Friday April 18, 2014
With all of the data and security breaches lately, you may wonder what you can do to protect yourself from identity theft.
The main thing is to keep an eye on your account activity and check your credit reports regularly. If you want to step it up a notch (or more), you can also take measures to protect your credit information. Experian just published a nice infographic that explains how you can do that and compares the features of two approaches: a credit freeze and a fraud alert.
Credit freezes and fraud alerts can help protect you, but they're not perfect. For starters, you never know when an identity thief will try to use your information (even if it was just stolen recently it might not get used for years). Fraud alerts might expire before anything happens, but you can set long-term alerts if you've been a victim of identity theft. Credit freezes, on the other hand, will protect you indefinitely, but your credit will be locked down; you won't be able to borrow money, and other organizations will have a hard time conducting background checks (a potential employer, for example) while the freeze is in place.
Remember that your credit isn't the only thing that thieves are interested in. They also want to get into your bank accounts and other accounts, so keep an eye out for suspicious transactions anywhere you have assets.
Tuesday April 15, 2014
Heartbleed is the latest threat to your identity and online security, and it's worth paying attention to. However, as in many cases, there's little that you can do besides monitor your accounts for suspicious activity (and change passwords after websites have updated their systems).
Fortunately, as the Washington Post reports, "many of the Web's most critical sites -- those belonging to banks and governments -- were not vulnerable to Heartbleed in the first place." So your bank account is probably safe from a direct attack. Things are a lot less safe if you used the same password for your bank and other online services.
Soon, all of this will be behind us -- or it will seem to be. The headlines will move on to other topics, but the stolen information will still be out there, and thieves will be doing the best they can with it. As Money Talks News explains, this is just "the beginning of phishing season." Changing your passwords is prudent, but you really need to stay alert in the coming years and months because that's when things will start happening.
Get in the habit of suspecting that most email messages are bogus, and think twice before giving out information to any inbound callers as well.
Thursday April 10, 2014
Want to know how your prepaid debit card stacks up? Are you paying too much in fees?
It's tough to find out without going through the fee sheets of numerous cards. But that's exactly what Bankrate did as part of the 2014 Prepaid Debit Cards Survey. They looked at 30 cards with a focus on monthly fees, ATM fees, and purchase fees (there are about a million different types of prepaid card fees out there).
Prepaid cards have a reputation for being expensive, but Bankrate provides some statistics that are encouraging: 33% of the cards studied will waive monthly fees if you load enough onto the card each month. That's a great way to keep prepaid cards from costing an arm an a leg -- assuming you don't pay fees every month to load the card (direct deposit and electronic transfers are often free).
Tuesday April 8, 2014
"Grey charges" are charges to your credit or debit card that you probably don't notice. They're not exactly fraudulent charges, but they are questionable. They may look small at first glance, but according to Equifax and BillGuard, those fees can add up to $500 or more over the course of a year.
What exactly are grey charges? They're charges that you've unwittingly authorized, but that you don't get anything from. For example, you might sign up for a free trial with the intention of cancelling after the trial period. If you're like most people, you'll forget to cancel, and you'll pay small fees until you remember that you need to cancel your subscription.
The best way to avoid paying these charges is to understand what they are and watch your account activity. The Equifax Finance Blog describes numerous examples of grey charges, and reading through the list may help you identify a few leaks in your budget. The most important thing to do is review your accounts regularly and investigate anything that doesn't make sense; even if it seems like a small dollar amount, the costs will add up over time.