The Best Apps on the Market to Learn About Your Credit – Lexington Law

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. John C Heath, Attorney at Law, PC, d/b/a Lexington Law Firm is an independent law firm that uses Progrexion as a provider of business and administrative services.

It’s difficult to stay on top of your credit score even during the best of times, and it only gets harder during times of financial crisis. While you may be able to regain ground on your credit card debt or mortgage loan after a missed payment, your credit score will take a hit. Even after you’ve gotten control of your finances again, the damage to your credit score will take quite a while to recover from. 

It’s important that you not only track your budget, but also closely monitor your credit score and take advantage of any opportunity to build credit. To assist you, we’ve researched different credit score management apps that can support your credit in a variety of ways. Some provide credit monitoring, opportunities for improving your credit score, credit protection and support for credit repair. 

Here’s our list of the most secure, easy-to-use and beneficial apps for managing your credit score.

Extra Credit is a brand new offering from Credit.com just launched to the public, but we are excited about its features. Those features include “Reward It,” which awards you funds when you are approved by a qualified lender through Extra Credit. 

Additionally, when you sign up for Extra Credit, you get access to the 28 most commonly used FICO® scores as well as your credit reports from all three bureaus and recommendations for credit cards based on your credit profile. Finally, Extra Credit provides you $1,000,000 in ID theft insurance, dark web monitoring and access to a third party service that reports your monthly rent and utility payments to the bureaus.

Unlike many of the apps on this list, however, Extra Credit is not a free service.

Experian allows you to monitor your Experian credit report and your FICO credit score, manage disputes with Experian and be aware of any new credit activity. Experian’s mobile app also comes with the Experian Boost feature, which allows you to report payments to the credit bureaus that would not usually be reported—such as cell phone bills and utilities—and potentially improve your score. 

Experian’s app provides services that you can use to improve, monitor and repair your credit. Keep in mind that these services are specific to your credit history as managed by Experian, one of the three credit bureaus that track your credit history. Although Experian allows you to look at your FICO score—the credit score that most lenders use—it doesn’t allow you to manage the credit reports compiled by TransUnion or Equifax.

The FICO credit scoring method is the most popular method among lenders for calculating credit scores. MyFICO allows you to see and manage the score that your lender will most likely consider when you apply for a mortgage or an auto loan. 

MyFICO also allows you to view your updated credit reports from all three bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Additional features included are a credit score simulator, which allows you to see how possible actions could affect your score, credit monitoring, and credit education resources. 

MyFICO is a good choice for users looking for a credit monitoring service, but it does not provide as many resources as other apps to assist with credit score improvement or repair.

Mint predominantly focuses on budget management, but it also offers tools for monitoring your credit score and weighing it as a factor in your financial decisions. You can view your VantageScore credit score and TransUnion credit report in the app. Additionally, you can personalize alerts to stay up to date with any changes to your credit score or potential fraud or identity risks.

Mint offers more resources for setting financial goals, managing your budget, and keeping track of bills than it does for directly managing your credit score. It can be used as a credit monitoring tool, but bear in mind that you will only be able to see your TransUnion credit history.

The TransUnion app works in tandem with your TransUnion Credit Monitoring Account. It allows you to monitor your credit score and TransUnion credit report, both of which are updated daily. The TransUnion app also offers Credit Lock Plus, which allows you to “lock” and “unlock” your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports. In addition, TransUnion provides identity theft insurance.

The app will only allow you to see your TransUnion credit report and manage the credit score based on your TransUnion credit history. It will not give you a complete picture of your credit history.

Lock & Alert is good for protecting your credit activity through Equifax. It allows you to easily “lock” and “unlock” your credit report—a much easier process than requesting a freeze be placed on your account, or lifting a freeze. 

The Lexington Law app works in tandem with your online account, allowing you to stay up to date with recent developments on your case while on the go. Lexington Law has one of the few credit management apps that allows you to view your credit history from all three credit bureaus, giving you the most complete snapshot of your credit. You can track any credit disputes currently in progress, see your most up-to-date FICO credit score and set up personalized alerts. Lexington Law also provides identity theft insurance and identity theft alerts. 

Although the Lexington Law app is free to download, you will need to pay to set up an account in order to use it.

Apps to Improve Your Credit Health

As you can see up above, different apps have different strengths. Your financial situation is unique, and the app that you choose will depend on your circumstances. However, each of the apps we have listed above will allow you to be more engaged in managing your credit score. Your credit is not beyond your control—there are resources available to you that can help you protect, build and repair your credit. 

If you’re trying to be more engaged in managing your credit or need help knowing where to start, contact our experienced credit consultants.


This article was reviewed by Daniel Woolston, an Assistant Managing Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. This article was written by Lexington Law.

Daniel Woolston is the Assistant Managing Attorney in the Arizona office. Mr. Woolston was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Sugar Land, Texas. He received his B.S. in Political Science at Brigham Young University and his Juris Doctorate at Arizona State University. After graduation, Mr. Woolston worked as a misdemeanor and felony prosecutor in Arizona. He has conducted numerous jury trials and hundreds of other court hearings. While at Lexington Law Firm, Mr. Woolston dedicates his time to training paralegals and attorneys in credit repair, problem solving, and ethical and legal compliance. Daniel is licensed to practice law in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Nevada. He is located in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

7 Steps to Safer Passwords for All Your Online Accounts

It seems like everything you do on any of your digital devices requires a password and the requirements for these security codes are getting more and more extensive. Some sites don’t allow words that can be found in dictionaries, while others don’t want any logical sequences or personal elements like a house number, street name, zip code, birth date, birth year, child’s name or pet’s name. Many accounts require your password to have both uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as numbers, special characters and a specific minimum and maximum length. The list goes on and on.

So while you might still use poodle1234 to log into your old email account, that password may not get approved for more current accounts. (You probably don’t want to be using the same password across multiple accounts, anyway.)

The strongest passwords are typically long and random, as this makes them harder for hackers to guess. Because of this, passwords often end up looking like gibberish, like: (&cR=x?fae~c[R5GAs3AN4?.

Remembering Complex Passwords

It isn’t easy to remember all of these long, random, complex passwords and some websites disable password saving on their login screens, but there are password managers that can help. They’re available from a variety of sources, including anti-virus software providers and standalone password services. If you’re looking to try out a password manager tool, but aren’t sure where to start, we’ve highlighted four common ones below to help you get started researching your options.

It’s important to make sure you feel safe with any of these options, as you don’t want your passwords to fall into the wrong hands. A weak password could help make you a victim of identity theft, which can wreak havoc on your finances. While you’re beefing up your passwords, another good practice is to regularly monitor your credit for signs of identity theft, like a sudden drop in your scores. You can check two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com. (Note: The password managers below all use encryption to protect your data.)

LastPass

LastPass, a free password manager, generates random passwords using a browser toolbar extension. You can access the passwords using your LastPass account menu, stored right in your browser bar. However, once you’ve saved credentials for a particular site, it will show up automatically in a popup when you click the icon. Do you have three different Gmail accounts? No problem. You can save multiple login credentials for any site. You can also edit the credentials and you can share passwords with others if you want someone else to have access to one of your accounts, even if the password changes. (Just make sure you’re selective about who you share personal information with.) You can use LastPass across multiple devices, and your password vault is available even if you’re offline.

Google Smart Lock

Google Smart Lock runs in the Chrome web browser and will automatically log you into the sites you visit if you turn on this feature. Once active, Google will ask you if you want to save the account info when you log into sites.

To get an overview of your saved information, visit myaccount.google.com. Start at “Sign-in & security,” click on “Connected apps & sites” and scroll down to “Saved passwords.” Click on “Manage passwords” to see options. If you turn on Smart Lock, Google will log you into saved websites and bypass the login screen. You don’t want to turn this feature on if you’re uncomfortable being removed from the login process.

Your Google account is the master login for the Smart Lock feature. That makes password management extremely convenient, but it also means that if someone gains access to your Google account, they can also access and control your passwords. Google Smart Lock does not include a password generator and it doesn’t work on iPhones or browsers other than Chrome.

Norton Identity Safe

Norton Identify Safe is a free password manager made by Symantec, the company behind the well-known Norton AntiVirus products. It is installed on your computer and any other device you choose, as well as your browser. You’ll find a link to a random password generator right at the top of the Norton Identity Safe website.

When you set it up, you’ll need two passwords: one for your account and one for your password vault. Both passwords should be complex but memorable because your stored passwords will be inaccessible until you open the vault.

Once you enter your various login credentials in the app, the sites appear in an alphabetical list in your password vault. A colored bar tells you whether your password is weak (red), moderate (yellow) or strong (green).

Norton Identity Safe can also securely store your credit card numbers for easy online payments. (It’s important to be careful when you’re sharing personal information like credit card numbers online, as this can open you up to credit card fraud.)

SecureSafe

SecureSafe is a cloud storage service for sensitive files and passwords. File storage is its standout feature. If you need to store a digital copy of a sensitive file (like one of these seven documents you need to fill out before you die), a SecureSafe free account includes 100 MB of file storage space and can save up to 50 passwords. Paid accounts (starting at $18/year) get unlimited passwords and more file storage space. The app includes a variety of security features for file storage, including a free, secure PDF viewer for smartphones.

When you open the app on desktop or mobile, passwords are listed alphabetically. If you’ve entered the URL, you can click the arrow icon to go straight to the site. The password is copied to your clipboard automatically so you can paste it into the field on the login screen. The clipboard is erased after a short period of time; the time period is customizable.

SecureSafe doesn’t run as a browser extension, so you need to log into your account to access your passwords. This is an advantage for people who don’t want extension clutter or popups, or for people who use shared devices. The extra steps are cumbersome, though, for anyone who wants passwords to automatically populate.

Want to learn more about how to keep your information safe? Here are eight ways to protect your privacy online.

Image: pixelfit

Source: credit.com

Esurance Auto Insurance Review

  • Car Insurance

Esurance is one of the biggest providers of auto insurance in the United States, offering cheap insurance policies for drivers in most states. But how does this company perform with regards to services and prices? In this Esurance insurance review, we aim to find out.

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Compare free personalized quotes from the nation’s top providers.

What is Esurance?

Esurance was founded in 1999. It positioned itself as a direct-to-consumer insurer and was one of the first insurance companies to do this. Within a year, it was offering policies to people across 24 states and was then acquired by the White Mountains Insurance Group.

A decade later, Esurance was purchased by Allstate in a deal worth $1 billion and from there the brand continued to grow. Today, Esurance is available in 43 states and continues to offer direct insurance products. This means that you don’t need to go through an agent or use the telephone and can simply apply through www.Esurance.com.

Esurance Coverage Options

In addition to all the usual coverage options, including liability coverage, collision coverage, and comprehensive insurance, Esurance offers the following features:

Rental Coverage from CarMatch

If you have comprehensive coverage and collision coverage and your car is undergoing lengthy repairs or has been stolen, Esurance’s CarMatch service will provide you with a rental car for up to 6 weeks or to the value of $3,000.

CarMatch will keep you on the road and ensure your life isn’t ground to a screeching halt just because you no longer have access to your car.

Gap Insurance

Gap insurance is often required if your car is financed as it will ensure the entirety of the balance is paid if the car is totaled.

If you purchase your car for $30,000 worth of finance and then total it in 2 years, the insurer will typically pay the value of the car at the time it is destroyed. By that time, the value could have dropped by as much as 25% (new cars depreciate rapidly in the first few years) and thanks to the added interest, the balance may be much higher than its value at the time of the accident.

Gap insurance will cover the remainder and ensure you’re not left to foot the bill by yourself. With Esurance gap insurance, up to 25% of the car’s value will be covered, which should be enough to bridge the gap.

Roadside Assistance

Esurance policyholders can add roadside assistance for a small cost. If they breakdown by the side of the road, they will be covered for services such as tire changes and towing, although this cover has a limit of $75 and every call for roadside assistance is considered an insurance claim.

Drivesense

Drivesense is a mobile app that’s offered in most (but not all) states. It tracks driving habits and allows Esurance to paint an accurate picture of your behavior, including your speed and the time of day that you drive.

By agreeing to this app, you can get an immediate discount on your auto insurance policy. The underwriters will then use the data to tweak your premiums. If you’re a safe driver, you don’t spend a lot of time behind the wheel, and you don’t drive quickly, the Drivesense app is a great way to guarantee low premiums.

Other Types of Insurance

Esurance offers homeowners insurance policies in thirty-one states, with a further twelve states offered home insurance through one of Esurance’s many partners. These policies are comprehensive and cover many of the same things found with other major insurance providers. Esurance also offers a few things not found elsewhere, including additional water damage coverage.

Some of the additional features and discounts offered by Esurance home insurance policies include:

  • Save money if you have safety features fitted, including smoke detectors and alarms.
  • Spend less if you have a new home.
  • Choose to add identity theft protection to your policy.
  • Get cover if you own a house that has been extended.
  • Your first claim will not increase your rates or cause you to lose a no claims discount.

Average Cost of Esurance Across the United States

Esurance insurance rates are generally amongst the top 10 cheapest rates in any given state. In our research, we found that Esurance generally lagged behind the likes of GEICO and, in many other states, Safeco and State Farm, but the rates were consistently cheap enough to warrant including them in your comparison shopping.

To give you an idea of how much Esurance customers can expect to pay, take a look at the following average quotes.

  • Alabama: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $700; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,400.
  • Alaska: Esurance car insurance is not offered in this state.
  • Arizona: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $700; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,500.
  • Arkansas: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $600; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,500.
  • California: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $700; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,900.
  • Colorado: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $650; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,000.
  • Connecticut: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $800; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,750.
  • Delaware: Esurance car insurance is not offered in this state.
  • Florida: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $1,300; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $3,000.
  • Georgia: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $900; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $2,500.
  • Hawaii: Esurance car insurance is not offered in this state.
  • Idaho: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $400; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,000.
  • Illinois: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $600; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,100.
  • Indiana: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $450; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $900.
  • Iowa: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $350; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,500.
  • Kansas: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $500; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,400.
  • Kentucky: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $950; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $2,000.
  • Louisiana: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $1,100; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $3,000.
  • Maine: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $350; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $850.
  • Maryland: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $1,000; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage $1,900.
  • Massachusetts: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $500; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,200.
  • Michigan: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $1,000; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $2,000.
  • Minnesota: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $700; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,300
  • Mississippi: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $550; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,600.
  • Missouri: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $650; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,500.
  • Montana: Esurance car insurance is not offered in this state.
  • Nebraska: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $550; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,250.
  • Nevada: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $850; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $2,200.
  • New Hampshire: Esurance car insurance is not offered in this state.
  • New Jersey: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $1,000; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,800.
  • New Mexico: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $650; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,650.
  • New York: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $1,300; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $2,300.
  • North Carolina: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $400; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,050.
  • North Dakota: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $350; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,150.
  • Ohio: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $400; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,000.
  • Oklahoma: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $700; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,500.
  • Oregon: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $750; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,400.
  • Pennsylvania: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $550; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,350.
  • Rhode Island: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $900; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $2,300.
  • South Carolina: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $650; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,550.
  • South Dakota: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $400; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage $1,450.
  • Tennessee: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $450; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,300.
  • Texas: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $900; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,700.
  • Utah: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $550; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,300.
  • Vermont: Esurance car insurance is not offered in this state.
  • Virginia: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $500; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,300.
  • Washington: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $750; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,500.
  • West Virginia: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $750; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $1,550.
  • Wisconsin: Average Cost of Minimum Insurance Coverage = $350; Average Cost of Full Insurance Coverage = $950.
  • Wyoming: Esurance car insurance is not offered in this state.

Esurance Car Insurance Discounts

Discounts are offered by most car insurance companies and are a great way to bring those rates down and save a few bucks on your premiums. Esurance, like all good auto insurance companies, offers a wide spectrum of car insurance discounts, including:

  • Safety Discounts: If you have anti-theft and safety devices installed in your vehicle, you can save a substantial amount on your car insurance policy. Such features include airbags, anti-lock brakes, car alarms, and tracking devices.
  • Bundling: Also known as a multi-policy discount, this is provided to policyholders who purchase homeowners insurance and car insurance together.
  • Good Student Discount: Maintain at least a B average to collect on this student-centric car insurance discount.
  • AutoPay: By selecting AutoPay, going paperless and paying upfront, you could shave a few percent off the total cost of your premiums.
  • Multi-Car: If you have several drivers and vehicles in your household, add them to the same policy and you will save a huge amount of money compared to purchasing those policies separately.
  • Good Driver Discount: If you have no traffic violations or claims, you will be offered much lower rates in general.
  • Homeowners Discount: Homeowners and married policyholders will pay less than single renters.
  • Driver Course Discounts: Complete a driver safety course or defensive driving course to save on your Esurance policy.

Esurance Expert and Customer Reviews

Esurance has a poor score for claims satisfaction, with JD Power giving it a Below Average score overall. It also has a higher rate of complaints than many of its competitors, despite the fact that it scores surprisingly well for customer satisfaction.

​It seems, therefore, that the majority of customers are very happy with the process of applying for auto insurance, as well as the low cost of these policies. But as soon as they need to make a claim, Esurance drops well below the average satisfaction rates and there are a few red flags.

Although this is a concern, there’s nothing to suggest that Esurance is not paying out the amounts that it should. Instead, the majority of the complaints concern minor delays. Esurance also has a high financial strength rating from companies like AM Best, which is not surprising when you consider the reputation of its parent company.

Esurance Auto Insurance Review: Summary

Esurance is not as old as the likes of GEICO and State Farm and it also falls a little short in terms of the benefits and products it provides, with most of the additional options provided by partners.

However, if you’re looking for a low-cost direct insurance provider that doesn’t require you to go through insurance agents and streamlines the application process, look no further.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Why Did My Credit Score Drop? Reasons and Solutions

  • Raise Credit Score

It can be very disheartening when your credit score drops. You monitor it, you get excited when it increases, you think you’re on the right path, and then, seemingly for no reason, it drops.

The bad news is that these things happen and while there is often a way to fix them, it isn’t always quick or easy. The good news is that they never happen without reason and understanding that reason can help to prevent your credit score from dropping in the future.

Why Did My Credit Score Drop?

There are a few reasons why your credit score might have dropped:

There was a Hard Inquiry

Did you apply for a loan or a credit card recently? If so, the lender may have initiated a hard inquiry, or what is also commonly referred to as a “hard pull”. This means that they checked your credit report and left their mark to warn other lenders.

You don’t need to agree to a new line of credit for this mark to show and it can reduce your score by as many as 5 points. 

If this was the cause, then it will disappear in 24 months and will no longer impact your score after 12 months. It’s a long wait, but it’s a marginal reduction so it isn’t a major concern.

Your Credit Utilization Increased

Your credit utilization has a huge bearing on your credit score, often more than people realize. Simply put, credit utilization compares the amount of credit you have at your disposal to the amount of credit you have used.

The reason this causes so many issues is that borrowers don’t realize that this score will drop when credit limits are reduced and when credit cards are canceled, and not just when debt increases. For instance, if you clear a credit card debt and then cancel the card, both your debt and your available credit will decrease, potentially canceling one another out.

Keep old credit cards, increase credit limits, and remember that the size of the debt is not the most important thing, it’s how that debt compares to your available credit that matters.

You Missed a Payment

The most common reason your credit score might have dropped is also the easiest to manage. If you meet your repayments every month and keep a close check on your credit report, then this shouldn’t be an issue.

However, mistakes happen, and payments may be missed as a result of banking errors, canceled cards, and incorrect reporting. Find the source of the missed payment and if it’s a mistake, contact your bank/credit bureau to correct it.

You Closed an Account

Not only can closing a credit account reduce your credit utilization score, but it can also impact your credit history. Credit account age counts for 15% of your total score. If you recently closed a line of credit, you may have reduced the overall age of your accounts, thus reducing this aspect of your score.

It may also reduce the variety of credit in your account, which counts for 10% of your score. If you have several credit cards, a mortgage, and a personal loan, then you’re showing lenders that you can handle multiple types of credit and this looks great on your report. If, however, you pay off that loan and the account closes, then your score may take a temporary hit.

The good news is that it’s temporary and what you lose by reducing variety and age you gain by improving payment history and reducing debt.

You Opened an Account

A new account can land you with a hard inquiry, which marginally impacts your score, and it can reduce the average age of all your accounts. More importantly, it has a direct impact on an area that counts as 10% towards your overall score.

This will be more noticeable if you don’t have a lot of credit accounts and the ones you do have are new. If you have multiple accounts, a solid repayment history, and a high score, you may feel it less, but your score will still take a slight hit.

The only way to rebuild after this hit is to wait it out. Once that account is no longer considered “new”, it will start having a positive effect on your score.

What is a Derogatory Mark?

If your score suffered a significant drop, then it may have been the result of a derogatory mark, which is a serious red flag on your credit report. Derogatory marks rarely happen without your knowledge as they are usually initiated by you or preceded with many warnings and issues:

  • Bankruptcy
  • Foreclosure
  • Civil Judgement
  • Delinquency

How Can I Get Rid of a Bad Mark?

If you received a derogatory mark that had nothing to do with you, then you can dispute it. It may be the result of identity theft, which is much more common than you might think. If you initiated bankruptcy or had a foreclosure or delinquency, then it’s a little trickier. 

Time is really your only friend here, but you can also work with lenders and collections agencies to try and clear those debts and get back on your feet. 

It’s important not to adopt an “all or nothing” attitude. It’s very easy to slip into this mentality and to ignore all your financial responsibilities because of one major blip, but you’ll only regret it a few years down the line when one major red flag turns into many.

What is a Trade Line?

A trade line is simply a record of activity on an account. Every time you open a new credit account, the lender keeps details of the total amount and the repayment dates. This information is then handed to the major credit bureaus who use it to build your credit report and calculate your credit score.

Most lenders report to these bureaus, but it’s not mandatory. There are some secured loans and secured credit cards that do not. If you’re looking to build credit and improve your score, it’s imperative that all activity is recorded, otherwise your hard work will go unnoticed. 

Summary: When Your Credit Score Drops

The main thing to consider when your credit score takes a hit is that it’s not the end of the world. If it came unexpectedly, there’s a good chance it’s not significant. Derogatory marks rarely happen without the consumer’s knowledge unless there was some element of fraud at play, in which case they are easily reversed.

As for closed accounts, new accounts, hard inquiries, and credit utilization changes, these can all be remedied in time. Just keep meeting those repayments, don’t go overboard when applying for new credit, and focus on clearing the accounts you have as quickly as you can.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Credit Bureaus and Fraud Alerts

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Identity theft is a harsh reality in a world of debit cards, credit cards, and online banking. If you’ve been a victim, you know the importance of protecting yourself from future infractions. A little-known solution is available through the credit bureaus: fraud alerts. If you want to avoid identity theft, review the information below and take the crucial first steps.

What is a Fraud Alert?

For anyone who has dealt with the aftermath of identity theft, fraud alerts are a useful way to ensure future security. By initiating these alerts with the credit bureaus, lenders are required to contact you by phone or other means to authorize new lines of credit or the use of your name on applications. If they cannot reach you, the application or credit activation will be denied and flagged for fraud. This process ensures your awareness of any and all activity on your account, and will help you recognize when fraud is being committed in your name.

What Are the Disadvantages?

While fraud alerts can protect you from identity theft, the convenience of instant credit authorization becomes a thing of the past. Unless you are available by phone to confirm your credit application, you may have to wait a day or two to make an in-store purchase. For example, Emma is shopping for a new sofa and wants to get 10 percent off by opening a department store credit card. Although her credit score is acceptable, the fraud alert requires the lender to contact her by phone to authorize the new line of credit. If her cell phone is listed as her primary contact, she won’t have to wait. However, if her home phone is her primary number, she may face a short delay in completing her purchase. Despite this minor inconvenience, those who seek fraud alerts are likely to weigh the benefits over the drawbacks.

How to Set it Up

Once you have decided to set up fraud alerts, it is up to you to take the first step. While some claim that the credit bureaus work together to maintain fraud alerts, the best way to avoid identity theft is to contact Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax individually. The process is simple and should only take a few minutes to complete. Depending on the bureau, your alerts may expire after 90 days, so it is imperative to reactivate them periodically to ensure your protection.

What Happens Next?

You should receive a confirmation letter within a week or two of setting up your fraud alerts. If not, make sure to call the credit bureaus to verify your alerts. With fraud alerts attached to your credit report:

  • Your name will be removed from pre-approved offer lists, such as credit cards and insurance offers.
  • You may become eligible for an extended victim statement status, which will keep your fraud alerts in place for seven years. This process requires approval from each credit bureau.

Although it is difficult to protect yourself from identity theft entirely, fraud alerts are a strong first line of defense. By working with the credit bureaus and taking a proactive stance, your credit report is more likely to be shielded from modern-day theft.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

How to Lower Credit Card Debt without Hurting Your Credit Score

  • Credit Card Debt

Whether your credit card debt is $5,000 or $50,000, paying it off safely is possible as long as you strategize carefully. There are many ways to go about lowering your credit card debt, however, one common fear is that doing so will damage your credit score. 

While this is possible, it’s also true that lowering your credit card debt could help to repair your credit.  In this post, we’ll discuss how credit card debt affects your credit score and what steps you can take to pay it off safely. 

How credit card debt affects your credit score

To understand how your credit card debt is affecting your credit score, you will first have to become familiar with the term utilization ratio, or utilization rate. This ratio accounts for approximately 30% of your FICO score calculation. 

Your credit utilization ratio is the percentage of available credit that you, the borrower, is actually using. This is typically based off of the total revolving credit—credit that automatically renews once debts are repaidthat you have been approved for. 

For example, let’s say that these are your three credit cards, each with a different balance:

  • Credit Card 1: $5,000 credit limit, $3,000 balance.
  • Credit Card 2: $4,000 credit limit, $400 balance. 
  • Credit Card 3: $10,000 credit limit, $2,000 balance. 

Your total revolving credit is going to be the sum of your combined credit limits:

 $5,000+ $4,000 + $10,000= $19,000. 

The amount of credit used will be the sum of each balance:

$3,000 + $400 + $2,000= $5,400

Therefore, your utilization ratio will be $5,400/$19,000 which is 28.4%

Having a high utilization ratio is bad for your credit score. Most experts will advise that you should shoot for 30% utilization or lower. However, when it comes to having multiple credit cards, things can get tricky. 

Let’s say you have the same three credit cards open, but were only using one:

  • Credit card 1: $5,000 credit limit, $0 balance.
  • Credit card 2: $4,000 credit limit, $0 balance.
  • Credit card 3: $10,000 credit limit, $5,400 balance.

As you can see, the balance is the same, but the account on Credit card 3 has a utilization ratio of 54%, which is considered fairly high. 

Your credit utilization ratio will fluctuate over time as you use your credit to make purchases  but the important thing to remember is that a small balance is better than no balance at all.  

How to increase your credit score by lowering credit card debt

The topic of credit cards is a sensitive one for many Americans, but it doesn’t have to be. When used responsibly, you can actually increase your credit score. 

Here are some tips for improving your credit score by lowering your credit card debt:

  • Pay your bills on time:  It goes without saying that being late on your credit card payments isn’t going to help your credit score. Your ability to pay on time accounts for about 35% of your overall FICO score. If simply remembering to pay is an issue, try setting reminders for yourself or ask about signing up for automatic payments. If the issue is that you’re barely scraping by, the best thing to do is to talk to your creditors and/or a credit counselor and see if something can be worked out. Your credit score won’t be immediately increase, but it will eventually once you are able to make payments on time.
  • Keep your credit card balances low: Do your best to keep your utilization rate as low as possible. Since utilization ratio accounts for about 30% of your FICO score, high balances are not healthy for your credit score.
  • Resist the urge to close unused credit cards in an effort to raise your scores: If you are in the midst of a panic about your credit score, it might be tempting to close all of the credit cards that you aren’t using. Be careful with this, as doing so could lower your available credit, and therefore cause your utilization ratio to increase. 
  • Don’t open new accounts all at once: Once you start your credit repair journey, it’s important to only open accounts when necessary. Opening new accounts in a short amount of time will not only reduce your account’s overall age, it could also look dicey, especially if you are a new credit user. 

Safest ways to lower credit card debt without affecting credit score 

Now that we’ve discussed utilization ratios and tips for using credit card debt to your advantage, let’s delve into some of the safest ways to lower your credit card debt without hurting your credit score. 

Debt Management Programs 

Debt management plans are debt repayment programs, typically through a nonprofit credit counseling agency, that will get you back on track between three to five years. This payoff strategy combines multiple debts into a single monthly payment at a reduced interest rate. 

This is a choice to consider if:

  • Your credit card debt is 15% to 39% of your annual income. 
  • You are confident that you will be able to pay down your debt within a five-year timeframe. 
  • You have a steady income. 
  • You are okay with not being able to use credit cards or open new lines of credit throughout the duration of the program. 

Debt management programs do have an effect on your credit history, it doesn’t negatively impact your credit score. While there may be a temporary halt in your available credit—which could potentially have an effect on your credit score—the pause on your credit is lifted once you are finished with your debt management program. 

It’s important to keep in mind that debt management programs will usually automatically take money out every month. Not being able to make these payments can negatively impact your credit history, resulting in a lower credit score. 

Consolidating Loans

Credit card debt consolidation can be another safe method of getting rid of credit card debt while lowering your credit, if it’s done correctly. With this debt payoff method, you would apply for a large loan to pay off your credit card balances is one single monthly payment. There isn’t just one route to credit card debt consolidation and the right way to go about it is going to depend on:

  • The amount of debt you are in.
  • Your credit score and credit history.
  • Whether or not you have equity in a home or invest in a 401(k) account.

This isn’t always a safe method if you aren’t careful, so make sure you shop around and do your research before making your selection. Take a look at our guide to credit card debt consolidation for more details.

Make careful decisions

When it comes to your credit score, you can never be too careful. While it might be tempting to make a hasty decision in an effort to take care of your credit card debt, it’s important to think about how your actions will affect your credit score. 

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Try to avoid opening new lines of credit: Don’t get tricked into thinking that obtaining more credit will automatically help your situation. This is a huge mistake and will only make the problem worse in the long run. The only exception to this is if you are consolidating your loans. 
  • Weigh your options before attempting debt settlement: Debt settlement is when you ask your creditors to agree to accept an amount that is lower than what you really owe. Sure, this sounds great in theory, but it’s not that simple. When you agree to debt settlement, you stop making payments in order to save enough money to pay the full, agreed-upon amount, in one lump sum. No matter what way you dice it, not making payments is never good for your credit score and can be especially risky if your plans to pay in full fall through. 
  • Filing for bankruptcy can remain on your credit report for 7 to 10 years: When you file for bankruptcy, your credit card debt gets erased, but at the expense of your credit report taking a hit. Bankruptcy can stay on your report for 7 to 10 years, although it’s common for credit scores to climb again months after filing.  

How lowering credit card debt can impact credit score

It’s always in your best interest to pay off your credit card debt, no matter what. The impact it has on your credit score, however, may vary. 

It’s a common misconception to believe that holding on to a credit card balance is good for your credit score. Some people think that if you’re trying to raise your credit score, you shouldn’t repay your full balance, which is simply untrue. 

The best thing you can do for your credit score is pay all of your balances on time and to the best of your abilities. Paying down your credit card debt will lower your utilization ratio, which plays a big role in your FICO score. Should you need to carry a balance, make sure that you keep your utilization rate 30% or under. 

So just how much does a paid-off credit card boost your credit score? That depends on how close you were to your credit limit. The closer you were, the more it will increase. 

If you have paid down your credit card debt and noticed that your credit score has dropped, there could be other reasons to consider such as:

  • Whether or not you’ve recently paid off an installment loan such as a car or a student loan (but only because your total number of accounts will be reduced). 
  • Closing your credit cards, which lowers the age of your account and minimizes the amount of available credit hiking up your utilization. 

Perhaps there is an error on your credit report. If you think there is an error on your report, don’t hesitate to dispute it. It could either be the result of a mix-up or even worse, identity theft.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

IRS Now Using Private Collection Agencies for Certain Tax Debts – Lexington Law

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Consumers commonly receive phone calls from scammers impersonating government agents to collect money. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regularly warns consumers about falling victim to phone scams, especially those involving payment for back taxes. Under a new federal program, however, the IRS will assign certain overdue federal tax debts to four private collection agencies (PCAs). These private debt collectors will contact taxpayers on behalf of the IRS to collect certain outstanding tax debts. Consumers should familiarize themselves with the IRS’s private debt collection program to protect themselves against scams.

IRS Private Debt Collection Program

Federal law requires the IRS use private debt collection agencies to collect certain overdue tax debts. In December 2015, Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act). Although the primary purpose of the FAST Act is to fund transportation projects, Section 32102 requires the IRS to use PCAs to collect inactive tax receivables. Accordingly, the IRS implemented a new private debt collection program in April 2017.

The IRS assigns only certain accounts to private debt collection agencies. These accounts involve “inactive tax receivables,” meaning any tax receivable:

  • That has been removed from the IRS’s active inventory for lack of resources or an inability to find the taxpayer;
  • For which more than one-third of the applicable limitation period has passed and no IRS employee has been assigned to collect the receivable; or
  • That has been assigned but more than 365 days have passed without interaction between the IRS and the taxpayer or a third party.

The IRS does not assign accounts to PCAs if the taxpayer is:

  • Deceased;
  • Under the age of 18;
  • In designated combat zones;
  • Victims of tax-related identity theft;
  • Currently under examination, litigation, criminal investigation or levy;
  • Subject to pending or active offers in compromise;
  • Subject to an installment agreement;
  • Subject to a right of appeal;
  • Classified as innocent spouse cases; or
  • In presidentially declared disaster areas and requesting relief from collection.

Only four PCAs are designated to collect the tax debt on behalf of the IRS: CBE, Conserve, Performant, and Pioneer. Taxpayers will be notified in writing by the IRS and the PCA when an account has been transferred from the IRS to a collection agency.

Because the IRS uses only these four designated PCAs to collect a specific type of tax debt, consumers must remain cautious if they receive debt collection calls pertaining to other types of tax debt.

Other Tips to Avoid Being Scammed

Concerned consumers who receive contact attempts from someone they suspect is impersonating the IRS and requesting money can take the following steps to avoid being scammed:

  • If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS workers can help with a payment issue.
  • If you know you do not owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484 or at tigta.gov.
  • You can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant, choose “Scams and Rip-Offs” and then “Impostor Scams.”

 

If your credit has been damaged, learn how you can start repairing your credit here, and carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

Sources:

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

How To Clean Up Your Credit Report In 2021

Understanding how your credit is calculated is the first step to cleaning up your credit history and improving your credit scores. The FICO scoring system takes several key aspects of your credit file in order to come up with the number that the creditors use.

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Because all three credit bureaus have their own relationships with creditors who report your payment history, it is quite likely that your credit score will vary among Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

This also means that any negative information that is on one credit report may or may not be on the other two. That’s why some lenders may approve you for a loan when they pull your credit report versus another lender who denies you elsewhere. They could be using different information pertaining to your credit history.

Grab Copies of Your Credit Reports

It’s important to check all three of your credit reports regularly so you know exactly what items are potentially damaging your credit score. You can get a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Once you have the facts, you can develop a plan to get your finances back on track. And since the information listed on each credit report can differ, you should always comb through all three to get your full credit picture.

We’ll show you how to clean up your credit so you can increase your FICO score. That way you can start getting better access to credit cards, loans, mortgages, and other types of financing you may need.

What items can damage your credit score?

There are three areas where your credit scores may be impacted, outside of major negatives such as bankruptcies, foreclosures, and judgments. These common damaging items include:

  • Delinquencies
  • Collection Accounts
  • Charge Off Accounts

As you can see by the charts below, there is wide room for improvement by getting inaccurate and negative information on your credit report removed.

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How to Start Cleaning Up Your Credit

Each type of negative item comes with different nuances for getting them removed from your credit report. But before you even start that process, you have to prepare your case effectively.

Follow these steps to get started so that you can successfully clean up your credit regardless of the type of items causing damage. Thorough preparation is the best way to set yourself up for a quick dispute process that is free of headaches.

Order and Review Your Credit Reports

You’re entitled to free copies of your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion each and every year. You can’t dispute anything until you know what’s on there, so this is the absolute first step to cleaning up your credit. Go through each section and look for any potential red flags, including:

  • Inaccurate personal information, such as your name or social security number
  • Accounts that don’t actually belong to you
  • Inaccurate account details, such as amounts owed or credit limits
  • Missing information, such as closed accounts being listed as open
  • Outdated, negative information still listed after the seven- or ten-year limit

Determine Which Accounts to Dispute and Gather Evidence

Any error on your credit reports can be disputed, especially if it’s hurting your credit score. Go through each of your credit reports and mark which ones you want to challenge. If you’ve been a victim of identity theft and don’t recognize the accounts or even if you see anything that is questionable, you have the right to dispute it.

If you have a lot, you might want to narrow things down in one of two ways. The first method is to only dispute a few at a time. If you choose to do this, start with the most damaging items first.

Hire a Professional Company

The second method to clean up your credit report is to contact a reputable credit repair company like Sky Blue Credit Repair. They file a dispute for you, which can be especially beneficial if you feel overwhelmed or unsure of the process.

Once you decide which items to include in your dispute letter you need to gather all of the evidence to support your case. You don’t need to include it in your dispute request because the burden of proof remains with the credit bureaus.

It’s their job to verify each item with the relevant creditor, and if they can’t do that, then the item must be removed. But if the creditor supplies faulty information, it’s smart to have your own paperwork on hand to support your case.

Keep these documents ready to have when you need them. When working with a credit repair service, they might also request this information from you to bolster your case during the process.

Delinquencies

If you’ve been 30 days or more past-due with your bills, you may find delinquencies listed on your credit report. While these delinquencies are definitely damaging, they can sometimes be easy to fix.

Start with the late payments that are the most past-due, i.e. the 90-day and 120-day debts. The reason to start here is because these are the accounts that are most damaging to your credit scores. They are also the accounts that are most likely to be sent to collections or charged off.

If you can make a payment that will bring you current, you should call your creditor and be prepared to negotiate. If these delinquencies are for an account that is currently open, you have some leeway here.

Updating Late Payments

Ask the creditor if they are willing to update the account as being paid on time, rather than showing a history of past-due payments.

For the 30-day and 60-day accounts, if you have any paperwork that shows you made or mailed the payment within that 30-day window, you should call up the creditor and dispute the derogatory listing.

Many times, creditors are willing to work with a good customer who is only rarely late with payments. Otherwise, you will have to make your complaint in writing with the credit reporting agencies and your creditor in order to get the inaccurate information updated.

Charge Offs

Debt that has been charged off means that the creditor has declared it unlikely that you’ll ever repay the debt. They still have the right to attempt to collect the money that is owed.

However, in most instances, they’ll sell it for pennies on the dollar to a collection agency to begin their own collection process. When it comes to your credit score, charged off debt has a greater negative impact than a late payment.

Creditors don’t like to see debts that haven’t been repaid and are much less likely to extend credit to you while charge offs are on your credit report because it essentially looks like abandoned debt.

How to Remove Charge Offs from Your Credit Report

Some loans, such as mortgages, require that all charged-off debt be settled or paid off before you can qualify, no matter what your credit score happens to be. Removing a charge off from your credit reports will take more work, but it is possible.

You will need to:

  • Contact the creditor and ask if they are willing to settle – this can be done by phone or by letter, but the most effective way to have proof of the settlement is to get everything in writing.
  • Make the payment in certified funds – so you have proof the debt is paid.
  • File a dispute with the credit reporting agency and use your proof of payment to support having the disputed charge-off removed.

Sometimes you’ll luck out, and a creditor that has been paid won’t bother to respond to the dispute because they have payment in hand. This will get the item deleted from your credit report entirely.

Other times, the creditor will update your account to say ‘Settled,’ which is still better than having an unsettled charge-off on your credit report. However, it won’t help your scores as much as a deletion would.

Collection Accounts

Collection accounts are usually the most complicated issue on anyone’s credit report. These are the collection accounts that have been sold to debt collection agencies – sometimes multiple times.

The collection agencies have zero interest in helping you. They only care about being paid as much as possible.

How to Remove Collections from Your Credit Report

However, there are some bright spots when it comes to removing collections from your credit report:

  1. If the debt is past the reporting limit (generally more than 7 years old) then the collection agency cannot list it, and you can dispute the information to have it removed.
  2. If the collection agency has reported the wrong date, the wrong amount, or other erroneous information, you can dispute that as well and have the negative listing deleted.
  3. You have 30 days to request validation from the time the creditor first contacts you. In this time, they cannot perform any collection activities and they cannot add the debt to your credit report while the investigation is ongoing.

For older debts, especially, collection agencies are often unable to come up with accurate information that proves they own the debt and that you owe it. So more often than not, it pays to dispute any inaccurate information.

Understanding these basics to clean up your credit will put you on the right path, but it’s only the first step. The sooner you get actually get started repairing your credit, the better off you’ll be, both financially and emotionally in the future.

What to Do After You File a Dispute

Once your dispute is removed, there are a couple of steps you can take to continue cleaning up your credit.

First, ask the credit bureau to send notification of the change to any financial institution that has accessed your credit report in the last six months. They can do the same for any potential employer that has viewed your credit report over the last two years.

Just note that these actions don’t happen automatically, you have to make the request in writing to each applicable credit bureau. But it’s a worthwhile trick to implement if you’ve been trying to get credit recently or if you’ve been applying for a new job requiring a credit check.

What to Do If They Won’t Remove It

In the event your request for a removal is denied, there are a few more methods to try. First, you can always wait for the negative item to drop off naturally.

Most stay on your credit report for seven years and actually stop hurting your credit score after the first few years lapse. If you’re close to that drop-off mark, it may be worth just exercising a little patience.

If you’ve tried to clean up your credit on your own, consider hiring a professional. Depending on how much your bad credit is costing you in high interest rates or lack of credit altogether, the fee for a professional credit repair service could likely be worth it.

How can you clean up your credit report fast?

Cleaning up your credit certainly takes some time. But once you’ve initiated the dispute process on your inaccurate negative items, there are other things you can do to repair your credit quickly. They are as follows:

  • Reduce or eliminate your revolving debt, particularly from high-interest credit cards.
  • Consider a debt consolidation loan or balance transfer credit card. Paying down credit card balances as quickly as possible will help you lower credit utilization ratio.
  • Ask for a credit limit increase. This can also help to lower your credit utilization.
  • Consider getting a secured credit card. Secured credit cards require a security deposit but allow you to build credit when no one else will give you a credit card. You can often upgrade to a better credit card once you’ve proven yourself to the credit card issuer.

Ransomware Is a Real Threat (Even to You, Apple Users)

Maybe the thought actually occurred to you that something was “phishy” about that link, but that’s so 30 seconds ago. You clicked and now your computer screen is locked. Behind that frozen screen lie your personal files — everything from photos to tax documents — all of it encrypted by a third party that promises to return access for a ransom, which is usually between $200 and $5,000, according to the FBI.

Encryption can be a tool for good and evil. It’s the safest way for an enterprise to keep information safe from prying eyes and sticky fingers, but unfortunately it’s relatively easy for a hacker — and not even a very clever one — to use it to force an ugly situation: your files are encrypted and can only be unlocked by the thief.

A recent newsworthy item takes its lead from the popular “Saw” horror series. If you get hit with this one, Billy the Puppet from the franchise pops up on your screen with the message: “I want to play a game with you.”

Think that invitation from Billy the Puppet sounds fun? Before you go looking for the jigsaw ransomware, also known as BitcoinBlackmailer.exe, let me assure you that it’s not. There are different versions, but they all say pretty much the same thing: “Your computer files have been encrypted. Your photos, videos, documents, etc….But, don’t worry! I have not deleted them, yet. You have 24 hours to pay 150 USD in Bitcoins to get the decryption key. Every hour, files will be deleted. Increasing in amount every time. After 72 hours all that are left will be deleted.”

If you get the jigsaw ransomware, don’t panic. As ZDNet (my source for the above script) points out, a company named Forcenet already solved the problem with simple reverse-engineering. According to those at Forcenet, “A genius malware author this is not, the use of C#/.NET makes it trivial to reverse engineer and analyse.”

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Not Just an Inconvenience & Not Just a PC Problem

The point here is not whether or not a particular ransomware poses an extinction-level threat. Ransomware attacks are on the rise. According to Symantec’s 2016 Internet Security Threat Report, “crypto-style ransomware grew 35% in 2015.” In this report, Symantec warns that this often profitable approach, while adept at ensnaring PC users and branching out through network-connected devices, is increasingly targeting, “smartphones, Mac and Linux systems.”

In plain English: ransomware is a danger for anyone using a network-connected device. A former NSA employee recently released a tool for Mac users called RansomWhere, which detects when files are being encrypted on an Apple device and allows the user to stop it. That’s notable because, until now, most Apple users have been relatively unscathed by ransomware.

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How People Are Affected by Ransomware

While many ransomware attacks are fixable, they can be embarrassing. A number of the links that get people “got” involve sites you wouldn’t want your mother — or spouse, or child — to think were part of your regular Internet diet, or sites that would suggest you’re about to go into personal bankruptcy. Ransomware crooks use various hot-button clickbait to lure victims.

But do you know what’s worse than being embarrassed by a public airing of what piques your curiosity? A lot of things are, but when it comes to ransomware, at the top of the list has to be the increasing risk for more serious kinds of fallout as hospitals are being more frequently targeted by this form of attack.

In February, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was hit by ransomware. The incident got a great deal of attention because instead of risking patients’ lives, the hospital decided to pay the ransom, which was about $17,000 — or 40 bitcoins. Another hospital was hit in Kentucky, but they only had to pay a ransom of 4 bitcoins, according to internet security reporter Brian Krebs. MedStar Health was also a victim of ransomware, with employees reporting, “a pop-up on their computer screens stating that they had been infected by a virus and asking for ransom.” MedStar owns 10 hospitals and 250 out-patient facilities in Maryland and D.C.

TrendMicro, a company that focuses on internet content security software and cloud computing security, recently predicted “2016 will be the year of online extortion.” If ever there was a time to be careful out there, it was last year. And the year before that, and the one before that, too, but also: tomorrow. Tomorrow is still really not the sort of thing that’s conducive to a good night’s sleep, because the underlying message here is that you are going to get got. Being informed is your best defense.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

More on Identity Theft:

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Source: credit.com

I Tried to Buy a Fake Puppy Online, & Here’s What Happened

I knew going into this adventure that I was dealing with a scam artist who was trying to cheat people out of their money by tugging at their puppy-loving heartstrings. See, I’d written a piece about this scam just a couple of weeks ago after a woman in San Diego almost fell prey to it.

While researching that story, I decided to send a text to the phone number the scammers had used in multiple eBay ads, saying they had adorable puppies named Roxy, Ricky, Rose and Tina (they had ads for at least Old English Sheepdogs and Boxers, all by these names, and were advertising them in San Diego, Baltimore and possibly other areas). The fraudulent sellers had already pulled the ads from eBay after their con was spotted by the woman in San Diego, but a few days after I sent my text inquiring if the pups were still available, I got a response.

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Here’s how it went:

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Now, as I said, I already knew these folks weren’t on the pup up-and-up. I knew they were going to try to con me out of my money. The ridiculously low price for the “AKC-registered” puppies — just $320 each — was the first clue this wasn’t going to be a legit transaction.

  • I just watched a documentary on the dark web, and I will never feel safe using my credit card again!

  • Luckily I don’t have to worry about that. I have ExtraCredit, so I get $1,000,000 ID protection and dark web scans.

  • I need that peace of mind in my life. What else do you get with ExtraCredit?

  • It’s basically everything my credit needs. I get 28 FICO® scores, rent and utility reporting, cash rewards and even a discount to one of the leaders in credit repair.

  • 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.

There were more clues in their text. First, “please confirm the breed.” These folks were advertising that they had to get rid of their beloved puppies because of a recent move (thus the deep discount), not because they were breeders. Second, “just mail you with pictures.” Their English was a little faulty, which isn’t always an indicator in and of itself, but it’s something to watch for if you’re suspicious of an online transaction, as a lot of these folks operate from outside the country and English is not their first language.

Their first email came with a dozen or so pictures of the puppies, plus some questions so they’d know if I’d be a good caregiver. And, of course, the language issues continued.

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And, to get me emotionally connected, they asked me some more or less legitimate-seeming questions:

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After I answered all the questions and apparently passed muster for being able to provide a loving home, the scammers said they were arranging shipment of the pups, their toys, all their paperwork, etc., and they asked me to wire them the money through Western Union so they could get that process started:Screen Shot 2016-09-15 at 11.38.13 AMBingo. They wanted me to transfer the money to them in a way that is not easily traceable and for which I would have no recourse if they didn’t deliver the pups. As Western Union says on its website, “Western Union money transfer is the best way to send money to people you know and trust.”

But not strangers. Never, ever strangers. Why?

“If you send money to someone you do not know, you run the risk of fraud. Be cautious when a stranger asks you to send money,” the Western Union warning continues. “If you are sending money to a stranger or unknown person requires you to pay this way for goods or services before their delivery (especially offers on the Internet), for transport or insurance, payments as deposit to secure a lease for housing which you have not seen, allow payment of winnings in a lottery or betting, you run the risk of losing money. If still such a transfer is sent, you do so entirely at your own risk. Western Union is not responsible for the correct and proper delivery of goods or services paid through transfers under the brand Western Union.”

I told the “seller” via email that I was uncomfortable doing a cash transfer, but I’d be happy to pick up the puppies personally since I lived so close to Baltimore (which I don’t, actually). They said they had to leave at 4 p.m., but that they’d be happy to let me pick up the puppies at their address that didn’t actually exist. I feigned ignorance of that fact and told them I’d be driving to them soon. Of course, when I “arrived” they were nowhere to be found.

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And, not surprisingly, almost a week later, I’m still waiting.

The bottom line is, never, ever give cash to an online seller for goods undelivered. Always use websites you trust, and never give out any personal information that isn’t a matter of public record. And even then, be wary. Also, if you ever do meet someone to exchange goods, it’s safest to take someone with you and let at least one other person know where you will be and what time you should return.

Fortunately for the people who fall for these kinds of cash-transfer scams, they’re most likely only out the cash they gave away, and it won’t impact their credit. Where the really serious damage from scams can occur is when your identity is stolen or your credit cards are compromised.

If you think you may have fallen for a scam that has compromised your bank or credit card accounts, it’s a good idea to check your financial accounts, credit reports and credit scores frequently for any signs of trouble. Transactions you don’t recognize, unfamiliar entries on your credit report and sudden changes in credit scores are signs of fraud to be immediately addressed. You can check your financial information through your bank or credit union’s online tools. You can keep an eye on your credit by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com and requesting a copy of your free credit reports by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

Image: Dusko Jovic

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Source: credit.com