How To Freeze And Unfreeze Your Credit

After a major data breach, many people consider freezing their credit reports. It’s not a bad idea, if you don’t need access to it right away. It can give you peace of mind if someone does get ahold of your social security number or other information that can lead to identity theft. Social Security numbers cannot be replaced like a credit card number. Credit cards can be replaced and in your hands in a few days, but your SSN is with you for life. It can take years and cost untold thousands to clean up the mess. Tragically, this can happen over and over in your life.

Freezing your credit is the best way to prevent new accounts from being opened with your SSN but it does not protect existing bank accounts or credit cards. This is where credit monitoring services step in. They watch over your SSN and current accounts and notify you about new activity.

What is a Credit Freeze? A credit freeze will prevent anyone from viewing your credit file and reports or opening credit in your name. When you apply for a credit card, a loan, or even living quarters, you are evaluated based on your credit file. The freeze prevents it from being released from the major credit bureaus.

Activating a Freeze: You must contact each of the bureaus independently to add a freeze. Visit their websites to do this or contact them by telephone at the numbers they list on their websites. Some states allow them to charge a fee to do this, but it is usually worth it.

Information You Will Need: To place a freeze, the bureaus will ask for some information:

Your name
Your Social Security number
Your birthdate
Your current address
Your former address
A payment card (in some cases)
A PIN that you choose to lift or reapply a freeze

Freezing and Unfreezing Your Credit File: You can still get access to your file after a freeze is put on it. You just have to contact the bureaus to do so. Check with them as to lead-time for temporarily unfreezing and refreezing and if there are any fees associated with doing so. Just be aware that this process may delay any approvals for credit. Each company has three days to lift your freeze once they receive your request.

How Long Does a Credit Freeze Last? A freeze will stay on your reports until you lift them.

Can an Attacker Unfreeze My File If He or She Has My Information? No one can freeze or unfreeze your file unless he or she also has your PIN associated with the freeze.

Remember that credit monitoring and identity theft recovery services do not prevent fraud. They will alert you if someone tries to access your credit or if something looks amiss, or assist you to repair your identity in the case of identity theft. These services will not monitor your payment card purchases either. You will need to monitor your charges separately.

Also, within days after the Equifax breach, all three bureaus were reporting such high demand for credit freezes that it was rumored they were asking for people to send their requests via U.S. Mail.

Contact Information for Major Credit Bureaus to place a freeze or to unfreeze:

Equifax:

https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
800-685-1111

Experian:

https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
888-397-3742

TransUnion:

https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp
888-909-8872

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security
September 19, 2017

Less Obvious Fees That May Be Costing You Big Bucks

Phone company fees

Have you ever studied the list of fees on your phone or Internet bill and wondered, “What’s that?” While many telecommunication fees are advertised when you sign up for service, companies can later add fees without notifying you.

So-called “mobility administrative” charges may be added to your bill, raising your monthly costs incrementally. Make sure you review your bill periodically, and contact your provider if you see any questionable or new charges.

New-car fees

It’s not uncommon for car dealers to add a few fees at the last minute during a purchase. Reportedly, this can raise the cost of the car by several thousand dollars.

Remember, if you’re negotiating with the dealer, make sure to ask up front about fees that cover things like documentation and dealer-preparation services. It’s a little extra work for you, but avoiding expensive surprises at the end of a negotiation is worth it.

Resort fees

Many hotels sneak a resort fee into the final bill for your stay. The worst part? They’re not always advertised and are generally unavoidable.

The next time you book your vacation, contact the hotel before you finalize your purchase and ask for the total cost of the stay. You may even specify that you want to know if there’s a resort fee, just to be on the safe side.

BALANCE
September 2017

Equifax Victim Protection Options Everyone Should Know

By now, most of us have heard of the recent data breach at the credit bureau, Equifax. If not, there is a good chance you will be receiving a letter from them letting you know that your social security number and other information was accessed by an unauthorized party. That’s because this event affected 44% of the U.S. population. There are a few items to consider as a follow up to the initial stories on this topic and that is what the following information covers.

There was some controversy about signing up for the offered free credit monitoring and other identity protection services from Equifax. So you might be a bit skeptical of taking them up on it after this, but it’s certainly worth consideration. However, be sure to read the fine print for any service you sign up for, no matter what the service is doing. In this case, there was initially some detail that required those who chose to use the service, called TrustedID Premier to pay for the service automatically once the free term expired. However, that clause has since been removed from Equifax’s terms of service with respect to this breach. So, you can sign up and take advantage for free; but still read the terms of service thoroughly and don’t expect this to completely protect you from identity theft.

If you are still hearing that signing up for the credit monitoring service will exempt you from any class action lawsuit that may arise, that has changed. Equifax has removed that language from its Terms and Conditions, so you can now take advantage of the service without worry.

Consider the options if your social security number was accessed by unauthorized parties for any event; not just this one. Credit monitoring services do not prevent your identity from being stolen. They will alert you if someone tries to obtain credit with your information. Essentially, it gives you a heads up right away so you can take action to remedy before it gets worse. Identity theft protection services, which were also offered, will help you through the process of correcting any fraud, but again won’t prevent it from happening.

On the other hand, consider a credit freeze, which will prevent credit from being taken out in your name. It blocks any attempt to access credit and the credit bureaus will alert you if someone tries. A credit freeze is recommended to those who have had their social security numbers stolen and who are not applying for credit in the near term. That is because a freeze will do just that; freeze access to your credit so no one can access your report.

That said, if a time occurs where you will need to provide access to your credit for some reason, a credit freeze can be lifted and re-implemented if needed. Just make sure to check the fine print to find out how much lead time is needed to do this and if additional costs are involved. In some states, there is a cost associated with freezing credit.

An important detail about taking advantage of any credit monitoring service is that if there already is a freeze on your credit, the credit monitoring services will not work. This is because they need to access your credit reports in order to monitor activity. However, don’t unfreeze it just to sign up for a service. If the third party cannot access your file because it’s frozen, then the credit freeze is doing what it is intended to do.

Something that often gets overlooked is monitoring the credit of children. In theory, children under 18 should not have a credit report, because they are not consumers. Per a 2012 study by the Identity Theft Assistance Center and the Javelin Strategy & Research group, one in 40 families with children under 18 had at least one child whose information was accessed in an unauthorized manner. If you find a report for your child on file with Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion, investigate it and the possibility of fraud using the child’s information.

Also remember that this applies to anyone who has used a social security number to get credit of any type or even to turn on utilities. This breach or any breach that includes stolen social security numbers is not limited to U.S. citizens. Anyone with a social security number can be a victim of identity theft.

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security
September 13, 2017

Iron Man Is Taking Your Money In This Resurfaced Scam

Movie stars have all the luck. Everyone wants to be them, including cyber criminals. Robert Downey Jr., who is perhaps most well known as playing Iron Man in the recent Marvel movies is warning his fans that someone is impersonating him and asking for “contributions” to various “causes.”

This is not a new scam, but it seems it is making the rounds again. Watch out for any request that is supposedly from someone famous. Other famous names impersonated in this scam include musicians Brad Paisley and Elton John, actors Ryan Reynolds, Ryan Gosling, Hugh Jackman, Ben Stiller, and Mark Ruffalo. However, it’s likely many others are out there too.

If you want to donate to any of the wonderful charitable causes out there, go directly to those websites and make your contributions there. Alternatively, send checks to their official addresses from their websites. Never send money to sites that randomly appear on your social media news feeds or on those of famous or well-known people. While it is not out of the question that stars may be trying to help their favorite cause, they won’t directly ask their fans.

If you see a plea for help in your social media feed from one of your contacts, be sure to investigate it before sharing it with yours. If you cannot find a link to someone in your network, perhaps reconsider whether you want to ask your contacts to donate.

Famous people typically don’t communicate with their fans individually to ask for contributions of any kind. In fact, Downey Jr. wrote on his Facebook page: “I will never ever communicate via private chat platforms, and I would never ask individual fans for money for any reason.” He continued, “Any communication from me will originate from my public, verified social media pages, and all fundraising is done via broad, public campaigns.”

Brad Paisley wrote a similar notice when his name was being used for this scam.

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security
September 11, 2107

Equifax Isn’t Calling

Ring, ring. “This is Equifax calling to verify your account information.” Stop. Don’t tell them anything. They’re not from Equifax. It’s a scam. Equifax will not call you out of the blue.

That’s just one scam you might see after Equifax’s recent data breach. Other calls might try to trick you into giving your personal information. Here are some tips for recognizing and preventing phone scams and impostor scams:

– Don’t give personal information. Don’t provide any personal or financial information unless you’ve initiated the call and it’s to a phone number you know is correct.

– Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers can spoof their numbers so it looks like they are calling from a particular company, even when they’re not.

– If you get a robocall, hang up. Don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator or any other key to take your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robocalls.

If you’ve already received a call that you think is fake, report it to the FTC.

If you gave your personal information to an imposter, it’s time to change any compromised passwords, account numbers or security questions. And if you’re concerned about identity theft, visit IdentityTheft.gov to learn how you can protect yourself.

For more information about the Equifax breach, visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com  (This link takes you away from our site. Equifaxsecurity2017.com is not controlled by the FTC.) or contact their call center at 866-447-7559.

Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, Attorney, FTC, Division of Consumer and Business Education
September 14, 2017

Avoid Hurricane Clean-Up Scams

After natural disasters like Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, unlicensed contractors and scammers often come into the affected area promising immediate clean-up and debris removal. Some demand payment up-front for work they never do. Others simply lack the skills, licenses, and insurance to legally do the work.

Here are some tips to protect yourself, your property, and your money:

– Check with local consumer protection officials to find out whether tree and debris removal contractors need to be licensed in your area. If so, check out the license for the contractor you’re considering. Never sign any document or pay any contractor before verifying their license.

– Ask contractors for references and, if possible, call previous clients. Talk with your neighbors about what they’re paying for similar work.

– Write down the contractor’s driver’s license and vehicle information (make, model, and license plate number) in case you need to report the contractor to authorities.

– Ask a contractor to give you their license and certificate of insurance once they are on your property. If a contractor tells you certain work is covered by your insurance, call your insurance company to confirm.

– Get a written estimate and sign a written contract. Make sure it includes a description of the work, the materials included, when the work will be finished, the price, and the address and phone number of the contractor. Read all contracts and make sure all the blanks are filled in before you sign.

– Pay with a credit card or check so you can dispute charge or cancel the payment if there are problems later. Be wary of contractors who ask you to pay them in cash – even for a deposit. Negotiate a reasonable down payment, and only pay in full when the work is done to your satisfaction.

– Trust your gut. If you have any doubts about hiring someone, take your business elsewhere.

– If you have second thoughts about the contractor you hired, you have the right to cancel a contract within three days if you signed it in your home or at a seller’s temporary location, like a hotel room, convention center, or restaurant.

For more information, visit Dealing with Weather Emergencies.

 

by Colleen Tressler, Consumer Education Specialist, FTC
September 12, 2017