Don’t Get Tricked: Identity Protection Tips You Need

A woman sits on a gray couch with a laptop on her lap, drinking a cup of coffee

The weather is turning, fall is in the air, and Halloween is around the corner—which means it’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. How can you ensure October is full of treats while not falling for any scammers’ tricks? By arming yourself with these identity protection tips.

Every American should understand the basics of identity theft protection. According to the most recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 10% of people 16 and older have been the victim of identity theft. That’s why we’re encouraging people to educate themselves on identity protection tips this autumn. After all, there’s nothing quite as scary as identity fraud!

Here are some identity theft tricks to watch out for and identity security treats to take advantage of.

Trick: Using Your Data to Open New Accounts

According to the FTC, credit card fraud—including opening new credit card accounts—was the most commonly reported form of identity theft in 2019. Thieves can rack up hundreds of dollars’ worth of bills before you know it happened.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your cybersecurity to avoid your data being used to open new accounts in your name:

  • Never use the same password across multiple accounts. Switch your passwords up.
  • Never use a password that’s easy to guess. This includes passwords that include your birthday, first or last name, or address.
  • Use passwords that are random combinations of numbers, letters, and symbols.
  • Enable two-factor authentication whenever it’s offered.
  • Don’t share or write down your passwords.
  • Never click on unknown email links or pop-ups on websites.
  • Make sure websites are secure before entering your payment information.
  • Never connect to public Wi-Fi that isn’t secure.
  • Never walk away from your laptop in public places.
  • Enable firewall protection.
  • Monitor your accounts and credit reports for unusual activity.

Treat: Check Your Credit Reports

Identity theft protection starts by being proactive and regularly monitoring your information for suspicious activity. That includes monitoring your credit report.

Did you know that you’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report each year from all three credit reporting agencies? In honor of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, make October the month that you request your reports and go over them with a fine-toothed comb. Make sure you recognize all the open accounts under your name.

[Note: Through April 2021, you can review your credit reports weekly.]

An added bonus of checking your reports early in the month is that you can give your credit a good once-over before the upcoming holiday shopping season. Unexplained dips in your credit score could be a sign that something is wrong.

When you request your free credit report from the credit bureaus, your report does not come with your credit score—you have to request that separately. Sign up for ExtraCredit to get 28 of your FICO® scores and your credit reports from all three credit bureaus. You’ll also get account monitoring and $1 million identity theft insurance.

Protect Your Identity with ExtraCredit

Trick: Charity Fraud

October also happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and everywhere you look, pink is on display. With so much national attention on breast cancer, it’s easy to fall for scams that claim to be legitimate charities.

Consumers should also be on the lookout for phony COVID-19 related scams this fall and winter. For example, watch out for fake charities that pretend to provide COVID relief to groups or families but are simply stealing money.

Even worse than handing over money to these heartless fraudsters is that you may have handed over your credit card numbers or other personally identifiable information in the process.

Treat: Know Your Worthy Causes

Before donating to a charitable cause, do your homework. You can use websites such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance to check a charity’s reputation. Additionally, consider contacting your state’s charity regulator to confirm the organization is registered to raise money in your state.

After you’ve verified the status of the charity, consider making donations directly through the national organization. Avoid giving money or financial information directly to someone that reaches out to you through email, phone calls, or door-to-door interactions.

It might be a bit of extra work, but at the end of the day, you can feel good knowing your money is going to support a real cause. If you want to support October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, consider donating directly on the national website. An added bonus is that you’ll receive a receipt you can use for tax deduction purposes.

Trick: Tax Refund Fraud

Every year, the Internal Revenue Service announces its “dirty dozen” scams. These are the tax fraud scams the IRS determines to be the most common for the year. The 2020 list includes refund theft. A tax thief gains access to your information, files a fraudulent return in your name before you do, and has the funds paid out them. The only way you find out about it is that your legitimate tax return—the one you submit—is rejected for having already been filed.

Another way individuals fall victim to tax refund fraud is by using an unscrupulous return vendor. Dishonest vendors and ghost preparers steal personal information to file a tax refund and pocket the money or use that information for other types of identity fraud.

It’s unclear what exactly the next round of stimulus legislation will include, but if another stimulus check is included, watch out for attempts to steal your COVID stimulus checks. Remember that the IRS never contacts you via email, social media, or text.

Treat: File Early

It may feel like you just finished filing your 2019 taxes, but it’s never too early to start preparing for next year. While filing your taxes might be the last thing you want to think about this month, it’s crucial to stay on top of your tax return documents so you’re ready to file as early as possible. This is especially true for individuals who have reason to believe that their personal data has already been breached.

Always ensure you work with a reputable tax return vendor. You can look at the vendor’s online reviews before considering them as an option for tax return help.

Additionally, individuals that are paid to assist with or prepare federal tax returns must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on returns. Always ask for this number before you hire an individual and hand over your personal information.

If you file early, you can beat out someone filing before you and receiving your return first. The earliest you can file is January.

Trick: Social Media Scams

Our social media accounts allow us to stay connected with friends and family. Unfortunately, scammers understand this and have started using social media to commit identity fraud.

There are many variations of social media phishing scams, but the basics are generally that a scammer creates an account to gain your trust and gather personal information from you. For example, many people have their name, birthday, and workplace information on their Facebook or other social media account. Those three things alone could be enough for someone to gain everything else they need to create a credit card application under your name or access your existing accounts.

Treat: Be More Exclusive and Private

Consider taking a quiet October morning to comb through your social media accounts. Start with your followers. Consider deleting everyone you don’t know personally.

If a follower base is important to you, consider another approach. Go through each social profile and scrub any personal details. Change the spelling of your last name slightly, delete your birthday, and remove other personal information, such as place of work. Ultimately, this can reduce the risk of being an easy target for identity fraud.

These core identity protection tips should help you stay safer online. With COVID-19 causing people to feel scared, individuals are more vulnerable to being tricked. Remember that identity fraud happens to millions of people every year, and it’s important to remain vigilant.

Stay Vigilant This Fall

Identity theft can have long-lasting consequences. If you’re recovering from identity fraud or simply unhappy with your credit score, consider signing up for ExtraCredit. ExtraCredit is a five-in-one credit product that provides tools to helps you build, guard, track, reward, and restore your credit.

Sign Up Now

The post Don’t Get Tricked: Identity Protection Tips You Need appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

10 Questions to Ask about Parking Before You Rent an Apartment

So, you think you’ve found the perfect apartment.

Did you remember to ask about the parking situation? If not, stop! Don’t sign that lease until you have at least considered how you and your guests can park hassle-free. Because no matter how fabulous the view or the living space, if you rely on a car and parking isn’t convenient, it’ll likely put a damper on your living experience.

If you’re planning to live downtown in a city with excellent public transportation and bike accommodations, including bike-sharing programs, you need to consider if you even need a car. Many people don’t want the hassle and are happy to rent a vehicle on the occasions when they want to get out of the city.

But if you plan to have a car or are considering having a car, we’ve compiled a list of 10 questions you need to ask about parking before you sign the lease.

1. What kind of parking does the building offer?

apartment parking

Depending on an apartment’s location, parking will vary. Perhaps there’s an indoor parking garage under the building (most likely in a downtown high-rise or mid-rise building).

If you’re looking at a garden-style apartment, parking may be right outside your front door. If it’s outdoors, and you live in a cold climate, you need to think about inclement weather. Come winter, will you be shoveling four inches of snow off your vehicle before you can head off to work?

And speaking of snow, do you need to observe special parking rules to accommodate the snowplow (such as moving your car from certain parking areas)? Know what’s expected of you.

2. Is parking on-site or is it all street parking?

For some of you, street parking will be a deal-breaker. Others will accept that as a necessary evil that goes with keeping a car in the city.

If there’s street parking, find out if you need a permit from the city or local government to park on the street. Keep in mind that it may be difficult to find a spot when you return if there’s only street parking.

3. How is parking managed?

Once you know that the building supports a parking plan, you need to inquire about the details. For example, are you able to self-park? In many city high-rises, you can’t self park and may have to rely on a parking valet.

Is the parking valet reliable? Are there designated spaces for compact and full-size vehicles? If you have special needs and would like to park closer to the elevator or front door, can you make this request?

4. Reserved or unreserved — that is the question!

reserved parking spot

If there’s plenty of parking, you may not need reserved space(s). But it can be nice to know that you have a dedicated spot to come home to, regardless of your schedule. Ask about this policy.

If there’s on-site parking, find out if the lot is usually full at peak times or if there are usually empty spaces. If spaces are reserved, can you get parking near your unit?

5. How many spaces are you allowed?

If you have a roommate or if you and your significant other have vehicles, will there be designated parking spots for both of you?

6. How much will parking cost?

This is an important question because if your space(s) is not part of your monthly payment, you have to factor parking costs into your budget. It becomes a line item just like internet service, cable and utilities.

If your building doesn’t have parking but has a formal arrangement with a parking garage nearby, ask about the cost. Perhaps your parking will be comped or discounted. Similarly, if parking is included in the rent, and you decide to forego having a car, do you receive a discount?

Be sure to inquire about cost differences for covered spots (also known as garage parking) vs. uncovered spaces (also known as surface parking).

7. Where do my guests park?

guest parking

If parking in and around your building is challenging and there are no spaces reserved for guests, it may put a damper on social activities. Not all rentals have the luxury of extra space for visitors, so you need to decide just how important that is or come up with creative alternatives, such as carpooling.

If your building can accommodate guest parking, do you need to reserve in advance? And how easy will it be for your visitors to come and go?

8. Is the parking lot well lit at night?

If the parking lot is indoors, is the garage only accessible via fob access or in a controlled manner. While there’s never a guarantee of safety, and much of it is based on the specific neighborhood, consider visiting the parking lot yourself to make your own determination.

9. How is designated parking enforced and disputes resolved?

It happens. Sometimes it’s a neighbor who decides to flout the rules and do as he or she wants. Most times, however, it’s a misunderstanding. In either case, situations do arise, and you need to know there is a system in place.

Remember, you also have to be a good neighbor and respect apartment parking etiquette.

10. Can you sublet your parking space?

tenant parking only sign

This question is more important than you might think as it could offer a source for a little extra income each month. If your lease includes a parking space, and you don’t have a car, but your neighbor has two vehicles and only one designated spot, you may be able to make a deal. But check your lease first to determine that you have the legal right to sublet.

Avoid parking problems

Go ahead and look for that perfect apartment with the view, amenities and conveniences you desire. But don’t overlook the parking accommodations or you could be driving into a headache that never goes away.

The post 10 Questions to Ask about Parking Before You Rent an Apartment appeared first on Apartment Living Tips – Apartment Tips from ApartmentGuide.com.

What to Expect in Apartment Living in 2020

As the Bob Dylan song goes, the times, they are a-changin’, and that couldn’t be truer than for apartment living.

Renting used to be a lower rung on the ladder as you climb toward the American dream — owning a single-family home in the suburbs. But as homes increase in cost and competition, renting is on the rise.

According to Harvard’s Joint Center on Housing Studies 2017 rental-market report, the number of high-income households (earning at least $100,000) renting their homes rose by 6 percent from 2005 to 2016. As a result of this increase, apartment complexes have added more amenities to appeal to the influx of renters. The same study found that in 2016, 89 percent of new apartments offered in-unit laundry and 86 percent provided swimming pool access.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Today’s apartment complexes are not what they used to be, and apartment living is significantly nicer and more desirable than it was just 10 years ago. Here’s what you can expect for modern apartment living in 2020.

1. High-end amenities

indoor pool

Forget the bare-bones coin-operated laundry room and trash dumpster in the back parking lot or basement. According to NMCH’s 2018 Consumer Housing Insights Survey, 83 percent of adult and millennial renters said it was important to have an apartment that offered convenience and flexibility. Additionally, fast internet access, technology, and green initiatives are now considered must-haves for modern apartments.

To keep up with the competitive rental market, apartment complexes are upping the ante when it comes to amenities. In-unit laundry and pool access are quickly becoming par for the course, while many luxury complexes offer trash collection and recycling programs, high-speed internet, fitness centers, eco-friendly rooftop gardens and communal spaces, such as BBQs and theater rooms. These amenities make it easier to enjoy life at home and to entertain friends and family, just as one would if they owned a single-family home.

2. Online communication with apartment management

Speaking of convenience, flexibility and technology, many modern apartment complexes simplify the tasks that were previously pain points of renting — namely, rent payments, maintenance requests and apartment management communication. A number of complexes are capitalizing on technology to streamline these tasks.

For example, rather than having to mail a check each month, platforms like RentPay allow renters to automate their rent payments and pay via credit card or electronic check. Even if a landlord doesn’t accept electronic payments, RentPay prints a physical check and mails it directly to the landlord each month.

Additionally, it’s becoming more common for larger apartment complexes to offer an online portal or website for easier communication with apartment management, from submitting maintenance requests and asking questions to renew leases and sign contracts. This saves renters significant time and money.

3. More emphasis on safety and security

keypad

In the past, one of the downsides of renting was security. With people constantly going in and out of the building or complex, it seemed as if anyone could walk in. With so many technology advances this past decade, in terms of access and price, it’s easier for complexes and renters to invest in security.

Many of today’s complexes offer gated access to the parking lot, codes for elevator access and security key fobs to all points of entrance. Some even offer enhanced security within the individual units, like video doorbells and camera security systems.

If your building doesn’t offer in-unit security features, there are multiple home security options available that are non-intrusive, as far as security deposits and installation are concerned. Simply plug in the device and monitor your apartment from your smartphone. Many systems are easy to pair with indoor security cameras and other alarms for additional safety.

4. Smaller space

While apartments are getting smaller in square footage due to space constraints and population growth, architects are getting smarter with layout designs to maximize every inch of a room. For instance, micro homes, the tiny house equivalent in apartment form, are as small as 350 square feet but make use of movable and folding furniture so it can serve as an entertaining space by day and bedroom by night.

Open floor plans are still popular and, while they can at first seem daunting to decorate, they offer the most options for room layouts. And thanks to more furniture companies starting to specialize in small home living, it’s much easier to find compact couches and dual-purpose furnishings that go beyond the futon.

Popular home stores like Pottery Barn, CB2 and IKEA offer couches, tables and other items designed specifically for small spaces. While it’s becoming harder to find spacious apartments, complexes are making up for it with communal spaces for entertaining.

Apartment living has changed for the better

If you’re looking for a place to call home, apartment living may be the perfect solution. The evolution of apartments in the past decade means they’re a favorable housing option for a variety of lifestyles — in both urban and suburban settings.

Lush amenities, online communication, security measures and optimized floorplans have helped renting become a more comparable alternative to buying. You can enjoy the in-unit laundry, entertainment amenities and peace of mind without worrying about the costs or inconvenience of maintenance tasks.

The post What to Expect in Apartment Living in 2020 appeared first on Apartment Living Tips – Apartment Tips from ApartmentGuide.com.