What to do – If this happens to you, hang up. If they call back, do not answer. Make sure your students are aware that this may happen and they should inform you immediately of the call. Remember, the IRS NEVER initiates a tax question with a phone call or email. You can also report the scam to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration: IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting Form

 Your data must be stolen

Should this scam occur, one thing is certain. Personal data has been stolen. If you receive this scam call, you may be targeted for other scams. So be alert and consider reviewing your credit reports to ensure someone is not trying to access your identity in other ways.

Financial Skills Every Parent Needs to Teach Their Child – Part 1

In the race to get our kids through high school and on to life beyond, I’ve seen a breakdown in the education system to explain basic financial skills.  Here’s the first half of a list of essential economic concepts that every high school student should understand.

How bank accounts work – Provide your child with a basic understanding of checking and savings accounts. Show them how to use checks and debit cards to pay for goods. Teach them how to access their accounts and reconcile their statements each month.

How credit cards work – Help your child understand that credit card spending actually creates a loan. Emphasize the importance of not carrying a balance by paying off credit card debt each month.

Tax basics – Prepare your child to anticipate taxes on not just purchases but on their wages as well.  Assist them to fill out their first W-4 and explain how it will affect their paycheck. When your child receives their first paycheck, walk them through their paystub to explain Social Security, Medicare, and federal and state tax withholdings.

The power of a retirement account – It might seem a little early for this, and it’s a hard concept for a young person to grasp, but explain to them the advantages of long-term savings tools like a Roth IRA.

How credit scores work – While no one but a credit reporting service actually understands all the aspects that go into creating a credit score, it’s still important to teach your child what can impact their credit and how that can affect their ability to get a car or house loan in the future. Everyone has access to a free credit report each year. Walk your child through their report.

Spending within your means – Save then spend.  This is a simple concept that is hard to accomplish. By teaching your child good habits early, you give your child a stable financial foundation for the future.

The art of saving – Part of spending within your means and saving go hand-in-hand. Teach your child healthy savings habits. Perhaps it’s setting up a separate savings account, setting aside a set amount each month or even a percentage of what they earn.

Look for the second part of this article next week!

Don’t Forget to Get an Annual Checkup – On Your Credit

Identity theft and fraud are at an all-time high – you know it and we’ve told you about it.  We recommend that you check your credit reports at least once a year. Credit reports often have errors in them and this quick checkup can be the first indication that some form of identity theft or fraud has taken place on your account. Review the information to ensure its accuracy.

The three major credit card reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – are required by law to provide you with a free report once a year.  A website has been set up specifically for this purpose:

Website: www.AnnualCreditReport.com

Telephone: 1-877-322-8228

Via Mail: Fill out the online form and mail it to:

Annual Credit Report Request Service
PO Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281