Category Archives: Consumer Remedies

As Target breach grows, retailer embraces security options

Target’s data breach over the holiday season turned out to span far wider than the original numbers estimated.  The major retailer said the breach that happened between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, 2013 compromised the financial information of approximately 40 million shoppers shortly after the breach occurred. Recently, the company informed consumers that it had uncovered an additional 70 million to 110 million customers who may have had their names, mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses stolen.

The data stolen from Target was originally thought to come from the terminals where customers swipe credit and debit cards. The retailer said originally that the only information affected was the information stored in the magnetic strips on the back of customers’ cards. The retailer learned shortly after that customers’ encrypted PIN data had also been obtained. The latest revelation by Target is raising more concerns because personal information isn’t stored on the magnetic strips on credit and debit cards.

Target’s data breach has severely impacted the company and will continue to as long as more information about the breach becomes known. The retailer has apologizes to customers for the broadening violations of customers’ private information.

“I know that it is frustrating for our guests to learn that this information was taken, and we are truly sorry they are having to endure this,” Gregg W. Steinhafel, Target’s chief executive, said in a statement to the New York Times.

Target is now offering free credit monitoring and identity theft protection to customer’s for one-year free.  The one-year offer includes a credit report, daily credit monitoring, identity theft resolution, identity theft insurance and ProtectMyID ExtendCARE, personalized assistance from a highly-trained Fraud Resolution Agent after the one-year period expires.

Target has listed tips for customers who wish to protect their information:

“Never share information with anyone over the phone, email or text, even if they claim to be someone you know or do business with. Instead, ask for a call-back number. Delete texts immediately from numbers or names you don’t recognize. Be wary of emails that ask for money or send you to suspicious websites. Don’t click links within emails you don’t recognize.”

A FAQ page has been set up on Target’s website to deal with information regarding the data breach and information related to other scams.

U.S. Senate Launches Anti-Fraud Hotline

Victims of fraud are increasing on a daily basis. Everyone is a target, but some people are more at risk than others. Elderly people, lonely people, and immigrants are often targets of fraudulent activity. Scams to get credit card and other financial information include email scams for moving large amounts of money, phone calls asking for financial information because a loved one is in trouble, and online matchmaking gone horribly wrong.

People have lost their livelihoods by falling victim to these scams and schemes. The United States Senate wants to put a stop to them and wants to help victims of fraud, especially elderly victims.  A new anti-fraud hotline has been unveiled to make it easier for senior citizens to report suspected fraud and to receive assistance.

“If you Continue reading U.S. Senate Launches Anti-Fraud Hotline

College, credit and identity theft

credit card scams

Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links, which help to support this site. However, all opinions expressed are 100% my own.

This post will be a little more personal in nature.  Recently I went shopping with my 25 year old son, who is getting ready to embark on the grand adventure of marriage.  Together we visited the jewelry stores.  He was hoping to find the perfect engagement ring to give to his soon to be fiance (we were pretty sure she would say yes) and I was there to negotiate the best price.  Finding the perfect ring we discuss the price.  Once we get the price the store was ready to accept we now have to find out the best way to pay for this item.

Like many college students (he graduates this December as he worked full time his way through college) he didn’t have the amount saved because every penny counts.  Having never had any credit since his car was paid for (thank you grandma and grandpa), as was his housing and other expenses we thought now would be a good time to begin to build it.  After all the cost of the ring was not that bad and it would be a good way to get started on the way to responsible credit use. Getting his bonuses over the next six months and each of them could pay for the expense, he decided to fill out the application.  After all, who knows a few years from now the next thing I hope to help him find is a new house (somewhere closer than 1900 miles away).

“I’m sorry, you weren’t approved,” the salesperson tells us.  Crushed, he quickly becomes curious, and asked to see the denial.

Lesson no. 1 If denied credit always ask to see the written response, you may be surprised.

The denial says he has unpaid credit card bills and outstanding credit (not outstanding as in really good either!).  But how can this be he asks.  Other than his monthly cell phone bill he has not had any credit cards, no monthly payments.  Not even student loans, because although he took one out his first year they are deferral because he is in school.   “Mom! What do I do?”

Lesson no. 2 Run your credit report immediately.  He can start with his free credit report, but considering these circumstances he may want to use a service like CreditSesame because they also offer additional services to help him stay on top of his credit rating.

We ran his credit report and now the work really begins.   It’s time to clean it up.  There are a number of different problems with it, from fraudulent use of his name, Social Security Number, creation of a new identity using his old address and of course the big problem, unpaid items of credit, whether it was a fast cash item or credit card.   “How did this happen?” he wonders.

Lesson no. 3 It can happen a number of ways from old mail, credit card offers in the mail, his Social Security Number used at the college or even a so called friend or roommate which had access to his information.  Stolen wallets, filled out forms, responding to spam messages, there are a whole number of different ways that this happens.  Maybe he was just unlucky.  Most identity theft takes bits and pieces of the true to create a “new you.”  That’s where this gets messy.

What can you do?  Now it’s time to take action.  Either file a dispute through the credit monitoring service that you are using or grab some pen and paper and do it the old fashioned way.   Either way you need to contact the credit reporting agencies with the information that is incorrect, correct it and include any proof that you may be able to provide.

Lesson. no 4 Some say you can file with just one agency and that all the information will be sent to all three.  However, to be safe I recommended that my son send the information to each of them if he didn’t want to file it online.

Here are some sample letters to use when filing your dispute.

Should you take the snail mail route here are the mailing addresses for each of the three reporting agencies.

TransUnion
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834

Experian
P.O. Box 9530
Allen, TX 75013

Equifax
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374

Remember mistakes can be made on anyone’s credit report but it has been reported that identity theft is on the rise for college students, so pass this information on to them so that they know what to do.

 

Combating Harmful Debt Collection Practices: Debt Collectors Respond

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has put debt collection companies on notice against harmful debt collection practices. CFPB has also released new tools to help consumers communicate with debt collectors and resolve collection complaints.

CFPB explains that most collection firms treat consumers fairly, but the ones that don’t “can cause financial harm to consumers and undermine the financial marketplace.” The bureau is in the business of protecting consumers. It warns debt collectors that “any entity that is subject to the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 is legally required to refrain from committing unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices that would violate the Act.”

The “Action Letters” Continue reading Combating Harmful Debt Collection Practices: Debt Collectors Respond

When, where, why and how: Credit fraud alerts

credit freeze Have you ever received a letter in the mail from a store, service or bank that warned you that their security measures had been breached but they are sure that your information remained safe and secure?  Did you take their word for it?  Or maybe you did a cursory search of your credit or debit card statement immediately after receiving it just to make sure there were no unnecessary chargers.   Checking for charges is good, but setting up a credit fraud alert may be even better, if not safer.

What is a credit fraud alert?  A credit fraud alert can be set initially for 90 days.  By providing a telephone number, during that time whenever someone tries to open a new account in your name or extend the credit limit to existing accounts you will be contacted.   Don’t worry though, because you can put a code on the account which will lift the alert for legitimate requests that you, a business or a bank is making on your behalf.    Extended alerts as well as alerts specifically designed for active duty military.

Extended alerts are recommended in the event that you have been a victim of identity theft or fraud.  Those may last up to 7 years.  You may also request an additional free credit report when placing an alert on your credit, with access to one free for the 90 alerts and two free available to you for the extended alerts.

Although they are crafted to last for 90 days to 7 years, you can modify or lift your alert prior to the scheduled end date.

Once your receive your credit reports be sure to look for:

  • accounts you did not apply for or open 
  • information about current accounts that is incorrect (such as change of address or balance)
  • unexplained outstanding balances, and;
  • incorrect factual information such as your Social Security Number, names, address or employer.

You can place a credit fraud alert on your credit report by Continue reading When, where, why and how: Credit fraud alerts

Managing Your Financial Security in the Era of Google Wallet

New financial services can keep you secure, or put you at risk

Tech bloggers fantasize about the days when wallets will be obsolet e— all your business cards, photos, credit cards, and ID will be stored on your smartphone.

While this can make your financial life more risky, it can actually be a more secure way to do business with the right precautions—after all, you can’t password-protect your wallet. Here are a few ways you can turn your phone into a secure financial tool.

Keep your phone password protected

If this seems like a no-brainer, you’re on the right track; increasingly, smartphones have become the main access point for our personal and financial information, and the most minimal security you can apply is password protection. It won’t interfere with your ability to accept incoming calls (although, if you really want to lock your phone up tight, you can require a PIN even to answer the phone), and it can be an effective way to keep your credit card information secure. The odds of guessing a random 4-digit PIN are 1 in 10,000, which will at least give you time to shut down your phone if it’s lost or stolen.

Of course, you should never use your bank PIN, your birthday, or digits from your Social Security number.

Change your bank password every three months

While attempts at “brute force” password guessing are rare, they happen; and they’re a lot easier to accomplish if you give identity thieves time to work on your password. By changing your password every three months, you make long-term efforts to guess your password much more difficult.

Use longer, easy-to-remember passwords

Unfortunately, much of our received wisdom on the strength of passwords is inaccurate. While including uppercase letters, numerals, and symbols can increase your password strength to some extent, the best way to strengthen your password is simply to make it longer, because each additional character in your password makes it 26 times more difficult to guess. Of course, a gibberish password of the same length will be more secure, but you’ll likely be tempted to write it down, which is the easiest way to make all that effort useless.

Keep track of all apps with which you’ve shared financial information

If you’re sharing bank information with Amazon, the App Store, Mint, etc. for mobile payments, you should be sure that you know exactly what you’ve shared with each one. Check each app’s terms of service and privacy policy, if there is one. Of course, if they don’t have a privacy policy or legal documentation, you shouldn’t share any personal information.

Have a shutdown app in case you lose your phone

There are several apps available for Android and iOS devices that allow you to remotely lock down your phone if it’s lost or stolen. You can change your password, shut down your phone, or even wipe your phone’s memory completely, with a single call. Most of these options require a security subscription, so you should weigh whether the information on your phone is sensitive enough to warrant that kind of protection; but if you’re a small-business owner with sensitive work information on your phone or tablet, it might be worth the price.

Be very careful about jailbreaking your phone

The trouble with jailbreaking phones is that it provides quite a lot of code in which malware can hide. The safest option, of course, is to leave it alone completely; but if you’re determined, here are a few tips to keep your data more secure.

  • Don’t download a jailbreak from a source you don’t trust.
  • To be safe, you should reset your phone to manufacturer settings before even attempting a jailbreak.
  • Before allowing someone else to jailbreak your phone, make sure you know where they’re getting their code.

Shawna Davies is a staff writer for Going Cellular. She has a talent for organization and helping people navigate new technology. She’s a confessed gadget freak, but when she gets out of the house, she loves spending time at the lake with her husband and teenage son. They live in Beaumont, Texas.

The views and opinions expressed in this guest post
are those of the author and may or may not reflect the views
and opinions of IdentityTheftSecrets, it’s staff, affiliates,
or partners.

The Real Deal: PayPal Phishing Scam

Do you ever check you “spam” mail box before deleting it?   I do, if nothing else it’s good for a laugh as I am promised long lasting sexual experiences and beautiful brides from Russia, not to mention the millions of dollars I’ll receive just for helping some poor soul out with a money laundering scheme where there really is no money to be laundered.   I also find some things that never should have made their way in there, so it’s nice to know there is a place where I can check in and judge for myself.

Yesterday I found a message which appeared to be from PayPal.  And, wow it was GOOD!  This was quite possibly the most well done phishing scam message I have ever gotten.   It includes the images from PayPal, the mailing address, the correct grammar and punctuation and even the correct domain name.  It warned me of an impending problem with my account and that I needed to log in to resolve it, while providing a helpful link to use.

I didn’t panic, but I did wonder.   First, why DID this go to my Spam mailbox?  Other PayPal notices came to this email address and I receive them.   Did the email service detect something that I didn’t?  Next, I realized that, I never receive official PayPal notices at this email account. It’s a secondary one set up for things like ebay purchases and sales.  While I may receive notice of a payment, I never receive official statements about my account. Those all go to my primary email address.

I thought, what’s one more day. If there is something wrong with the account, I can fix it tomorrow.  But in the meantime I’m going to report this to PayPal and tell them why.  I sent the message to spoof@paypal.com (I have the address saved in my address book but you can also get questions answered online).

Today here’s my response:

Hello xxxx xxxxx,

Thanks for forwarding that suspicious-looking email. You’re right – it
was a phishing attempt, and we’re working on stopping the fraud. By
reporting the problem, you’ve made a difference!

Identity thieves try to trick you into revealing your password or other
personal information through phishing emails and fake websites. To learn
more about online safety, click “Security Center” on any PayPal webpage.

Every email counts. When you forward suspicious-looking emails to
spoof@paypal.com, you help keep yourself and others safe from identity
theft.

Your account security is very important to us, so we appreciate your
extra effort.

Thanks,

PayPal

This email is sent to you by the contracting entity to your User
Agreement, either PayPal Ince, PayPal Pte. Ltd or PayPal (Europe) S.à
r.l. & Cie, S.C.A. Société en Commandite par Actions, Registered Office:
5th Floor 22-24 Boulevard Royal L-2449, Luxembourg RCS Luxembourg B 118
349.

So if it looks suspicious it probably is.  It doesn’t hurt to think about your emails before you click that link, open that image or pass it along.   I caught it this time.  Hopefully by being aware of what’s out there I will catch any attempts at a phishing scam again.

Unsolicited credit cards: What to do with them and who is “offering” them

Do you always open all your mail?   Or do you get busy and assume that it’s junk mail or just another credit card offer?  Today I saw a news cast on one very good reason why you should always open your mail and read the fine print.

10TV.com reported on a Columbus, Ohio man who recently opened his mail to find, not just a credit card offer, but a credit card.  A credit card that he never asked for or completed an application for.   But here it is.

Reading through the letter that accompanied his brand new Discover Card he finds out that his particular membership at Sam’s Club includes a Discover Card, unless you “opt -out” either when registering your Sam’s Club membership or when sent a letter which let’s you know you were approved and your credit card is on its way.

Sam’s Club is not the only store that offers this type of “service.”  Macy’s customers found that they had become the not so proud owners of Citibank MasterCards.   Apparently, 3.5 million Macy’s customers were issued the Citibank MasterCard that they could use anywhere, since they were already users (in same cases even inactive users0 of the Macy’s store credit card.  JC Penny, Sears, and Target have also performed a similar service.

Isn’t receiving an unsolicited credit card against the many credit card laws that are meant to protect consumers?   Continue reading Unsolicited credit cards: What to do with them and who is “offering” them

New law regarding use of Social Security numbers

In this day and age, when you think of identity theft you automatically think about computers and losing your personal information over the web, but there are of course many other ways you could have your identity stolen. Aside from computers, the easiest way to have your identity stolen is through the use of physical media like your driver’s license, Social Security card, or your Medicare card, and this is why one Senator is fighting to have Social Security numbers removed from important documents.

The fight for change

If you carry your Social Security card around with you and you have your wallet, or purse stolen then the thief would easily be able to steal your identity. Most people now leave their SS cards at home, but what about the millions of people who are currently on Medicare?

Citizens who currently participate in the Medicare program have to carry around their Medicare card with them. The Medicare card has each users Social Security number printed on the card, which is obviously a major cause for concern. Luckily one Senator has seen the light, and they are now working towards changing this.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, (Democrat from New York) is seeking to prohibit the use of Social Security numbers on Medicare cards. Senator Gillibrand is shocked that the Medicare cards still have patients Social Security numbers, and dates of birth on them. Gillibrand said that use of Social Security numbers on the Medicare cards puts millions of people at a majorly enhanced risk when it comes to identity theft, and she is hoping that the new bill will put an end to the use of Social Security numbers on the cards.

A new plan for protection Continue reading New law regarding use of Social Security numbers

Debt Settlement Vs Bankruptcy: Choose The Right Option

Choosing between debt settlement and bankruptcy is a hard nut to crack when your debts are skyrocketing. However, it is significant to know that though both debt settlement and bankruptcy are there to help you get out of debt, they work in their own way and obviously have separate consequences. Therefore, it is very important to consider your options and the outcomes carefully before choosing one to get relief from your debt burden.

Know the Purposes of Debt Settlement and Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy and debt settlement more or less do the same thing. They help you get rid of your unsecured debts, such as personal loan or credit card debt. Both in bankruptcy and in debt settlement, you pay your creditors an amount less than you primarily owed.

Debt Settlement
In a debt settlement procedure, you come to an understanding with your creditors and pay an amount lower than the initial debt. The creditor, however, forgives the remaining amount. You either can hire a debt settlement company to do this for you or can also attempt to settle yourself. However, before choosing a debt settlement company, make sure it is legitimate by checking with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Personal Bankruptcy
Bankruptcy filing is a court procedure that you undertake in order to shed off your debts. In a personal bankruptcy, the court determines how you will pay off your creditors. If you file a chapter 7 bankruptcy, your all non-exempt property is sold and the liquid cash is distributed to the creditors. While in a chapter 13, the court designs a repayment plan. A debtor, having a steady source of income must repay the debts within 5 years.

Effects on your Credit Score
Engaging with a debt settlement program may or may not affect your credit score. If you make some late payments and/ or carrying high balances in your credit cards, you credit score may spoil. A successful debt settlement, however, can help you save thousands of dollars, avoid bankruptcy and become debt free within one or two years.

On the contrary, filing a bankruptcy stays on your credit report for up to 10 years from the date of discharge. During that time, if you reach out to a lender for a personal loan, he/ she may decline or charge higher interest rates because of the bankruptcy on your credit report.

In Conclusion

Considering all of these factors, it’s up to you decide which is right for you.

However, generally speaking, unless you are in serious debt with no way out, it is better to try debt restructuring before filing bankruptcy.