Managing your credit report

The three nationwide consumer reporting agencies–Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian–will provide one free credit report every 12 months if you request it. As a result of a 2019 settlement, all U.S. consumers may also request up to six free copies of their Equifax credit report during any twelve-month period through December 31, 2026. These free copies will be provided to you in addition to any free reports to which you are entitled under federal law.

If you run into difficulty getting your free Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian annual credit report(s) from AnnualCreditReport.com or its toll-free phone number, try contacting the respective institution(s) directly for help:

  • Equifax, (866) 349-5191 (Option 3)
  • TransUnion, (800) 680-7289 (Option 1)
  • Experian, (888) 397-3742 (Option 2 followed by Option1)

Freeze your report

Each of these companies offers you the option to freeze your report with them if you request it. By law each must freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free if you request it. You also can get a free freeze for your children who are under 16. If you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a valid power of attorney, you can get a free freeze for that person, too.

Free Credit Monitoring for Military

Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian provide free credit monitoring services to active duty service members and to National Guard members, by visiting the active military web pages of each company.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they or their families have requested their credit report(s) recently.  If so, what was their experience?
  • Ask the students to make a list of circumstances that will lead them to freeze their credit reports.  When should they consider unfreezing reports?

Discussion Questions

  1. When might it be necessary to freeze or unfreeze credit reports for children who are under 16 years of age?
  2. Should federal government require nation’s credit reporting agencies to provide free credit reports to consumers?   Explain your answer.

What is a Robocall?

If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall.  Americans have seen a significant increase in the number of illegal robocalls because internet-powered phone systems have made it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world, and to hide from law enforcement by displaying fake caller ID information.

To date, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC ) has brought more than a hundred lawsuits against more than 600 companies and individuals responsible for billions of illegal robocalls and other Do Not Call violations.

The FTC also is leading several initiatives to develop technology-based solutions. Those initiatives include a series of robocall contests that challenge tech gurus to design tools that block robocalls and help investigators track down and stop robocallers. The FTC also is encouraging industry efforts to combat caller ID spoofing. Here’s the FTC’s game plan to combat robocalls:

  • continue aggressive law enforcement
  • build better tools for investigating robocalls 
  • coordinate with law enforcement, industry, and other stakeholders
  • stimulate and pursue technological solutions.

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students how they or their families respond to robocalls.  Has the number of robocalls increased in recent months?  If so, what might be the reasons?
  • Ask students to make a list of actions to take in combating robocalls.  Share the list with other students.

Discussion Questions

  1. Should you consider reducing unwanted sales calls by submitting your phone numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry?
  2. Why doesn’t the National Do Not Call Registry stop robocalls?
  3. Are robocalls legal?  What kinds of robocalls are allowed without your permission?
  4. How can you manage to get fewer robocalls?

What to Do When Information Is Lost or Exposed

What to Do When Information Is Lost or Exposed

Did you recently get a notice informing you that your personal information was exposed in a data breach? Did you lose your wallet? Or learn that an online account was hacked? Depending on what information was lost, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from identity theft

What information was lost or exposed?

  1. Social Security number
  • If a company responsible for exposing your information offers you free credit monitoring, take advantage of it.
  • Get your free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. Check for any accounts or charges you don’t recognize.
  • Consider placing a free credit freeze. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name.
  • Try to file your taxes early — before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job.
  • Respond right away to letters from the IRS.  Don’t believe anyone who calls and says you’ll be arrested unless you pay for taxes or debt.
  • Continue to check your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com.  You can order a free report from each of the three credit reporting companies once a year.
  1. Online login or password
  • Log in to that account and change your password. If possible, also change your user name. If you can’t log in, contact the company. Ask them how you can recover or shut down the account.

3. Debit or credit card number

  • Contact your bank or credit card company to cancel your card and request a new one.
  • Review your transactions regularly. Make sure no one misused your card. If you find fraudulent charges, call the fraud department and get them removed.
  • If you have automatic payments set up, update them with your new card number.
  • Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.

4. Bank account information

  • Contact your bank to close the account and open a new one.
  • Review your transactions regularly to make sure no one misused your account. If you find fraudulent charges or withdrawals, call the fraud department and get them removed.
  • If you have automatic payments set up, update them with your new bank account information.
  1. Driver’s license information
  • Contact your nearest motor vehicles branch to report a lost or stolen driver’s license. The state might flag your license number in case someone else tries to use it, or they might suggest that you apply for a duplicate.
  • Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.

 

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Ask how many students check their credit report at least once a year. What is the importance of checking your credit report regularly?
  • Ask if any student has placed a credit freeze. If so, what was their experience?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the difference between a credit freeze and a fraud alert?
  2. What must you do if someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund?

Warning Signs of Identity Theft

What Do Thieves Do With Your Information?

 Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.

Here are clues that someone has stolen your information:

  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
  • You don’t get your bills or other mail.
  • Merchants refuse your checks.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
  • You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
  • Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
  • A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
  • The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
  • You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their family members or friends have been victims of an identity theft. What was their experience and how did they resolve the problem?
  • Ask students if they mail bills from their home mail box, especially if it is out by the street. What might be some dangers of this method of mailing bills?

Discussion Questions

  1. Should you put your Social Security and driver’s license numbers on your checks?   Why or why not?
  2. Why is it important to check your credit report each year? Should you consider credit monitoring, identity monitoring service, or identity theft insurance?  Why or why not?

Beware of scams related to the coronavirus

Scammers are taking advantage of the corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic to con people into giving up their money. Though the reason behind their fraud is new, their tactics are familiar. It can be even harder to prevent scams right now because people aren’t interacting with as many friends, neighbors, and senior service providers due to efforts to slow the spread of disease.

Those who are ill or don’t feel comfortable potentially exposing themselves may need someone to help with errands. Be cautious when accepting offers of help and use trusted delivery services for supplies and food. During this time of uncertainty, knowing about possible scams is a good first step toward preventing them.

  1. Scams offering COVID-19 vaccine, cure, air filters, testing

There is an increasing number of scams related to vaccines, test kits, cures or treatments, and air filter systems designed to remove COVID-19 from the air in your home. At the time of this writing, there is neither a vaccine nor a cure for this virus. If you receive a phone call, email, text message, or letter with claims to sell you any of these items–it’s a scam.

  1. Fake corona virus-related charity scams

A thief poses as a real charity or makes up the name of a charity that sounds real to get money from you. Be careful about any charity calling you asking for donations. If you are able to help financially, visit the website of the organization of your choice to make sure your money is going to the right place. And be wary if you get a call following up on a donation pledge that you don’t remember making–it could be a scam.

  1. “Person in need” scams

Scammers use the circumstances of the corona virus to pose as a grandchild, relative or friend who claims to be ill, stranded in another state or foreign country, or otherwise in trouble, and asks you to send money. The scammer may ask you to send cash by mail or buy gift cards. These scammers often beg you to keep it a secret and act fast before you ask questions. Don’t panic!  Don’t send money unless you’re sure it’s the real person who contacted you. Hang up and call your grandchild or friend’s phone number to see if the story checks out. You could also call a different friend or relative to check the caller’s story.

  1. Scams targeting your Social Security benefits

Local Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns, SSA will not suspend or decrease  Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers may mislead people into believing they need to provide personal information or pay by gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash to maintain regular benefit payments during this period. Any communication that says SSA will suspend or decrease your benefits due to COVID-19 is a scam, whether you receive it by letter, text, email, or phone call. Report Social Security scams to the SSA Inspector General online at oig.ssa.gov .

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their friends, or relatives have been victims of coronavirus- related scams? If so, what was their experience?
  • Someone you don’t know contacts you asking for any personally identifiable information by phone, in person, by text message, or email. What will be your response?

Discussion Questions

  1. Someone you don’t know sends you a check, maybe prize-winnings or the sale of goods and asks you to send a portion of the money back. What will you do and why?
  2. Discuss the statement: “The federal. State, and local consumer protection agencies are doing everything possible to protect consumers from fraudsters”.

DON’T KEEP THESE THINGS IN YOUR WALLET

While no one plans to lose their wallet, you can reduce the trauma of that event. Consumer protection experts recommend not keeping these items in your wallet:

  • your Social Security card; also make sure nothing else in your wallet contains your Social Security number.
  • a list of passwords; keep the list secured at home, and consider use of a password manager.
  • spare keys; a lost wallet with keys and your home address on an ID card is an invitation to burglars.
  • blank checks; while few people write checks, blank checks are risky as a thief has your account number and the bank routing numbers and probably your home address. 
  • your passport or passport card; an identity thief could travel under your name, obtain a copy of your Social Security card, or open a bank account. Whenever traveling on a passport, keep a copy in a safe place.
  • extra credit cards; carry only one or two cards to avoid having to cancel many cards if your wallet is lost or stolen.
  • other items to keep out of your wallet: birth certificate; receipts that could be used to by skilled identity thieves; an old Medicare card with your Social Security number; and gift cards, which could be used by anyone with access to your wallet.

By following these guidelines, you can avoid identity theft, bogus loan applications in your name, and someone opening fraudulent accounts. Also recommended: photocopy the front and back of the items in your wallet to have a record of what is lost or stolen.

For additional information on what not to keep in your wallet, click here:

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to others to determine if they carry any of these items in their wallet.
  • Have students create a checklist of action to take if your wallet is lost or stolen.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are actions people can take to avoid identity theft?
  2. Describe how technology and apps are replacing traditional wallets. Discuss how these devices might improve security against identity theft.

Disputing Errors on Credit Reports

Your credit report contains information about where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued or arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy. Credit reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a home. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) promotes the accuracy and privacy of information in the files of the nation’s credit reporting companies.

Some financial advisors and consumer advocates suggest that you review your credit report periodically. Why?

  • Because the information it contains affects whether you can get a loan — and how much you will have to pay to borrow money.
  • To make sure the information is accurate, complete, and up-to-date before you apply for a loan for a major purchase like a house or car, buy insurance, or apply for a job.
  • To help guard against identity theft. That’s when someone uses your personal information — like your name, your Social Security number, or your credit card number — to commit fraud. Identity thieves may use your information to open a new credit card account in your name. Then, when they don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report. Inaccurate information like that could affect your ability to get credit, insurance, or even a job.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to summarize major provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. How does the law protect consumers?
  • What is the importance of reviewing your credit report periodically?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why only authorized persons are allowed to obtain credit reports?
  2. What must a credit bureau do when you notify the credit bureau that you dispute the accuracy of its information?
  3. What should you do if you are denied credit, insurance, employment, or rental housing based on the information in the report?

COVID-19 Robocall Scams

Scammers are using illegal robocalls to profit from Coronavirus-related fears.  Illegal robocalls are universally hated, so why do scammers still use them? Because scammers need only a few people to take the bait for them to make money. Scammers might do that by getting your bank account number, tricking you into handing over gift card PIN codes, or stealing valuable personal information such as your Social Security number.

Crises such as COVID-19, bring out the best in people, and the worst in scammers who pretend to be from the Social Security Administration, offering fake Coronavirus tests to Medicare recipients, and scaring small businesses into buying bogus online listing services.

To hear examples of illegal robocalls exploiting concerns about the Coronavirus, and to stay up to date on the latest Federal Trade Commission (FTC) information, visit ftc.gov/coronavirus.

Now that you know what Coronavirus robocall scams are like, make sure you share this information with your friends and family members. And, if you get such scam calls,don’t believe them. Instead:

  • Hang up. Don’t press any numbers. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
  • Consider using a call blocking app or device. You also can ask your phone provider if it has call-blocking tools. To learn more, go to ftc.gov/calls.
  • Report the call. Report robocalls at ftc.gov/complaint. The more the FTC  hear from you, the more they can help fight scams.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they or their family members have received such calls. If so, how did they respond?
  • How many students or family members have considered using a call blocking app or have contacted their phone provider to block such calls? Summarize their findings.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it not advisable to ask the caller to remove your name from their call list?
  2. How does reporting your robocalls help the FTC combat scammers?

Top Frauds

Are you at risk for fraud?  What are some of the more common frauds and how much could it cost you?

  • In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) collected more than 1.4 million fraud reports, and Americans said they lost money to the fraud in 25 percent of those reports. Americans reported losing $1.48 billion to fraud – an increase of 38 percent over 2017.
  • The top reports in 2018 were: imposter scams, debt collection, and identity theft.
  • Younger people reported losing money to fraud more often than older people. Of those people who reported fraud and their age, 43 percent of people in their 20s reported a loss to that fraud, while only 15 percent of people in their 70s did.
  • When people in their 70s lost money, the amount tended to be higher: their median loss was $751, compared to $400 for people in their 20s.
  • Scammers like to get money by wire transfer – for a total of $423 million in 2018. That was the most of any payment method reported, but there was a surge of payments with gift and reload cards – a 95 percent increase in dollars paid to scammers last year.
  • Tax-related identity theft was down last year (by 38 percent), but credit card fraud on new accounts was up 24 percent. In fact, misusing someone’s information to open a new credit card account was reported more often than other forms of identity theft in 2018.
  • The top 3 states for fraud and other reports (per 100,000 population) are Florida, Georgia and Nevada. The top 3 states for identity theft reports (also per 100,000) are Georgia, Nevada and California.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their relatives or friends have ever been victims of fraud. If so, what was the outcome?
  • Ask students to prepare a list of local, state, and federal agencies where fraud can be reported.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it possible that the reason more young people reported fraud is because older persons are less likely to report?
  2. Are older people not reporting fraud because they are not tech savvy, or embarrassed by their inability to know they were scammed?

Spoofed calls-It’s time to hang up!

If you get a call that looks like it’s from the Social Security Administration (SSA), think twice. Scammers are spoofing SSA’s 1-800 customer service number to try to get your personal information. Spoofing means that scammers can call from anywhere, but they make your caller ID show a different number – often one that looks legitimate. Here are few things you should know about these fake SSA calls.

These scam calls are happening across the nation, according to SSA: Your phone rings. Your caller ID shows that it’s the SSA calling from 1-800-772-1213. The caller says he works for the Social Security Administration and needs your personal information – like your Social Security number – to increase your benefits payments. (Or he threatens to cut off your benefits if you don’t give the information.) But it’s not really the Social Security Administration calling. Yes, it is the SSA’s real phone number, but the scammers on the phone are spoofing the number to make the call look real.

What can you do if you get one of these calls? Hang up. Remember:

  • SSA will not threaten you. Real SSA employees will never threaten you to get personal information. They also won’t promise to increase your benefits in exchange for information. If they do, it’s a scam.
  • If you have any doubt, hang up and call SSA directly. Call 1-800-772-1213 – that really is the phone number for the Social Security Administration. If you dial that number, you know who you’re getting. But remember that you can’t trust caller ID. If a call comes in from that number, you can’t be sure it’s really SSA calling.
  • If you get a spoofed call, report it. If someone calls, claiming to be from SSA and asking for information like your Social Security number, report it to SSA’s Office of Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271 or https://oig.ssa.gov/report. You can also report these calls to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

For more information,click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use this blog post and the original article to

  • Help students understand that real SSA employees will never threaten you and get personal information.
  • Ask students if they or any of their friends or relatives have received a spoofed SSA call (calls)?

Discussion Questions

  1. If you are worried about a call from someone who claims to be from the SSA, what would you do?
  2. What can federal, state and local consumer protection agencies and telecommunication industry do to stop spoofed calls?