How to Prevent Identity Theft (From Someone Who’s Been Through It)

My name is Tiffani Sherman. The real Tiffani Sherman. Not the one who recently applied for unemployment benefits, an SBA COVID loan, five credit cards, a payday advance, two loans, and opened two bank accounts.

That wasn’t me.

It also wasn’t me back in early 2019 who ordered a bunch of expensive stuff online and then changed the shipping addresses, drained rewards points accounts to buy gift cards, hijacked Amazon and eBay accounts, and monitored and deleted emails for weeks.

For the second time in two years, I’m dealing with the fallout of identity theft.

Trust me, it isn’t fun.

I’m having to prove I didn’t apply for all of these things and that is taking a lot of my time and energy.

I’m not alone, which doesn’t make me feel all that much better.

Identity Theft Is Down, but the Damage Is Worse Than Ever

According to the The 2020 Identity Fraud Report by Javelin Strategy & Research released in May 2020, losses from identity fraud totaled $16.9 billion, which was up 15% from the year before.

According to the report, instances of fraud are falling but the damage they are doing is increasing. Thieves are shifting from fraudulent credit card changes to account takeovers. This kind of thing yields more, is more complex to prevent, and takes longer to fix.

Most of the damage happens within a short period of time. The Javelin research says 40% of the activity usually happens within a day.

With my latest go-around, all of the applications were completed within less than 72 hours.

“It’s a very rapid period of time because eventually they’re going to experience some friction,” said John Buzzard, fraud and security analyst for Javelin Strategy & Research. “They have a small working window of time to really do that total takeover.”

How Did Scammers Get My Data?

Almost everyone who heard about my ID theft problems asked me how people got my data.

I honestly don’t know. I do know I was part of several high profile data breaches, but who knows if that was it or not.

Scamicide founder Steven Weisman, a nationally recognized expert on identity theft, scams and cybersecurity, says most identity theft happens in one of two ways.

The first is when we accidentally give out our data. “We may have clicked on a link in a text message or an email that had keystroke logging malware that stole the information from our phone or our computer or we may have been tricked into giving personal information over the phone to someone,” he said.

We all get those calls and emails where the person says they work for a computer giant and noticed a problem with your computer, or they’re from the government and they need your Social Security number. Some of them can sound pretty ominous, so it’s easy to fall for them.

Also, think about how many places ask for information like your Social Security number and date of birth.

“Just because somebody asks you for information, that doesn’t mean you have to give it to them and that’s just something people don’t understand,” Buzzard said.

Recently, a grocery store employee asked for his Social Security number when he applied for a store rewards card. “I said, no, I’m sorry. You can have my cell phone number if you need an identifier. If you need a Social, we’re done here. You’re a grocery store, not exactly a high level security operation. The person folded, put in my cell, and off I went with my rewards card.”

The other way scammers get your data is through hackers.

“No matter how good you are at protecting your personal information we’re only as safe as the places with the weakest security,” Weisman said. “With so many people working remotely these days, people are going to be hacked at home and then through them, [hackers] will get at the networks of the companies for which they work. I think we’re going to have a massive amount of major data breaches.”

Then the information becomes like pieces of a puzzle.

“It’s like a patchwork quilt,” Buzzard said. “You pop somebody’s information in and you play around with it.”

A woman stands in her backyard with green plants around her and a white fence behind her.
Sherman doesn’t know how scammers got her data. Recommended ways to protect yourself from identity theft include setting up alerts, checking your monthly billing statements and using digital wallets. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

7 Ways to Make It Hard for Scammers to Use Your Data

Since much of this is basically out of our control, there are some things you can do to make it a bit more difficult for a scammer to use your data if and when they get it.

1. Protect Your Credit

Thieves make easy money with your credit either by charging things on existing cards or opening new credit cards. Either way, they charge a bunch and leave the unsuspecting victim with the bill and damage to their credit.

Even though you’re not responsible for fraudulent charges on your credit cards, the hassle you go through to remove the charges is worth taking steps to prevent it.

  • Check your bills: Look at monthly statements and report any charges you do not recognize.
  • Set up alerts: Most credit card companies let you set up text or email alerts whenever your card is used. If an alert every time is too much, you can often change the settings to let you know if a card is used without the physical card being present, or if a charge is higher than a certain amount. I’ve received several notifications that have let me know someone was up to no good, and I was able to quickly report it and cancel the cards.
  • Remove saved payment methods: I know it’s convenient to not have to type in your credit card every time you order something, but having a saved payment method makes it easy for someone who gains access to an online account to do a lot of damage very quickly. This is what burned me in 2019 when someone gained access to my Amazon, eBay and other accounts and bought several things using my card.
  • Use digital wallets: This type of technology uses encrypted and tokenized data so if someone steals it, it is worthless to them.

2. Freeze Your Credit

Both Weisman and Buzzard said the most important thing to do is freeze your credit. Doing this should stop anyone from opening credit accounts using your information.

When someone wants to open a credit card or get a loan, the institution needs to check the applicant’s credit history to know if they are worth the risk or not.

When you have a credit freeze, nobody can access your credit history, so financial institutions will not be able to get the information they need to open an account. This becomes important when a scammer tries to use your personal information to open a fraudulent account. The freeze will automatically stop the account from being opened.

If you want to legitimately open a line of credit, all you need to do is temporarily unfreeze your credit. Just remember to freeze it again.

Each bureau operates separately, so freezing one does not freeze them all, as I found out the hard way. After my issues in 2019, I thought I had frozen all of my credit, but it turns out everything was not frozen. That’s how the scammers were able to do so much damage this go-around.

I think it should be easier to freeze your credit and protect yourself from identity theft. Weisman agrees. However, the bureaus make money by gathering your information and selling it to lenders.

“If you freeze your credit, [the bureaus] can’t sell the access to your credit,” Weisman said. “Freezing your credit makes you less valuable to the credit reporting agencies.”

Since Equifax had a huge breach a few years ago, freezing and unfreezing credit is free.

Everyone’s credit is separate, so a couple needs to each freeze their credit individually. Freezing one does not freeze the other’s. Also, parents can freeze the credit of their minor children.

Even with your credit frozen, check each bureau’s credit reports periodically to make sure nothing has gotten through. Also, check to make sure everything is still frozen.

This illustration shows a woman typing in her saved password.
Getty Images

3. Protect Passwords and Personal Information

Part of my problem in 2019 was that someone got hold of several of my passwords, including the email account I used for most of my logins and online commerce. I admit, at the time I was less than vigilant about having a different password for anything and everything. Trust me, that has changed.

As I said, lots of my information including several website and password combinations were part of several well-known data breaches that have happened during the past few years. During these breaches, fraudsters hacked into databases and got the info.

Then they sold that information on the dark web or in other ways. One of those other methods is something called a combolist service (CaaS), which is increasing in popularity. People pay a monthly fee for lists of updated and stolen credentials and personal information that is accessible in the cloud.

I looked and lots of my information is unfortunately part of these combolists.

Once the information is out there, it’s impossible to remove it, so all you can really do is change your passwords and keep changing them regularly.

If you forget a password, you can usually reset it by answering some security questions. These present their own set of problems because often the answers are things people can easily find out about you.

“The easy way around this is there is absolutely no rule that says you have to answer your security questions honestly,” Weisman said. “You can have really what seems like vulnerable security question like my banks, which is what’s my mother’s maiden name, but I can put down that my mother’s maiden name was firetruck or grapefruit, or something equally ridiculous. And the good thing there is, you will remember that security question, because it’s just so ridiculous and no one is ever going to be able to crack that.”

As for those password vaults, security experts are mixed about them. One remediation expert I talked with to help me with my issues said she doesn’t like them because if someone breaches the vault, they have access to everything. Other people say they are a good way to make sure you have strong passwords for everything.

4. Don’t Give Out Information on Social Media

I just saw a post on a friend’s social media page saying the song that was most popular the week you turned 14 defines who you are. It also defines the year you were born to any online scammer who is looking for that important piece of information.

The same goes for quizzes that talk about favorite pets, first cars, favorite teachers, school mascots, etc. Seeing those types of things now makes me cringe. Many people are making it way too easy for scammers.

5. Enable Two-Factor Authentication

Enabling two-factor authentication is also important. If someone tries to log into your account, the vendor will send a one-time code either to the email address or phone number on file.

“Data breaches will happen,” Weisman said. “People will make mistakes and fall for a spear phishing email and suddenly they may have had their usernames and passwords turned over. So you always want to have dual factor authentication whenever you can so even if someone has your username and password, they can’t access your account.”

Just make sure you protect your phone also by enabling its security features.

To save you the hassle of having to receive a code each time you want to log into your own accounts, some websites will allow you to save devices so the next time you log in, it will remember that device’s IP address and allow the login without the extra security.

Be wary of any email, phone call, or text you receive saying something has been compromised and to click on a link or call a number to reset it. Instead of clicking on the link, go to the website or app itself and reset the password directly from there.

A man uses face recondition to get into his phone.
Getty Images

6. Secure Devices

We live for our devices. They’re our constant companion and contain our whole lives. Protect them.

  • Update operating systems and security software: Companies issue updates once they identify a vulnerability a hacker could exploit. Sadly, this isn’t always foolproof. “Even if you get the most up to date security software, it’s always going to be about a month behind the latest what we call zero date defects,” Weisman said.
  • Install malware protection: Malware is short for malicious software and it is basically anything that can harm or exploit a device. There are many different kinds. Often, it finds its way on to our devices because we click on a malicious link or open an attachment that unleashes the software. Don’t forget to protect your phone.
  • Secure Wi-Fi connections: Make sure you secure your wireless router and change the password on it.
  • Secure IoT items: It’s true. Your refrigerator may be spying on you. Many things in your home connect to the internet and can provide access to your network and other items on it which can contain personal information.

Weisman suggests taking one more step to secure your phone which is locking your number. This way, a scammer can’t transfer your phone number to another carrier.

Think about it. With many two-factor authentication codes coming to your phone, if someone had your personal information AND took control of your phone number, you wouldn’t get your codes. They would.

Locking my number was easy to do from my provider’s app. If I ever want to change cell providers, I can use the app to create a temporary  PIN to allow the change.

7. Don’t Rely on Protection Services

There are many services out there that say they will protect you from identity theft.

Weisman is not a huge fan because they don’t usually protect you. They just alert you sooner.

“I liken them to crossing a street and I get hit by a bus and someone runs out into the street and tells me, ‘Hey you just got hit by a bus,’” Weisman said. “That’s what the identity theft protection services are doing. They’re telling you sooner that you’ve been victimized. They don’t do anything to protect you from becoming a victim.”

Since most of the personal information out there comes from data breaches, phishing emails, etc., it isn’t possible to totally prevent the theft of personal information. The best we can do is attempt to control what the scammers can do once they get it.

My friends keep asking me if I stopped everything. Sadly, I cannot answer that question. The flurry of attempts to open new accounts seems to have calmed for now, but I’m waiting for the next round.

It’s a helpless feeling.

Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about finance, health, travel and other topics.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Tech Stocks – What They Are & Why You Should Invest in Them

Technology stocks have been a hot topic among investors for some time. More recently and throughout 2020, the rise of big tech as fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to even more interest in the sector.

How could you ignore gains like what we have seen from Apple (AAPL), Amazon.com (AMZN), and Alphabet (GOOG), who saw gains in 2020 of nearly 80%, 70%, and 30%, respectively? Considering the average return in the stock market is around 10% annually, these returns are mind-blowing.

But what exactly are tech stocks? And should you invest in them?

What Are Tech Stocks?

Tech stocks, a shortened term for technology stocks, represent companies within the technology sector. These companies lead the charge in terms of innovation, looking for answers to some of the biggest challenges consumers face today. For example:

  • Autonomous Vehicles. One of the hottest new trends in technology, several companies are racing to produce safe autonomous, or driverless, vehicles. The idea is that by automating the driving process, human error is taken out of the equation, leading to fewer traffic-related injuries and reducing the financial burden car accidents have on consumers and the economy as a whole.
  • Medical Innovation. Several biotechnology companies are developing new therapeutic options for ailments that were once considered untreatable. Just 20 years ago, AIDS was considered a death sentence. Thanks to cutting edge technology and medical innovation, it is a manageable condition today.
  • Communication. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a rise in video conference technology that allows patients to communicate with doctors, family members to keep in touch, and co-workers to discuss their next moves. Several companies offer technology that facilitates video conferencing.

That’s just scratching the surface of all the tech sector has to offer.

No matter what you’re doing, from driving to watching television or even walking down the street, technology has likely made it a better experience in one way or another. Investing in tech stocks gives investors the ability to gain financially from this improvement as technological innovation continues.

Pro tip: You can earn a free share of stock (up to $200 value) when you open a new trading account from Robinhood. With Robinhood, you can customize your portfolio with stocks and ETFs, plus you can invest in fractional shares.


Subcategories That Make up the Tech Sector

The tech sector is vast and made up of several subcategories, including:

1. Information Technology and Cloud Computing

By definition, information technology is the process of using computers to relay, store, or manipulate data. Companies in this space include cloud computing companies that give consumers, corporations, and government agencies the ability to store data in and retrieve data from “the cloud,” which is made up of a large group of highly secured servers.

Some of the most popular companies in the information technology and cloud computing subsector of the tech sector include:

  • Amazon.com (AMZN). With Amazon Web Services, also known as AWS, Amazon.com is by far the leader in the United States cloud computing sector. According to Statista, the company controls about 33% of the cloud computing market.
  • Microsoft (MSFT). Microsoft is another massive player in the cloud computing space, thanks to its Microsoft Azure product. According to Kinsta, Microsoft controls about 17% of the cloud computing market.

2. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become the next big thing in the world of technology. Technological innovation has led to computers that can learn, giving them the ability to do everything from having conversations with consumers to predicting short-term and long-term market trends.

  • Amazon.com (AMZN). Amazon.com is a leader in various spaces, and thanks to its Alexa product, it’s a clear leader in the artificial intelligence space. People use Alexa to do everything from play music to close blinds and turn on lights in their homes. With Alexa, Amazon.com has also become a leader in the smart home space.
  • Apple (AAPL). Apple is also a major player in artificial intelligence and is one of the pioneers in the space with its virtual assistant Siri. Today, Siri is found on every iPhone, iPad, and Apple computer on the market and has been an integral part of the company’s control of the smartphone space.
  • Alphabet (GOOG). Google, the most significant subsidiary of Alphabet, has long believed in the power of artificial intelligence, which has been used in everything from the search results it provides to the advertising that drives its revenue. The company has also been part of several experiments surrounding artificial intelligence for real-world use and has become a major player in the smart home market with Google Nest, the largest competitor to Amazon.com’s Alexa.

3. E-Commerce

Another major area of the tech sector is e-commerce. If it weren’t for the technological innovation that drove the development of content management systems, digital payment processing, and the servers that tie it all together, you would still have to drive to the store and hand over cash to buy everything you wanted.

These days, just about every product is available online. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic led to mass adoption of online shopping, even among those who wouldn’t consider the option otherwise. Some of the biggest players in the e-commerce space include:

  • Amazon.com. Amazon.com is a leader in yet another area of tech. In fact, it was the e-commerce sector that led to the birth of Amazon.com in the first place. As a pioneer in the space, the company is the largest e-commerce company on the market today.
  • Walmart. Walmart isn’t only a leader in the brick-and-mortar retail industry. The company quickly saw the threat that Amazon.com would become and built Walmart.com early on in order to maintain its leadership of the retail industry. Although the company does lag behind Amazon.com in the e-commerce subsector of tech, it is still a powerhouse in the online retail space.
  • eBay (EBAY). Although eBay isn’t nearly as large as Amazon or Walmart, it is a formidable player in the e-commerce space. Starting as an online auction site, the company now offers both auctions and the ability to purchase items in real time at discounted prices.

4. Biotechnology

When you think of tech companies, it’s not likely that your mind will go to medicine. However, some of the most impressive tech stocks on Wall Street use technology as a way to address some of the world’s most pressing medical conditions. These companies are known as biotechnology or biotech companies. Some of the best-known companies in the biotech space include:

  • Novo Nordisk (NVO). Novo Nordisk is one of the largest biotech companies in the world. It is credited with developing the technology that led to drugs like Levemir, NovoLog, Novolin R, NovoSeven, NovoEight, and Victoza. The company’s primary focus is on the treatment of diabetes and hemophilia as well as growth hormones.
  • Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN). Regeneron Pharmaceuticals develops technologies for the treatment of eye diseases, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, allergic and inflammatory issues, and infectious diseases.
  • Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN). Alexion Pharmaceuticals develops technologies for the treatment of cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases.

5. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is an important area of technology. Cybersecurity companies are charged with keeping your information safe and ensuring that you’re not the next victim of identity theft or a cyberattack. Some of the largest companies in the space include:

  • NortonLifeLock Inc (NLOK). NortonLifeLock was one of the pioneers that created the cybersecurity industry. The company provides consumers and businesses with tools to keep their data safe from online fraudsters.
  • Cloudflare Inc (NET). Cloudflare is a business-to-business cybersecurity company, offering an option for companies to protect themselves from hackers. The company’s claim to fame is its firewall that not only increases the speed of websites, but also stops threats in their tracks.
  • Fortinet (FTNT). Fortinet is an enterprise security company. The company provides products like security-driven networking, cloud security, and AI-driven security.

6. Semiconductors

Without semiconductors, the massive servers that host the world’s largest websites and the computers and mobile devices used to access them simply wouldn’t exist. In many ways, semiconductors are the power that keeps the information technology, cloud computing, and even blockchain industries alive. Some of the major players in the semiconductor industry include:

  • Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Advanced Micro Devices is one of three key players in the semiconductor industry. The company’s claim to fame is Ryzen, one of the world’s fastest computer graphics processors, used in gaming, blockchain, and cloud computing around the world.
  • NVIDIA (NVDA). NVIDIA is Advanced Micro Devices’ closest competitor. The company is the inventor of the GPU and the leader in the provision of semiconductors for the cloud computing and artificial intelligence space.
  • Intel (INTC). Intel is a household name in computers and has been creating semiconductors for decades. Although the company seems to be struggling to keep up with the technology coming out of AMD and NVIDIA as of late, it is still a clear leader in the semiconductor space.

7. Social Media

In the days of MySpace, social media quickly became a way to meet new people and connect with old friends. Today, MySpace is more like “MyWhat?” and the social media industry has several key leaders. These include:

  • Facebook (FB). Facebook is the clear leader in the social media space. Once launched, the company took the social media industry by storm, largely making MySpace obsolete. Today, Facebook boasts 2.7 billion active users and is one of the largest online advertising agencies in the world, advertising exclusively to its social media audience.
  • Twitter (TWTR). Twitter is another major player in the social media industry. Although the company isn’t quite as large as Facebook, it has become the leading social network for those interested in news.

Pros and Cons of Investing in Tech Stocks

Investing in tech stocks can be an exciting concept. Not only is it enjoyable to explore new technologies during your research into compelling investment opportunities, but the sector is known for generating significant gains when the right moves are made.

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Like any other sector, the technology sector has its own skeletons in the closet. For example, heavy volatility and a cyclical nature add to the risks involved in investing in the space. Here are the pros and cons you should consider before diving in:

Pros of Tech Stocks

There are plenty of perks to investing in the tech sector. Some of the most significant include:

  1. Invest in What You Enjoy. Technology is an enjoyable topic for the majority of consumers, which makes investing in tech stocks fun. Successful investing involves detailed research. When you enjoy the topic of research, you’re more likely to do the intense research required to make educated investing decisions.
  2. Tremendous Growth Potential. Innovative technologies have the potential to lead to tremendous gains in value. There are three names that gained substantially in 2020 at the beginning of this article but there were several companies across the sector that saw similar gains. Educated investments in the tech sector have the potential to lead to significant gains in your investment portfolio.
  3. Options for Diversification. The tech industry is massive with several subcategories. Moreover, the industry covers a wide range of companies in different stages of business with different market caps. As such, there is plenty of room for diversification within the sector.

Cons of Tech Stocks

Although there are plenty of reasons to get excited about tech stocks, every rose has its thorns, and the tech category isn’t without them. Here are some drawbacks you should consider before investing in the space:

  1. High Valuations. Compared to other sectors, the tech sector is known for incredibly high valuations. In most cases, investors justify these valuations by pointing to the future value of innovative technology. Nonetheless, buying overvalued companies can be dangerous and lead to significant losses.
  2. High Volatility. Any time there’s potential for high short-term gains, there’s also likely quite a bit of volatility in the space. That is true among many tech stocks. Volatility is a measure of the fluctuations that take place in the prices of stocks. With high levels of volatility comes a certain level of difficulty when it comes to picking the best times for entrances into and exits out of these stocks.
  3. Tech Isn’t Known for Dividends. Although some companies in the technology industry do pay dividends, the vast majority of tech companies don’t. Most tech companies hold onto their profits to fuel research and development and continued innovation rather than sharing them directly with investors, and for good reason. Even a company that’s seemingly on top of the world in the tech industry will fall from its throne should it stop innovating. Just take a look at what happened to BlackBerry when competing smartphone companies like Apple stepped into the industry. If you’re looking for compelling dividends, tech isn’t where you’re likely to find them.

Where to Find Tech Stocks

Tech stocks can be found at both of the major US stock exchanges, the Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Nonetheless, the vast majority of quality tech companies you’ll find will be listed on the tech-heavy Nasdaq.

You’ll also find plenty of tech stocks on the over-the-counter (OTC) market. However, if you’re a beginner, you’ll want to stay away from these stocks. The OTC market is filled with penny stocks that, for one reason or another, do not qualify for listing on the Nasdaq or NYSE. These stocks may seem promising, but they generally come with the following major risks:

  • Reporting. OTC stocks are often nonreporting or underreporting. This means the financial data surrounding these stocks is generally outdated or incomplete.
  • Speculation. The vast majority of stocks traded on the OTC market have business models that haven’t quite been proven. As such, these stocks are highly speculative bets, only adding to the risk.
  • Capital Risk. Most stocks on the OTC market are undercapitalized and will need to reach capital markets to raise funds at some point. When this happens, these companies will generally do so through the sale of newly-issued shares, which is like slicing more pieces of the pie — including a sliver from your piece — causing existing shares to shrink in a process known as dilution.
  • Volatility. Finally, while the tech sector is one that’s known for heavy volatility, that volatility is exacerbated when playing in penny stock territory, only serving to expand the risk.

Pro tip: If you’re going to add new investments to your portfolio, make sure you choose the best possible companies. Stock screeners like Stock Rover can help you narrow down the choices to companies that meet your requirements. Learn more about our favorite stock screeners.


Tech-Focused ETFs Are a Compelling Option for Beginners

If you’re a beginner investor or you simply don’t have the time to do the research it takes to pick stocks individually, you may want to look toward Nasdaq index funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and mutual funds.

Nasdaq index funds are designed to mimic the movement of the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index. So naturally, these are highly diversified choices to give you exposure to the tech sector. However, there are also plenty of ETFs and mutual funds that are geared exclusively toward the tech sector or subsectors. Some of the most popular include:

  • Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLK). The Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund is a highly diversified large-cap ETF designed to track the tech sector as a whole. The largest holdings in the ETF include Apple, Microsoft, and NVIDIA.
  • Vanguard Information Technology Index Fund ETF (VGT). As its name suggests, the Vanguard Information Technology Index Fund ETF is an ETF that tracks an index of information technology companies. The ETF consists of small-, mid-, and large-cap companies and takes a heavily diversified approach to wider tech sector exposure.
  • Fidelity Select IT Services Portfolio (FBSOX). Finally, Fidelity Select IT Services Portfolio is a highly diversified mutual fund. At least 80% of the fund’s assets are invested in companies that provide IT services. The fund’s primary objective is capital appreciation, seeking to invest in companies with high potential for future growth.

Final Word

Investing in the tech sector can be incredibly lucrative. However, the wrong moves in the sector can also lead to significant losses. As such, before making any investment in the space, it’s important to do your research.

When looking for companies to invest in, look for companies that have a proven track record of innovation and a long-standing ability to stay on top of their subcategories. Also, pay close attention to valuations. Although tech stocks often carry high valuations, it’s important to make sure that the price you pay is on par with the rest of the sector.

When you do your research and make wise moves in the space, there are few other areas where you’ll find opportunities that are as impressive in terms of growth.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Northwestern Mutual Appoints Laura Deaner to Chief Information Security Officer

Deaner is the first woman to hold this leadership position at Northwestern Mutual

MILWAUKEE, Feb. 2, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Northwestern Mutual today announced the appointment of Laura Deaner to Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), where she will lead the Enterprise Information Risk & Cybersecurity team and be responsible for spearheading Northwestern Mutual’s information security strategy.

Northwestern Mutual. (PRNewsFoto/Northwestern Mutual)

“Information security, risk management, and protecting information continues to be a top priority and allows us to deepen our relationships with clients, financial representatives, and employees,” said Neal Sample, Chief Information Officer, Northwestern Mutual. “Laura’s information security experience, technical skillset, and leadership within the cybersecurity industry positions her to advance our security strategy, while continuing our focus on securing our data and protecting clients’ personal information.”

Deaner has more than 21 years of experience working in cybersecurity for multi-national Fortune 500 companies to build effective and robust information security programs by aligning deep technical expertise with executive business vision and support. Her expertise includes risk management, data security, regulatory compliance, incident response, data integrity, and information security in multiple industries, including financial services and media. Most recently, Laura served as the CISO at S&P Global. Prior to that, she held numerous leadership roles at Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and PR Newswire. She previously served as the co-chair of the Global Futures Council at the World Economic Forum.

Deaner holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Old Dominion University. She is also a member of several information security and technology societies including OWASP, WiCyS, ISC2, and Society of Women Engineers (SWE). She currently serves as a Board member for the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC). 

About Northwestern Mutual
Northwestern Mutual has been helping people and businesses achieve financial security for more than 160 years. Through a holistic planning approach, Northwestern Mutual combines the expertise of its financial professionals with a personalized digital experience and industry-leading products to help its clients plan for what’s most important. With $290.3 billion in total assets, $29.9 billion in revenues, and $1.9 trillion worth of life insurance protection in force, Northwestern Mutual delivers financial security to more than 4.6 million people with life, disability income and long-term care insurance, annuities, and brokerage and advisory services. The company manages more than $161 billion of investments owned by its clients and held or managed through its wealth management and investment services businesses. Northwestern Mutual ranks 102 on the 2020 FORTUNE 500 and is recognized by FORTUNE® as one of the “World’s Most Admired” life insurance companies in 2021.

Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company (NM)(life and disability insurance, annuities, and life insurance with long-term care benefits) and its subsidiaries in Milwaukee, WI. Subsidiaries include Northwestern Mutual Investment Services, LLC (investment brokerage services), broker-dealer, registered investment adviser, member FINRA and SIPC; the Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company® (investment advisory and trust services), a federal savings bank; and Northwestern Long Term Care Insurance Company.

SOURCE Northwestern Mutual

For further information: Meghan Greco, 1-800-323-7033, mediarelations@northwesternmutual.com

Source: news.northwesternmutual.com

February Class-Action Settlements Involve Godiva, Walmart and More

Sometimes, you notice right away if you have been overcharged for an item. If you pick up a box of cereal marked $2.99 and see it listed at $3.22 on your receipt, that error is pretty easy to spot.

In other cases, price discrepancies aren’t so obvious, as seen in a new pre-filled propane tank class-action settlement offer.

Check out this month’s highlighted class-action settlement offers, some of which have taken years of litigation, to see if you can benefit.

AmeriGas Propane Tanks

If you bought an AmeriGas or Blue Rhino pre-filled propane tank between Dec. 1, 2009 and Nov. 30, 2020, you could be eligible for a portion of a $6.5 million settlement.

AmeriGas and Blue Rhino allegedly agreed with each other to reduce the amount of propane in the pre-filled tanks they sold from 17 pounds to 15 pounds without reducing the price, according to court documents. The lawsuit accused the companies of colluding to reduce the amount of product in the propane tanks while keeping the cost the same in order to increase their profit margin by more than 13% per pound.

AmeriGas admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to the settlement to end litigation. Even though consumers who bought either AmeriGas or Blue Rhino propane tanks may be affected by this settlement, it only resolves claims made regarding AmeriGas because the Blue Rhino case is ongoing.

There are two settlement classes:

  • The Indirect Purchaser Settlement Class is made up of those who purchased AmeriGas or Blue Rhino propane tanks, other than a wholesale purchase directly from AmeriGas or Blue Rhino for resale, in Arizona, California, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah or West Virginia between Dec. 1, 2009 and Nov. 30, 2020.
  • The Direct Purchaser Settlement Class is made up of consumers nationwide who purchased one of the propane tanks directly from AmeriGas or Blue Rhino through a vending machine at retailers or other locations, or paid one of the companies directly through a vending machine to exchange a previously purchased propane tank, other than a wholesale purchase intended for resale.

Consumers can claim a cash payment of $5 for each tank when they provide proof of purchase along with a completed claim form. If no proof of purchase is submitted, the payment is $2.50 each for a maximum of 50 propane tanks.

Submit your valid claim by March 8, 2021.

ABB Optical Group LLC Contact Lenses

You may be eligible to share in a $30.2 million settlement reached with contact lens distributor ABB Optical Group LLC over allegations of a conspiracy to increase the cost of contact lenses.

If you purchased disposable contacts made by Alcon, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, CVI or Bausch & Lomb between June 1, 2013 and Dec. 4 ,2018, you may be eligible for compensation. However, Bausch & Lomb contact lenses bought through 1-800-Contacts after July 1, 2015 are not included in this settlement.

The suit alleged contact lens manufacturers, independent optometrists and ABB agreed to “unilateral pricing policies” that prevented competition from online and discount contact lens retailers. This agreement purportedly began in June 2013.

The settlement money provided by ABB will be added to the claims made under previous settlements with contact lens manufacturers. The estimated amount that will be provided to each consumer is not available at this time.

See if you qualify and submit your valid claim by March 10, 2021.

Synchrony Bank

If you received a call from Synchrony Bank between June 1, 2016 and Oct. 19, 2020, you could receive a portion of a $2.9 million class-action settlement.

Synchrony Bank allegedly violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by calling individuals who did not have an account with the bank. These unsolicited calls were made by an automatic dialing system or artificial/pre-recorded voice, which is in violation of the TCPA unless the caller has prior written consent from the recipient.

Payment amounts will vary, but are estimated between $25 and $50.

Submit your valid claim by March 1, 2021.

Stonefire Naan Bread

You may be eligible for a portion of a $1.9 million settlement from the maker of Stonefire Naan products, FGF Brands, if you bought their naan bread that was marketed as baked in a tandoor oven between Nov. 16, 2013 and Oct. 23, 2020.

If you bought any of these products within that time period, you may claim $2.50 for each item purchased:

  • Stonefire Original Naan
  • Stonefire Roasted Garlic Naan
  • Stonefire Whole Grain Naan
  • Stonefire Organic Original Naan
  • Stonefire Original Mini Naan
  • Stonefire Ancient Grain Mini Naan
  • Stonefire Naan Dippers

Consumers alleged FGF Brands bakes its naan in a conveyor-style, gas-heated oven even though the company claims the breads are baked in a tandoor oven, which is a clay oven that uses charcoal heat that produces smoky flavors.

The lawsuit alleges FGF Brands used fraudulent and deceptive advertising to market its use of a tandoor oven. FGF Brands denies that it has violated any laws.

Consumers may receive $2.50 for each product purchased, but only five may be claimed without a receipt. With proof of purchase, consumers can claim an unlimited number of products.

Submit your valid claim by Feb. 18, 2021.

21st Century Oncology

If you are one of the 2.2 million patients whose personal information was accessed through a 2015 data breach of 21stCentury Oncology, you could be eligible for compensation from a $12.5 million class-action settlement.

In October 2015, hackers accessed names, Social Security numbers, doctors’ names, medical diagnoses, treatment plans and insurance information. Patients whose data was breached should have received a notice from the cancer treatment center in March 2016.

Several affected consumers filed lawsuits alleging 21st Century Oncology failed to take reasonable cybersecurity steps to protect personal data. 21st Century Oncology admitted to no wrongdoing, but agreed to the settlement to resolve the litigation.

Several forms of relief are available, including:

  • Two years of credit monitoring through Identity Guard.
  • Cash payments up to $40 for lost time without any documentation (two hours valued at $20 per hour.)
  • Cash payments of up to $260 for lost time with documentation (13 hours valued at $20 per hour.)
  • Cash payments of up to $10,000 for any fraud and out-of-pocket expenses incurred because of the data breach.

Submit your valid claim by the May 10, 2021 deadline.

Walmart, Sam’s Club Sales Tax Refund

Customers who returned an item bought at Walmart or Sam’s Club between July 17, 2015 and Nov. 25, 2020 may be eligible for part of a $5 million settlement.

Walmart and Sam’s Club were accused providing some customers with incomplete refunds by not including the sales tax paid on the original purchase.

The exact cash payment per customer is not available and will depend upon the number of claims filed and the net settlement fund after attorney’s fees, costs and other expenses are deducted.

Complete and submit your valid online claim form by April 1, 2021.

Godiva Chocolatier

If you made a purchase at a Godiva Chocolatier retail store between April 6, 2013 and Nov. 20, 2015, you may be eligible to share in a $6.3 million class-action settlement.

The settlement benefits customers who made a debit or credit card purchase and received a point-of-sale receipt that displayed more than the last five digits of the card number.

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) prohibits any more than the last five digits from appearing on such a receipt in order to protect consumers.

The complaint alleged Godiva receipts contained 10 digits, including the first six and the last four of the card numbers on its point-of-sale receipts.

Eligible class members might have received a notice regarding a Godiva settlement in 2016 as the case was pending in U.S. District Court in Florida. The case was later refiled in Cook County, Illinois, so if you submitted a valid claim response to the 2016 notice, you do not need to file a new claim in order to receive a payment.

Potential awards are expected to be between $55 and $60.

If you did not submit a valid claim response to the 2016 notice, but you do qualify for this settlement, submit your claim by March 22, 2021.



Source: thepennyhoarder.com

10 In-Demand Jobs for People With a Bachelor’s Degree

Accountant or actuary
Phovoir / Shutterstock.com

This story originally appeared on SmartAsset.com.

Jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education for entry are often more insulated from unemployment than others. During the COVID-19 pandemic, total unemployment for individuals 25 years and older spiked to 13.1% in April 2020. However, the highest unemployment rate over the past year for bachelor’s degree holders 25 and older was 8.4% in April 2020.

As of November 2020, the national unemployment rate was 6.7% — 2.5 percentage points higher than the unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders.

Some jobs for bachelor’s degree holders may be even more insulated from economic changes as demand is high.

In this study, we investigated the most in-demand jobs for bachelor’s degree holders. This is SmartAsset’s third annual study on the most in-demand jobs for bachelor’s degree holders. Check out last year’s rankings here.

We compared a total of 131 occupations across four metrics: percentage change in average earnings from 2018 to 2019, percentage change in employment from 2018 to 2019, projected employment change from 2019 to 2029 and projected percentage change in employment from 2019 to 2029.

For details on our data sources or how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section at the end.

1. Producers and Directors

Film set - director, cinematographer and actors working on the cinema, wide angle
Studio 72 / Shutterstock.com

The producer and director occupation ranks in the top quartile of our study for all four metrics we considered. Between 2018 and 2019, employment of producers and directors grew by almost 9%, while average earnings rose by about 5%.

Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the occupation will continue to grow. According to their estimates, the number of producers and directors will increase by 16,000, or 10.0%, from 2019 to 2029.

2. Computer and Information Systems Managers (tie)

Information security analyst
leo_photo / Shutterstock.com

The computer and information systems manager occupation ranks in the top 15% of occupations for three of the four metrics in our study. The occupation saw the ninth-largest percentage increase in employment from 2018 to 2019, growing by 10.87%.

Between 2019 and 2029, the BLS expects it will grow by an additional 10.4%, adding 48,100 workers. Across all 131 occupations in the BLS data, that is the 19th-highest percentage increase and ninth-largest gross increase in workers.

2. Agents and Business Managers of Artists, Performers, and Athletes (tie)

Businesswoman smiling
ESB Professional / Shutterstock.com

The occupation of agent and business manager for artists, performers, and athletes ties with computer and information systems manager as the No. 2 in-demand job for bachelor’s degree holders.

Between 2018 and 2019, the average pay for agents and business managers for artists, performers and athletes grew by almost 7%, the seventh-highest rate across all 131 occupations. Over the same time period, employment grew by 15%, second-highest in our study for this metric.

4. Information Security Analysts

Man working on computer cybersecurity and password manager
Prostock-studio / Shutterstock.com

Information security analyst is the fourth most in-demand job for bachelor’s degree holders, moving up from fifth place last year. Though average earnings grew at a comparable pace year-over-year, employment increased sharply in this profession.

BLS estimates show that information security analyst employment increased by 16.20%. There were about 108,100 information security analysts in 2018 and almost 125,600 in 2019.

5. Actuaries

Computer actuary
fiskes / Shutterstock.com

Most actuaries work for insurance companies, assessing the financial costs of risk and uncertainty. Between 2018 and 2019, average earnings for actuaries grew by 4.06% — the 15th-highest one-year earnings increase in our study.

Additionally, between 2019 and 2029, employment for this occupation is expected to grow by an additional 17.6%, the seventh-largest percentage change in employment in the study.

6. Interpreters and Translators

Black Translator
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

According to BLS employment projections, the number of interpreters and translators in the U.S. is expected to increase by 20% between 2019 and 2029, a top-five rate in our study.

With that projected percentage change, employment will grow by roughly 15,500 workers, a top-30 rate. Most recently, from 2018 to 2019, average earnings for interpreters and translators grew by 3.20%, the 25th-highest rate for this metric in the study.

7. Fundraisers

An older businessman gestures thumbs up
Stock-Asso / Shutterstock.com

The occupation of fundraiser ranks in the top third of all 131 occupations for three of the four metrics we considered. Between 2018 and 2019, employment grew by 7.87%, the 19th-highest rate.

Looking forward, total employment of fundraisers is expected to grow by 14,400, or 14.3%, over the next 10 years — the 30th-largest gross increase and 11th-highest percentage increase.

8. Medical and Health Service Managers

Medical coding
Burlingham / Shutterstock.com

Medical and health service managers plan and coordinate the business activities of health care providers. Average earnings for medical and health service managers are high and growing.

In 2018 and 2019, average annual earnings for workers in the occupation stood at $113,730 and $115,160, respectively. Additionally, across the 131 occupations in our study, BLS expects the profession to have the third-largest gross employment increase (133,200 workers) and highest percentage employment increase (31.5%) over approximately the next decade.

9. Athletic Trainers

Motivation, two men working out
michaeljung / Shutterstock.com

Between 2019 and 2029, the occupation of athletic trainer is expected to grow by 16.2%, the ninth-highest rate for this metric in our study. Athletic trainers may also see their earnings continue to grow over time.

Between 2018 and 2019, average annual earnings for athletic trainers increased by 2.56% from about $49,300 to more than $50,500.

10. Compensation, Benefits, and Job Analysis Specialists

Manager
Pressmaster / Shutterstock.com

Compensation, benefits, and job analysis specialist rounds out our list of the top 10 most in-demand jobs for bachelor’s degree holders. Average earnings for compensation, benefits, and job analysis specialists grew by 2.84% between 2018 and 2019, 33rd-highest in our study.

The occupation ranks within the top third of the study for the other three metrics as well. It had the 26th-highest percentage change in employment from 2018 to 2019 (6.88%), the 43rd-greatest projected gross employment change from 2019 to 2029 (7,500) and the 28th-highest projected percentage employment change from 2019 to 2029 (7.9%).

Data and Methodology

A man studies financial data at his computer
NicoElNino / Shutterstock.com

To find the most in-demand jobs for bachelor’s degree holders, we looked at data for 131 occupations that the BLS classifies as typically requiring a bachelor’s degree for entry. We compared the 131 occupations across four metrics:

  • Percentage change in average earnings from 2018 to 2019. Data comes from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics and is for May 2018 and May 2019.
  • Percentage change in employment from 2018 to 2019. Data comes from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics and is for May 2018 and May 2019.
  • Projected employment change from 2019 to 2029 (gross figure). This is the projected change in the total number of people employed in an occupation from 2019 to 2029. Data comes from the BLS 2019 Employment Projections.
  • Projected employment change from 2019 to 2029 (percentage change). This is the projected percentage change in the number of people employed in an occupation from 2019 to 2029. Data comes from the BLS 2019 Employment Projections.

We ranked each occupation in every metric, giving a full weighting to all metrics. We then found each occupation’s average ranking and used that to determine a final score. The occupation with the best average ranking received a score of 100 while the occupation with the worst average ranking received a score of 0.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

Don’t Get Tricked: Identity Protection Tips You Need

October 22, 2020 &• 7 min read by Eva Velasquez Comments 0 Comments

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The weather is turning, fall is in the air, and Halloween is around the corner—which means it’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. How can you ensure October is full of treats while not falling for any scammers’ tricks? By arming yourself with these identity protection tips.

Every American should understand the basics of identity theft protection. According to the most recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 10% of people 16 and older have been the victim of identity theft. That’s why we’re encouraging people to educate themselves on identity protection tips this autumn. After all, there’s nothing quite as scary as identity fraud!

Here are some identity theft tricks to watch out for and identity security treats to take advantage of.

Trick: Using Your Data to Open New Accounts

According to the FTC, credit card fraud—including opening new credit card accounts—was the most commonly reported form of identity theft in 2019. Thieves can rack up hundreds of dollars’ worth of bills before you know it happened.

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  • It’s settled; I’m getting ExtraCredit tonight. Totally unrelated, but any suggestions for my new fear of sharks? I watched that documentary too.
  • …we live in Oklahoma.

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Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your cybersecurity to avoid your data being used to open new accounts in your name:

  • Never use the same password across multiple accounts. Switch your passwords up.
  • Never use a password that’s easy to guess. This includes passwords that include your birthday, first or last name, or address.
  • Use passwords that are random combinations of numbers, letters, and symbols.
  • Enable two-factor authentication whenever it’s offered.
  • Don’t share or write down your passwords.
  • Never click on unknown email links or pop-ups on websites.
  • Make sure websites are secure before entering your payment information.
  • Never connect to public Wi-Fi that isn’t secure.
  • Never walk away from your laptop in public places.
  • Enable firewall protection.
  • Monitor your accounts and credit reports for unusual activity.

Treat: Check Your Credit Reports

Identity theft protection starts by being proactive and regularly monitoring your information for suspicious activity. That includes monitoring your credit report.

Did you know that you’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report each year from all three credit reporting agencies? In honor of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, make October the month that you request your reports and go over them with a fine-toothed comb. Make sure you recognize all the open accounts under your name.

[Note: Through April 2021, you can review your credit reports weekly.]

An added bonus of checking your reports early in the month is that you can give your credit a good once-over before the upcoming holiday shopping season. Unexplained dips in your credit score could be a sign that something is wrong.

ExtraCredit Five Features

When you request your free credit report from the credit bureaus, your report does not come with your credit score—you have to request that separately. Sign up for ExtraCredit to get 28 of your FICO® scores and your credit reports from all three credit bureaus. You’ll also get account monitoring and $1 million identity theft insurance.

Trick: Charity Fraud

October also happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and everywhere you look, pink is on display. With so much national attention on breast cancer, it’s easy to fall for scams that claim to be legitimate charities.

Consumers should also be on the lookout for phony COVID-19 related scams this fall and winter. For example, watch out for fake charities that pretend to provide COVID relief to groups or families but are simply stealing money.

Even worse than handing over money to these heartless fraudsters is that you may have handed over your credit card numbers or other personally identifiable information in the process.

Treat: Know Your Worthy Causes

Before donating to a charitable cause, do your homework. You can use websites such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance to check a charity’s reputation. Additionally, consider contacting your state’s charity regulator to confirm the organization is registered to raise money in your state.

After you’ve verified the status of the charity, consider making donations directly through the national organization. Avoid giving money or financial information directly to someone that reaches out to you through email, phone calls, or door-to-door interactions.

It might be a bit of extra work, but at the end of the day, you can feel good knowing your money is going to support a real cause. If you want to support October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, consider donating directly on the national website. An added bonus is that you’ll receive a receipt you can use for tax deduction purposes.

Trick: Tax Refund Fraud

Every year, the Internal Revenue Service announces its “dirty dozen” scams. These are the tax fraud scams the IRS determines to be the most common for the year. The 2020 list includes refund theft. A tax thief gains access to your information, files a fraudulent return in your name before you do, and has the funds paid out them. The only way you find out about it is that your legitimate tax return—the one you submit—is rejected for having already been filed.

Another way individuals fall victim to tax refund fraud is by using an unscrupulous return vendor. Dishonest vendors and ghost preparers steal personal information to file a tax refund and pocket the money or use that information for other types of identity fraud.

It’s unclear what exactly the next round of stimulus legislation will include, but if another stimulus check is included, watch out for attempts to steal your COVID stimulus checks. Remember that the IRS never contacts you via email, social media, or text.

Treat: File Early

It may feel like you just finished filing your 2019 taxes, but it’s never too early to start preparing for next year. While filing your taxes might be the last thing you want to think about this month, it’s crucial to stay on top of your tax return documents so you’re ready to file as early as possible. This is especially true for individuals who have reason to believe that their personal data has already been breached.

Always ensure you work with a reputable tax return vendor. You can look at the vendor’s online reviews before considering them as an option for tax return help.

Additionally, individuals that are paid to assist with or prepare federal tax returns must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on returns. Always ask for this number before you hire an individual and hand over your personal information.

If you file early, you can beat out someone filing before you and receiving your return first. The earliest you can file is January.

Trick: Social Media Scams

Our social media accounts allow us to stay connected with friends and family. Unfortunately, scammers understand this and have started using social media to commit identity fraud.

There are many variations of social media phishing scams, but the basics are generally that a scammer creates an account to gain your trust and gather personal information from you. For example, many people have their name, birthday, and workplace information on their Facebook or other social media account. Those three things alone could be enough for someone to gain everything else they need to create a credit card application under your name or access your existing accounts.

Treat: Be More Exclusive and Private

Consider taking a quiet October morning to comb through your social media accounts. Start with your followers. Consider deleting everyone you don’t know personally.

If a follower base is important to you, consider another approach. Go through each social profile and scrub any personal details. Change the spelling of your last name slightly, delete your birthday, and remove other personal information, such as place of work. Ultimately, this can reduce the risk of being an easy target for identity fraud.

These core identity protection tips should help you stay safer online. With COVID-19 causing people to feel scared, individuals are more vulnerable to being tricked. Remember that identity fraud happens to millions of people every year, and it’s important to remain vigilant.

Stay Vigilant This Fall

Identity theft can have long-lasting consequences. If you’re recovering from identity fraud or simply unhappy with your credit score, consider signing up for ExtraCredit. ExtraCredit is a five-in-one credit product that provides tools to helps you build, guard, track, reward, and restore your credit.


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Source: credit.com