Identity theft affects close to 13 million people in the United States every year and authorities have said that currently it is “the fastest growing crime across the country”. What can you do to protect yourself?
Don’t leave belongings unattended. One of the most important steps in preventing identity theft is perhaps also the simplest – don’t leave belongings containing sensitive information, such as a laptop, a wallet, or a smartphone, unattended.
Lock your laptop. Using a laptop lock, which ties your laptop to a stationary item, like a desk, can be a good way to secure your computer. They are fairly cheap, usually costing less than $50.
Use password protection. Many people forget to password-protect their smartphones and tablets, even though the option is usually available. Make sure your passwords are not easy to guess, and change them periodically.
Delete your hard drive. If your laptop gets stolen, you can usually delete your hard drive with special software as soon as the thief accesses the Internet with your computer with remote access.
Leave unnecessary items out of your wallet. You probably do not need to carry more than one credit card and never carry your social security card or anything with your social security number on it unless its necessary.
Talk about it. If you are depressed about money problems, you may feel alone. Yet the moment you begin to discuss it, you will find you are not only in immense company, but that discussing it can make you feel a lot better. If you feel your “debting” is compulsive, you may want to talk to the professionals at Debtors Anonymous. Log on to www.debtorsanonymous.org or call 800-421-2383 to find a meeting near you.
Put it in perspective. Do you have your health? The love and support from friends and family? Focus on the good things that are happening in your life. It’s hard, but you are going to need to be optimistic to make positive changes.
Confront the problem. Rather than hiding from bill collectors, regain control by answering the calls. Be calm and rational. Understand the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, a law that protects your rights as a consumer. Write to your creditors to explain your situation. Include what led to the problem (even if it was your “fault”) and how you plan to fix it.
Fight inertia. Doing nothing, while easier than taking action, will get you nowhere. Get up and get out, but resist the urge to shop if your spending is out of hand. If you are already loaded down with debt, and keep receiving offers for more credit cards in the mail, destroy them and throw them away. Consider removing your name from promotional lists by visiting www.optoutprescreen.com or by calling 888-5-OPTOUT (888-567-8688).
Prioritize your spending. Chances are, there are some expenses you can reduce or cut out that can immediately relieve some of the pressure. Review your spending plan and eliminate expenses that aren’t absolutely essential. Prioritize according to necessity – basic needs such as food, housing, utilities and children’s expenses come first, and everything else after those.
FDCPA regulates collection agencies’ conduct towards consumers, specifically prohibiting many unfair activities. Collection agencies in violation of the FDCPA can be sued for up to $1000 for each violation plus attorney fees. Here are some common violations:
A bill collector cannot call you before 8am or after 9pm. You can be called once a day and you can be called on weekends.
It is legal for collectors to call you at work. However, if you write a letter to the collection agency asking them to stop because their contact is jeapordizing your employment, any subsequent calls or letters are then illegal. Always send letters by certified mail/return receipt requested for proof of correspondence.
It is illegal for the collector to discuss your debt with a third party other than your spouse without your written or verbal permission, except to leave a message that he is trying to contact you.
The collection agents cannot misrepresent themselves and say that they are someone who they are not, like a friend or an attorney.
Collectors cannot make false threats. If a collector says he is going to take a specific action against you to enforce the debt, he has to do it. Collectors can, however, infer action and state their legal rights by prefacing their language with “may”, “could” or another similar word.
Within five days of the first telephone contact, a letter must be mailed to you at your last known address giving you information about your account and a chance to dispute the validity of the debt. A dispute must be made in writing, and collection activities have to stop until the debt is verified.
If you have retained an attorney, the collector must communicate with him/her until the attorney’s services are no longer being used.
t seems like there are all sorts of people offering to “fix” your credit for you. While a quick fix sounds tempting, fixing your credit needs time and patience. You may hear of companies that claim to “fix” a bad credit rating but those companies are likely scams. Anything they can do quickly to repair only works if the information in your credit file is inaccurate. If that is the case, there is nothing they can do for you that you can’t do yourself for free.
These are the three main things that can negatively affect your credit rating:
Defaulted debts. This includes either debts unpaid or sent to a collection agency, including credit cards, auto loans, student loans and medical bills.
Slow payment history. Paying 30, 60 or 90+ days late can impact your credit
Debt to income ratio. This is a comparison of the amount of debt carried and one’s ability to make the monthly payments. If there is too much debt and not enough money to make the payments, it is a strike on the credit report.
The only way to correct a bad credit rating is to change the behavior that resulted in a bad credit rating, and then be patient. By paying all your bills on time and keeping your debt level low, your credit score will gradually improve. Take these steps to begin rebuilding your credit rating:
Resolve to make 2018 your year to a get on a smart financial plan by following these 8 important steps:
SET CLEAR GOALS. Do you have clear plans for retirement, college, and other major life events? If not, define your life goals and then develop your financial plan to get there.
BUILD YOUR SAVINGS. Set up an automatic deposit into a savings account with as much as you can afford to put in the account. You’ll be surprised how quickly a little money can amass into a healthy savings account.
REVIEW YOUR AUTOMATIC PAYMENTS. Thoroughly review your accounts to make sure that you are not erroneously paying for old subscriptions or bills that have already been paid off.
REVIEW YOUR WITHHOLDINGS. If you’re intentionally withholding too much on your taxes to avoid end of the year taxes or to get a big payback from the IRS, that’s not a good practice. Use a tax calculator to make sure that your withholdings are accurate.
MANAGE YOUR CREDIT. Paying off your credit cards and getting rid of those high interest rates is one of the best ways to put money back in your pocket.
REVIEW INSURANCE POLICIES. Don’t insure your 10-year old car like Tesla. Make sure that you haven’t overbought on your auto, life, health and other insurance policies. Review carefully and make cuts where possible.
BUMP UP YOUR 401K. Add a little more to your 401K this year, especially if your employer does a matching contribtion.
GUARD AGAINST IDENTITY THEFT. Monitor your credit reports and statements to ensure that your identity and finances are protected.
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