Protecting your Credit

credit report 3In these days of high alert for identity fraud, we think it is a smart financial plan to check on your credit report at least once a year. Federal law allows you to annually obtain free copies of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies – Transunion, Equifax and Experian. If more copies in a year are needed, copies may be purchased individually or all 3 together. It may be a good strategy to stagger your requests throughout the year by ordering one report from a different agency every four months. This will help you track any fraudulent account applications or update any discrepancies that you find in your information. You can also elect to freeze your account with one or more of the credit agencies. This prevents anyone from obtaining credit in your name, including you! You can easily un-freeze your account, if applying for credit cards or mortgages, and then re-freeze it when you aren’t using it. It is a great extra safety measure.

There are several ways to obtain your reports and each of them will require a good deal of identity verification. The best way to order is by going online to www.annualcreditreport.com. You can request copies from all three agencies on this same site. You can also go to each credit bureau individually for other products, but they send you to the www.annualcreditreport.com site for your free report. It is important to thoroughly read each page and follow the directions. All three reporting bureaus require a slightly different process and you will follow those processes through one at a time.   You will need to provide your current name, address, date of birth and social security number. If you have lived at your current address less than 2 years, you will need your previous address also. All three reporting agencies also ask you to identify some specific accounts or loans that you have now or may have had in the past in order to authenticate your request. This can really test your memory banks, so if you have a previous credit report handy, it may help you!

Each of the three bureaus will give you your credit report that can and should be either printed or downloaded (or both) at that time. Equifax will let you create an account where you can view your report for up to 30 days. Each credit bureau also has a system for online disputes, if you find an error. Follow the directions within each page.

You may also contact each credit agency directly to request the copy of your report or register a dispute on items that appear in your report. They will require you to send a written authorization letter with copies of 2 forms of ID (SS card and Driver’s license). Each bureau may have slightly different requirements for this.   Please let us know if you find anything on your report that concerns you and DWM will be happy to help. Here’s how to contact the credit agencies directly:

Equifax Information Services                 Experian                                       Transunion

www.equifax.com                               www.experian.com                     www.transunion.com

(866) 229-7861                                    (888) 397-3742                            (800) 916-8800

Schwab Fraud Prevention: A Must-Read for DWM Clients!

Schwab app logoThis month I attended the annual Schwab Solutions event in Chicago. It is an excellent opportunity for DWM to make sure we are up to date on all the recent enhancements to Schwab’s technology offerings, which we offer to our clients. The focus was on cybersecurity and fraud prevention: Cybercrime is now more profitable than the illegal drug trade. That’s scary. In addition, “Financial services firms are hit by security incidents a staggering 300 times more frequently than businesses in other industries, with attack patterns changing frequently to outwit IT pros, according to Websense.” Phil Muncaster, Info Security Magazine. One great way to help prevent fraudulent wires or identity theft is to take advantage of electronic signatures and approvals through the Schwab Alliance website and the Schwab Mobile app on your smartphone. No pen needed! They also have some other really handy features too, like remote deposit (great for those April 14th IRA contributions!). It’s quick, easy, and, most important, secure. Schwab even has a guide that will walk you through setting up both.

On the Schwab Alliance website, you can view real-time information, nickname your accounts, retrieve 1099s, enroll in paperless delivery, approve wires, electronically sign applications, and more. You can even update your contact information (no need to sign a change of address form!)

Schwab also offers a very useful app. As with the website, you can see your Schwab accounts, approve wires, and electronically sign applications. And you can remotely deposit checks. It’s available for iPhone/iPadAndroid, & Kindle.

Schwab screen shot account list             Schwab screen shot check deposit             Schwab screen shot market overview

The electronic approval tools are a key feature of the website and app. It enables you to access forms and wire requests securely by logging directly into Schwab with your credentials, thus helping prevent fraud. Besides coming to sign in person, this is the most secure method. Email was not designed with security in mind, and accounts can be easily hacked. You may not realize what kinds of data a thief could mine from your sent and filed emails. It could be enough for them to commit wire fraud or steal your identity. For this reason, it’s best to avoid using email for anything that contains sensitive information.

So what’s the next step? Follow the guide to set up your Schwab Alliance credentials and app on your phone. Make sure your cell phone number and email address are up to date (which can be done through Schwab Alliance). That’s it! The next time we need you to sign a Schwab form or approve a wire, you will receive an email with a link to the Schwab Alliance login page. You will also receive an alert on your phone screen prompting you to log in to the Schwab Mobile app to approve/sign digitally. It will walk you through the signing or wire process; just click a few buttons and you’re done! We can even include DWM forms in the same ‘envelope’.

We are confident the Schwab Alliance website and mobile app will save you time and give you peace of mind.

 

For more on preventing identity theft and fraud, see my blogs on two-step verification and identity theft.

FRAUD: Protecting Your Identity

Identity theftIt’s probably something you’d rather not think about, but identity theft affects more than 10 million Americans every year and is growing rapidly. If you haven’t been a victim, you probably know someone who has. Thefts range from an unauthorized charge on your credit card to a complete loss of your identity.

Many thieves have financial motives like taking out a loan, opening bank or credit card accounts, or using your account information to create counterfeit checks or cloned ATM cards to drain your accounts. They may use your information to get government benefits like Social Security payments.

Other thieves use your information to get a driver’s license, rent an apartment, open cell phone or utility accounts, or get a job using your social security number. Perhaps the scariest scenario of all: someone gets arrested and gives the police your information. When they don’t show up for court, the arrest warrant is issued in your name.

The good news is there are things you can do to protect yourself:

1.   SHRED everything with sensitive information. (Anything you wouldn’t hand to a total stranger). Ask your accountant how many years of tax returns to keep, and shred the oldest year’s return and related records each time a new one is filed. Shred old statements and credit card offers. Don’t leave receipts at ATMs or gas pumps.

2.   SHOPPING ONLINE is safe as long as you are on a secure website. The internet address should start with “https” and have a padlock icon in the lower right hand corner.

3.   COMPUTER SECURITY: Use anti-malware/spyware and anti-virus programs and keep them up to date. This will prevent hackers and malicious software programs from gathering data unbeknownst to you.

4.   TELEPHONE SCAMS: Never give out information to someone who calls you claiming to be from your credit card company, bank, etc. If they are legitimate they already have that information. Call the company yourself using a phone number from the back of your credit card or bank statement.

5.   In PHISHING SCAMS a thief sends a legitimate-looking email from a company you have an account with and asks you to reply with information or click on a link. Instead, contact the company directly through the website or phone number you would usually use. Watch which website you go to: there are scammers who set up websites that look legitimate but aren’t. (ie Visa.biz or BankatAmerica.com)

6.   USE A SAFE for all your important documents including your social security card. Keep your birth certificate, passport and other identifying documents in a bolted-down safe at home and use the hotel safe when you’re travelling. Losing any of these documents makes it extremely easy for someone to steal your identity.

 7.   CREDIT FILES can be protected by placing a security freeze on your credit reports. When a freeze is set at all three credit bureaus, a thief cannot open a new account because the potential creditor will not be able to check the credit file. When you need to apply for credit, you can lift the freeze temporarily. See: www.equifax.com, www.experian.com, and www.transunion.com.

8.   Order a free CREDIT REPORT through www.AnnualCreditReport.com from one of the three agencies every four months. You are entitled to one free copy a year from each agency so you can rotate your requests. Watch activity and check for inaccuracies. Also, be sure to close credit accounts you don’t want; don’t just cut the cards up.

9.   BE AWARE of who’s around when you are at an ATM, on the phone, or online in public. Someone may be eavesdropping. Hackers can steal personal information from nearby laptops and smartphones. Set a strong password (a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols) on these devices that automatically locks after a certain period of inactivity.

10.   MAIL envelopes with any sensitive information from a Post Office mailbox or secure mail slot, not your home mailbox where mail could be stolen. Eliminate credit solicitations by ‘opting out’ with companies you do business with and sign up for the Do Not Mail (www.directmail.com) and Do Not Call registries (www.donotcall.gov).

This is one situation where Ben Franklin’s old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly good advice.