Free Credit Freezes

Security freezes, also known as credit freezes, restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Starting September 21, 2018, you can freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free. You also can get a free freeze for your children who are under 16. And if you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a valid power of attorney, you can get a free freeze for that person, too.

How will these freezes work? Contact all three of the nationwide credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you request a freeze online or by phone, the agency must place the freeze within one business day. If you request a lift of the freeze, the agency must lift it within one hour. If you make your request by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days after it gets your request. You also can lift the freeze temporarily without a fee.

Don’t confuse freezes with locks. They work in a similar way, but locks may have monthly fees. If you want a free freeze guaranteed by federal law, then opt for a freeze, not a lock.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if anyone has already placed a credit freeze or a fraud alert. If so, what has been their experience?
  • Encourage students to place a credit freeze since it is now free to freeze or unfreeze their credit file.

Discussion Questions

  1. What might be the advantages or disadvantages of placing a credit freeze?
  2. What can you do if a credit reporting agency is not placing a credit freeze or fraud alert properly?

Protect Your Identity

According to its last Consumer Sentinel report, the Federal Trade Commission received 371,061 identity theft complaints in 2017, down from 399,222 the previous year.  That’s good news, but the 2018 Identity Fraud Study issued by Javelin Strategy & Research tells a darker tale.  Based on random survey of Americans, it revealed that there was an 8 percent increase in identity fraud (the fraudulent use of someone’s personal information) from 2016 to 2017, and losses rose from $16.2 to $16.8 billion.  Javelin also notes that while the chip cards have cut down on fraud terminals or by cloning devices, the drop has been more than offset in online theft and fraud.

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if anyone has his/her identity stolen. If so, what has been their experience?
  • Ask students to prepare and then share a list of steps that they can take to reduce chances of becoming identity theft victims?

Discussion Questions

  1. How can you detect if you are a possible victim of an identity theft?
  2. If you become a victim of identity theft, what steps must you take immediately?

Car Subscription Services

The opportunity to change cars like you change clothes is now possible.  For a monthly fee, car subscription services are an alternative to motor vehicle buying and leasing.

With an upfront fee is usually involved, the monthly fee covers the car payment, insurance, maintenance, and roadside assistance.  Subscribers can manage their plan online with the vehicle delivered to your home.

Car manufacturers that offer this service are Cadillac, Ford, Volvo and Porsche. Other companies specializing in offering a variety of makes and models are Fair, Flexdrive, Clutch and Carma.

Unlike leasing for 24 or 36 months, car subscription can be for as short as a month. However, some programs require a two-year contract, and only allow a trade-in (exchange) after 12 months.

The greatest benefit is the “negotiation-free” way of obtaining a car. And, if you don’t like the car, you can get a different vehicle. Car subscribers are reminded it’s not your car.  Smoking is usually prohibited and pets should be kept in carriers.  Not all cars are brand new but most are low mileage and less than six years old.

For additional information on car subscriptions, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to two or three others to obtain their opinions on the benefits and concerns of car subscription services.
  • Have students compare cost of various car subscription services with buying or leasing a vehicle.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What do you believe are the benefits and drawbacks of using a car subscription service?
  2. Describe life situations that might be most attracted to using a car subscription service.

Is Your Debit or Credit Card Compromised?

What should you do if you believe your debit or credit card has been compromised?  Yes, there are consumer protection regulations that can help.  For example, the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) “Regulation E” limit your liability for losses from unauthorized transactions.

If your debit or credit card number is used to make an unauthorized withdrawal from a checking or savings account, minimize your losses by contacting your bank as soon as possible.  Your maximum liability under EFTA is $50 if you notify your bank within two business days after learning of the loss.  If you wait longer, you could lose more, according to the law.

If your credit card number is used without your authorization, your liability is normally capped by the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the CFPB’s “Regulation Z” at $50 for all unauthorized transactions, and remaining credit card losses are typically absorbed by the card issuer.  Some other worthwhile precautions you can take include:

  • Do not use ATMs in remote places, especially if the area is not well lit.
  • Go elsewhere if you see a sign directing you to only one of multiple ATMs in a location.
  • Shield the keypad with your hand when typing your PIN at the ATM or a retailer’s checkout area.
  • Regularly check your bank and credit card accounts for unauthorized transactions, even small transactions that you might think might not be worth reporting to your bank.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to summarize the major provisions of the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA).
  • Why is it important to notify your bank as soon as possible when your account has been compromised?
  • Let students debate the issue, “Use cash, why use a debit card?

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the Truth and Lending Act and how does it protect you if your debit/credit card is compromised?
  2. How can you determine if an ATM has a false cover or it has been tampered?

Common Credit Report Errors

What are common credit report errors that you should look for on your credit report?  When reviewing your credit report, check that it contains items about you.  Be sure to look for information that is inaccurate or incomplete.

Some common errors in credit reports are:

Identity errors

  • Errors made to your identity information (wrong name, phone number, address)
  • Accounts belonging to another person with the same name or similar name as yours (this mixing of two consumer’s information in a single file is called mixed file)
  • Incorrect accounts resulting from Identity theft

Incorrect reporting of account status

  • Closed accounts reported as open
  • You are reported as the owner of the account, when you are actually just an authorized user
  • Accounts that are incorrectly reported as late or delinquent
  • Incorrect date of last payment, date opened, or date of first delinquency
  • Same debt listed more than once (possibly with different names)

Data management errors

  • Reinsertion of incorrect information after it was corrected
  • Accounts that appear multiple times with different creditors listed (especially in the case of delinquent accounts or accounts in collection)

Balance Errors

  • Accounts with an incorrect current balance
  • Accounts with an incorrect credit limit

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Why is important to check your credit reports every year?
  • Credit bureaus are required to follow reasonable procedures to ensure that your credit report is accurate, then why mistakes may occur?
  • Ask students if they have ever been contacted a credit bureau to dispute the accuracy of its information. What was the outcome?

Discussion Questions

  1. When you notify the credit bureau that you dispute the accuracy of its information, what must the credit bureau do to rectify mistakes?
  2. What are your legal remedies if a consumer reporting agency fails to comply with the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act?

Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week

Are you looking forward to getting your tax refund in the New Year? Tax identity thieves may be looking forward to getting your refund too. That’s why the Federal Trade Commission has designated January 29-February 2, 2018 as Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.

Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number (SSN) to get a tax refund or a job. You might find out it’s happened when you e-file your tax return and discover that a return already has been filed using your SSN. Or, the IRS may send you a letter saying more than one return was filed in your name, or that IRS records show you have wages from an employer you don’t know.

Learn to protect yourself from tax identity theft and IRS imposter scams, and what to do if someone you know becomes a victim. The FTC and partners including the IRS, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration will be co-hosting free webinars and Twitter chats during Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. Visit ftc.gov/taxidtheft for details about the events and how to participate.

For more information, click here.

Teacher Suggestions

  • Ask students if filing early may avoid e-file tax identity theft fraud if someone files before they do.
  • Ask students what steps should they take if their identity is stolen?

Discussion Questions

  1. How can one protect from tax identity theft and IRS imposter scams?
  2. What can you do if you or someone else you know becomes a victim of identity theft?

Protect Your Social Media Accounts

The Internet has made our lives easier in so many ways. However, you need to know how you can protect your privacy and avoid fraud. Remember, not only can people be defrauded when using the Internet for investing; the fraudsters use information online to send bogus materials, solicit or phish.

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself when using social media:

Privacy Settings: Always check the default privacy settings when opening an account on a social media website.

Biographical Information: Consider customizing your privacy settings to minimize the amount of biographical information others can view on the website.

Account Information: Never give account information, Social Security numbers, bank information or other sensitive financial information on a social media website.

Friends/Contacts:  Decide whether it is appropriate to accept a “friend” or other membership request from a financial service provider, such as a financial adviser or broker-dealer.

Site Features: Familiarize yourself with the functionality of the social media website before broadcasting messages on the site. Who will be able to see your messages — only specified recipients, or all users?

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to make a list of their social media accounts. How do they protect their accounts from fraudsters?
  • Why do many social media websites require biographical information to open an account?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to limit the information made available to other social media users?
  2. Is there an obligation to accept a “friend” request of a service provider or anyone you don’t know or do not know well?
  3. Why be extra careful before clicking on a link sent to you even if by a friend?

Equifax isn’t calling

Ring, ring. “This is Equifax calling to verify your account information.” Stop. Don’t tell them anything. They’re not from Equifax. It’s a scam. Equifax will not call you out of the blue.

That’s just one scam you might see after Equifax’s recent data breach. Other calls might try to trick you into giving your personal information. Here are some tips for recognizing and preventing phone scams and imposter scams:

  • Don’t give personal information. Don’t provide any personal or financial information unless you’ve initiated the call and it’s to a phone number you know is correct.
  • Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers can spoof their numbers so it looks like they are calling from a particular company, even when they’re not.
  • If you get a robocall, hang up. Don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator or any other key to take your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robocalls.

For more information about the Equifax breach, go to Equifax’s website.

 Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they know someone who has received such a call. If so, how the victim responded to the imposter?
  • What advice can you provide to a victim of a scam?

Discussion Questions

  1. What should you do, if you have already received a call that you think is fake?
  2. What must you do if you gave personal information to an imposter?
  3. What can you do to protect yourself from such scams?

Know your debt collection rights

Know someone who’s behind on their bills? Maybe debt collectors are calling for payment? The Federal Trade Commission’s new debt collection video can help you understand your legal rights – and may lower your stress level.  In the video, you’ll see how bad debt collectors try to get you to pay up. Bad debt collectors will say anything to get you to pay – and they’ll make it feel urgent to get you to pay immediately. But there are laws to protect you. Debt collectors:

  • Can’t call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • Can’t use profanity, threaten violence or harass you to pay
  • May not lie or pretend to be someone they’re not
  • Cannot ask you to pay a debt that doesn’t even exist
  • Can’t threaten you with arrest or deportation
  • Cannot tell anyone – except your spouse or attorney – about your debt

If a debt collector calls and uses any of these tactics, hang up and report it to the FTC. Remember: you have the right to be treated fairly – no matter what.

For more information go to: consumer.gov/debt.

To view the video, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  1. Ask students to summarize the steps they may take if a debt collector calls.
  2. Let students make a list of danger signals of potential debt problems.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. Which federal law regulates debt collection activities and protects consumers from abusive collection practices?
  2. Does the law erase the legitimate debts consumers owe?

Free credit freezes from Equifax

Many people have had very sensitive personal information exposed in the Equifax breach — Social Security numbers, account numbers, even drivers’ license numbers. Equifax is offering free credit freezes until November 21, 2017.

If you’re thinking of placing a freeze, consider the following:

  • A freeze means that no one (including you) can access your credit file until you unfreeze it, using a PIN or passphrase. That makes it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.
  • To be effective, you must place a freeze with all three credit reporting agencies — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.
  • A freeze can cost you money every time you freeze and unfreeze your file- at a cost of $5 to $10 per agency each time, depending on your state’s law.

Fraud alerts are free.  With a fraud alert, creditors must try to verify your identity before extending new credit.  The alert lasts for 90 days, You can renew it but you will need to remind yourself or it will expire automatically.  Identity theft victims, however, are entitled to an extended fraud alert which lasts seven years.  To place an alert, contact any one of the three major credit reporting agencies, either by phone or online.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they are willing to pay about $5 to $10 each time they freeze or unfreeze their accounts with each credit agency.
  • Let students debate the issue: “A fraud alert is better than a credit freeze.”

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the differences between a fraud alert and a credit freeze?
  2. Should you consider a fraud alert or credit freeze if you become a victim of an identity theft? Why or why not?