How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

Chances are, you or someone you know has had their identity stolen at one point or Image of Man cloning credit informationanother.  It can be expensive, stressful and extremely complicated to recover from.  Here are seven ways to help protect yourself and your most important data from identity thieves.

Secure Your Hardcopies

Most of us think of identity theft as a digital crime, but many thieves are just as eager to get their hands on your paper documents.  While online accounts are password-protected, important paper documents are often left in a drawer or simply tossed in the trash, where dumpster-diving thieves can find them.

What’s the solution?  Buy a safe and a shredder.  What’s not shredded goes in the safe. Of course, the same level of care should go into protecting your physical credit cards.  Don’t put your wallet in your back pocket. Make it a habit to check to see you have all your cards and IDs when you get home at the end of the day.  This will help you be aware of missing items earlier so you can cancel lost or stolen cards before too much damage is done.

Examine Your Financial Statements

Reviewing your financial statements is a good practice.  Not only will this help you track financial habits, it will also alert you to any fraudulent charges.  Credit unions and banks do a lot to protect consumers from fraud and identity theft, but only you know what you purchased and what you didn’t, so look closely at those statements!

Choose Good Passwords

Many people have one simple password they use for all devices and platforms.  This is convenient, but dangerous. Yes, there is reason to worry that having multiple hard-to-remember passwords may make it more difficult for you to access your own accounts, but potential identity thieves will have a more difficult time too.

If you’re worried about remembering your own passwords, check out these easy and safe ways to store your passwords from Gizmodo.

Protect Your Computer

Malware is just one way identity thieves steal your data.  Invest in a good and reputable antispyware program to make sure your hardware is safe from invaders.

Another way to protect your computer is to encrypt your hard drive.  Apple computers and PCs alike will offer the option to encrypt all data in your hard drive.  Go to your security settings and choose to activate the encryption option.

Be Aware of Suspicious Emails and Websites

If an email looks suspicious, it probably is. Make your email inbox a tightly curated collection.  If you have too many promotional emails, start clicking the unsubscribe button.  This will help you spot suspicious, unsolicited mails.

The same goes for websites.  Your browser or antivirus software may try and warn you about suspicious websites before you enter them.  Don’t disregard those warnings.

Use Two-Factor Identification

The most convenient option is not always the most secure, but given the choice between convenience and security, your best bet is the more secure one.  Two-factor identification for email accounts and other important online accounts will add an extra step to the security process for log-ins, most often making use of your phone number as well.

Secure Your Wi-Fi and Avoid Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is often insecure and can be a great way for thieves to get to your data.  Steer clear if you can.  If you have no choice, be sure to avoid all online banking or password logins while using public Wi-Fi.  Additionally, be sure to secure your own home Wi-Fi with a unique and hard-to-guess password.

SOURCES:
http://www.identitytheftkiller.com/10-ways-to-avoid-id-theft.php 

https://www.wikihow.com/Prevent-Identity-Theft

Protecting Yourself Against Card Cracking Scams

In a recent scam targeting cash-strapped millennials, fraudsters are once again cashingImage of man touching fraud prevention icon in on people’s naivety and goodwill. Only this time they’re using social media to make it happen.

What makes the scam especially cruel is that fraudsters specifically look for victims who are short on funds, such as students with large loans hanging over their heads, struggling single parents or young professionals searching for a job. People who are desperate for cash also prove to be desperate enough to believe almost anything that will help them earn them a quick buck. Unfortunately, this vulnerability, coupled with the broad reach and easy plundering that scammers are granted by using social media, has made card cracking more successful in luring victims than many other scams.

Card cracking scams start with an innocent-looking social media post that appears like the dozens you scroll through every day. The post may show up on the victim’s Twitter feed, Facebook page or on Instagram, and it will always showcase some form of quick cash. It might be an easy-to-win contest with a huge reward for the winner. It can be a dream job that will instantly be yours – as soon as you follow the instructions. It may even be a complete giveaway, such as a cash bonus or a gift card that you’ll be granted just for sharing some information. If you click on the embedded link, you’ll be asked for your checking account information, your PIN or your online banking credentials.

Once the scammers have this information, they can do any number of things with their prize, from withdrawing large sums of cash from your account to using your debit card number for a massive shopping spree. They may even help themselves to funds you have in your account, such as a paycheck or student loan.

In another iteration of card cracking, scammers will tug on victims’ heartstrings, claiming their personal accounts are frozen and they have no access to money. They’ll ask the victim to allow them to access the victim’s account for simple transactions such as depositing checks. Once the checks are in, the scammer will cash in on the amount, and a few days later, when the check bounces, the scammer will be long gone. This variation is sometimes played out in person, on college campuses.

In yet a third scheme, card crackers promise victims a cut of fraudulent funds if the victim allows them to use their account. Victims often rationalize this crime by assuring themselves that they’re not actually playing a part in the fraud. Of course, they will still be held accountable when the scammers are busted.

Sadly, falling victim to a scam can be especially harmful for a millennial who is just beginning to build their credit history.

Don’t be the next victim. Here’s how to protect yourself from card cracking:

1.) Never share personal information with a stranger

You’ve heard it a thousand times, but this rule cannot be overstated. Never share sensitive information with a correspondent whose identity you can not verify with absolute certainty. You wouldn’t think of giving your checking account number to a solicitor you met on the street; why would you share it with a stranger online?

Of course, victims of card cracking and similar schemes believe the scammers are legitimate. That’s why it’s important to authenticate a web address, company or offer by asking for a street address or phone number. Additionally, by educating yourself about these scams, you’ll be able to spot one immediately.

2.) When it’s too good to be true, it usually is

Remembering this rule of thumb will go a long way toward helping you recognize scammers. Free or easy money exists only in fairy tales. Don’t believe the Facebook post that promises you’ll land that dream job you’ve been searching for if you only hand over your account passwords. Ignore the offer for a free gift card and don’t believe the sob story about frozen accounts leaving people penniless.

3.) Never cash a check for someone else

You are not a credit union or a check-cashing business. If someone approaches you in person or online and asks you to cash a check for them, politely refuse. Unless you would trust this person with your life, there is no reason to believe their tale is legitimate or that their check will be honored.

4.) Report suspicious activity

If you notice any suspicious activity on your account, report it immediately. You may have fallen prey to a card cracking scam and you don’t even know it!

Scammers may be smart, but you can be smarter. When you’re educated, alert and aware, you’ll be able to spot most scams before it’s too late.

Your Turn: Have you recently spotted any card cracking scams on your social media platforms? Share what tipped you off in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://info.rippleshot.com/blog/what-you-need-to-know-about-card-cracking 

https://www.google.com/search?q=card+cracking+scam&rlz=1CDGOYI_enUS753US753&oq=card+cracking&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l3.10532j0j7&hl=en-US&sourceid=chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8 
https://www.nextadvisor.com/blog/2016/07/18/know-about-card-cracking-scams/

Surviving the Holidays With Your Sanity Intact

The holiday season is a special time. With Charlie Brown on TV and carols on the radio, Image of cookies in the shape of a sleighand an ever-growing list of people to shop for, it’s easy to get carried away.  The pressure to over-shop and overspend when you’re rushing to buy everything on your list can be overwhelming. No worries, though; we’ve got you covered! Read on for fantastic pre-and post-holiday tips to ensure you’ll have a holly, jolly December without breaking the bank.

6 Pre-Holidays Tips

Revise your gift list

Gift giving is a treasured tradition, but chances are, lots of the people you exchange gifts with would be as relieved as you’d be to be taken off your list. Narrow down your gift list. Talk to coworkers and acquaintances about just exchanging cards this year, or make a deal to only exchange homemade or inexpensive gifts.

This way, you can focus on buying special gifts for those closest to you instead of generic gifts for everyone you’ve ever met and their cousins, too.

 Organize a Yankee Swap or Secret Santa

Still got a list that’s a mile long? Try one of these creative solutions! A Yankee Swap or a Secret Santa activity not only saves money and stress, it adds a bit of intrigue and playfulness to the holiday. These swaps are great for family gatherings, office parties and neighborhood get-togethers.  Everyone involved only needs to bring a single gift – and it’s always fun.

Set a reasonable price cap on gifts so no one ends up leaving with a candy cane while the person next to them hauls off a flat-screen TV.  You can check out online tips for organizing a fun and affordable Yankee Swap or Secret Santa.

Bake holiday treats

Another great way to reduce the financial weight of your gift list is to break out the baking supplies and start whipping up your own holiday treats instead of buying gifts.

It’s hard to know exactly what your friend will like as a gift, but no one turns down a tin of homemade holiday cookies! Use your favorite traditional recipes, or try something new and different.

 Make a budget and stick to it

This tip sounds a bit obvious.  After all, we all plan to stick to a budget, right?  But make this the year it really happens!

Don’t set yourself a ballpark budget.  Set an absolute limit to how much you will spend on the holidays this season.  This will encourage you to plan your spending rather than grabbing impulse items as you move through a store.  It will also encourage you to look for great deals, which brings us to our next tip.

 Make use of holiday deals….but don’t get distracted

It’s easy to become hypnotized by deals. Prices drop and we go wild, spending more than we originally intended because we don’t want to miss out on those “crazy, low holiday prices.”

Take a deep breath.  Make use of these deals wisely by buying items on your list at a discounted price.  But don’t be tantalized by the deals to the point that you buy things you don’t really need….or even want.

 Rethink giving

We know that the holidays are all about giving – but giving doesn’t need to mean spending money.  Instead of running to the mall again, think of other ways you can give that will help improve your community, make the world a better place, and truly brighten someone’s holiday.

It’s the perfect time of year to volunteer at local soup kitchens, homeless shelters and charity organizations. This kind of giving doesn’t cost a dime, but can be a memorable and significant experience for all involved.

To find local volunteer opportunities, click here.

Post-Holiday Tips

Use those gift cards

Gift cards are a typical holiday gift, but many people forget they have them, and they go unused.

Put all of your gift cards in your wallet and spend them creatively.  Maybe you don’t care for coffee on the go, but you can buy a package of ground coffee beans at Starbucks and use it at home.  Use that iTunes gift card to rent a movie instead of taking the family out.  Whatever it might be, use these gift cards and appreciate them for what they are – money in your wallet.

Invest in next year’s regifting effort

In addition to gift cards, you’ll probably find yourself with a bunch of gifts you don’t really want.  Some of these can be saved and re-gifted next year or used as birthday gifts throughout the year – scented candles, bottles of wine, bath products, etc.  Even if you don’t actually want it, you can find someone else who does!

Why Do I Need To Get Preapproved For A Loan?

Q: I’m in the market for a new home, and everyone I talk to, from friends to financial Home with Sold Sign in frontadvisors, suggests I get preapproved for a mortgage before I start house hunting. Why is this so important?

A: You’re actually on the receiving end of great advice. When looking to take out a large loan, whether it’s for purchasing a home or buying a car, having that preapproval in hand before you start your search is crucial.

Depending upon the type of loan, the process of getting preapproved for a loan can take time. The lender will begin by asking for your financial history and other personal information. If you have a co-borrower, the lender will need this information about them as well.

You’ll be asked to provide your Social Security Number (SSN) and for permission to allow the lender to access your credit report. If the information you provide is satisfactory, as is your credit report, the lender will begin constructing the details of your loan. When they have determined how large of a loan you will be eligible for, they will grant you a preapproval letter. The letter will also detail your estimated interest rate on the loan, though that will sometimes also depend upon the specifics of your purchase, such as the year and condition of a car or appraisal on a home.

Having your preapproval letter will shorten the loan process significantly when you’re actually ready to take out the loan. However, that is only a small benefit of getting preapproved before you start “shopping.”

Here are some other advantages of getting preapproved for a loan:

1.) You’ll know what you can afford

Your preapproval will tell you exactly what you can afford. This way, you’ll avoid being disappointed later when you have your heart set on a certain home only to be told you can’t swing it financially. Knowing how large a loan you’ll qualify for will simplify your search and get you into your new home or car sooner.

Be sure to calculate other monthly costs, such as property taxes, home insurance and increased auto insurance rates when determining the actual amount of money you’ll need to shell out each month.

2.) Don’t get taken for a ride

Picture this scene at a car dealership:

Salesperson: So, you’re here to buy a new car! What are you looking for?

You: Well, I want something with a smooth ride and –

Salesperson: Got it. And how much of a monthly payment can you afford?

You: Weeelll, I think I can swing up to $200 a month, but I’d rather something closer to $150 if you —

Salesperson: Step right this way please! Let me show our new line of Camrys at just $205 a month! They have the most luxurious feel and the ride is smooth as butter!

What happened here is, quite simply, a salesperson looking to make the most money out of a customer. When you’re unsure about how much you can spend, the dealer will capitalize on your uncertainty and try to sell you a car that just barely skims the maximum amount you’ve decided you can afford.

Also, when you name a monthly payment you can manage, the dealer will work with that number instead of talking about the price of the car. They may try to inflate the payment with charges and fees just because they fit within your named payment amount.

In contrast, when you show up at the dealer with a preapproval in hand, the salesman will have to show you cars with price tags that fit within your loan amount.

Don’t get taken for a ride; get your preapproval before you set foot in the dealer shop!

3.) Be taken seriously

A car dealer will take you a lot more seriously when you wave that preapproval in their face, since having that information in hand shows you’re ready to buy.

When purchasing a home, the same rule holds true. A realtor will be able to assist you more efficiently when you know exactly how much house you can afford. They may also give you better service since you’re showing that you’re serious about buying a home. In fact, many realtors refuse to show homes to buyers who don’t have a preapproval in hand.

4.) Know you have financing you can trust

When you show up at the car dealership with a preapproval from your credit union, you know the deal is in your best interest. Many auto shops have access to several financing options and they’re almost always going to put customers into financing options that are in their own wallet’s best interests.

5.) Purchase your dream home

A preapproval makes you a valuable customer. It also helps you stand out from the pack. If you’re looking to buy a home in a competitive market, you may be competing with several other buyers for the same house. Having your preapproval will give you a leg up on bidding wars. A seller will be more eager to work with someone who’s already started the mortgage process. You can end your search sooner with a preapproval!

In the market for a new home or car? Don’t forget to call, click, or stop by Destinations Credit Union to hear about our fantastic rates on mortgage and auto loans!

Your Turn: Based on your own experience, why do you think it’s important to get preapproved for a loan? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://www.investopedia.com/mortgage/pre-approval/ 

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/advantages-of-getting-pre-approved-for-a-car-loan/
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.zillow.com/mortgage-learning/pre-approval/amp/