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

5 Ways to Keep Winter Decor Bright

Traditionally, spring and summer corner the market on bold, bright colors, with fall and winter ushering in richer, more muted tones. However, this year’s popular colors, featured in Shutterfly’s Hottest Hues Guide, have a versatility that helps enhance decor year-round. Incorporate pops of modern color trends into everyday home accessories to warm up your house and your heart in the cool days ahead.

Fall Harvest, see larger

1. Set a Color-filled Table

’Tis the season for holiday dinners, and your dining room table is the perfect place to fill your room with color. Saturate your tablescape with chargers, plates, placemats and napkins in festive colors. Deep reds and burgundies are not only perfect for the holidays, but they add warmth to your tablescape throughout the winter season. But don’t limit yourself to the standard red and green—get creative with color palettes as you set your table, bringing in metallic and unexpected shades for a dose of fun!

2. Patch it Together

Invite color to visit by adding seasonally inspired throw pillows or a practical and colorful quilt to your couch or bed. Think outside of your regularly colored box, and experiment with contrast to create a cozy space without committing to a color scheme.

Room filled with daylight, see larger

3. Bring the Outdoors In

Flowers lend a festive touch as well as a hint of brightness to any area. A bold spray of pink orchids or peonies can add a pleasantly surprising shock of color to a sleek neutral winter space. Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you’re stuck with poinsettias. Pale pink is enjoying a comeback in the design world as a romantic neutral with a range of versatility—and rose quartz just happens to be one of Pantone’s colors of the year for 2016. As interior redesign specialist Wendy Wrzos says, “In fall, it can be paired with a rich brown and cream. In winter, a touch of pale pink will add a cozy warmth to a room, or be an unexpected addition to the more saturated colors.” Pick your palette from a favorite bouquet for a touch of color you already love.

vibrant laundry room, see larger

4. Live a Little Large

Bring big color to a small space by painting your laundry room a bold color for brightness you can enjoy all year round. “The laundry room is a room that gets used all the time, and it is rare to see one that has been decorated. A painted wall and a colorful rug takes no effort at all, and will cheer it up in an instant.” —Wrzos advised. Use a small, out-of-the-way area to be brave with a shade that brings you joy when you see it.

Living room artwork, see larger

5. Hang It Up

The artwork in a room is often a focal point and the perfect place to feature color. With a foundation of neutral furniture, flooring, and walls, art and decor accessories can take center stage. Create a canvas or three-panel piece of art from a nature-inspired vacation photo and select a matching color palette to complement your art work. If you’re looking for a more seasonal do-it-yourself option, wrap poster frame inserts in pretty wrapping paper for a temporary triptych to match your holiday decorating scheme.

Between bad weather and Daylight Savings Time, winter feels dark enough. Fill your life with brightness all year round by incorporating color in easy, unexpected ways and bring a little more boldness and brilliance into your everyday world.

About the Author

Ashley McCann shares home décor tips for Shutterfly.com. She is a mom of two and enjoys reading and karaoke. For more from Ashley, you can find her on Twitter.

The post 5 Ways to Keep Winter Decor Bright first appeared on Century 21®.

Source: century21.com