Give your credit its annual review by ordering your free annual report from Annualcreditreport.com. Check your score and read through the report carefully to see if there are any suspicious charges, unfamiliar accounts or mistakes of any kind. If you find an error, be sure to dispute it and follow up on the mistake. You’ll want to close any inactive accounts as well, as they can drag down your credit file.
Keep that score climbing!
How do you monitor your credit? Share your best methods with us in the comments.
Opening your first credit card is one of the rites of passage into genuine adulthood, but with so much conflicting information, it can all get confusing fast!
Let Advantage One walk you through the process to help you build a strong credit score and credit history that will serve you well throughout your life.
Choosing a credit card The way people typically build a credit history is by opening a credit card. But ironically, many credit cards won’t accept your application because you don’t yet have that credit history!
You’ll need to build your credit history from the ground up, and many people make the mistake of starting with cards that offer a very low limit but will accept almost any applicants, such as those offered by Capital One or Credit One. We encourage you to stop by Advantage One to ask about the credit cards we offer our members. We specialize in helping those with limited or damaged credit get back on track. If you’re outside our Field of Membership, we’d strongly encourage you to consider a local credit union. You’re more likely to get the personalized service you need at this critical phase of your financial journey.
Don’t apply to just any card that’ll have you. Look for these features when making your choice:
No annual fees – You shouldn’t have to pay money to use your card. Sometime in the future, you may want to open up a high-perk card with an annual fee to match, but for now, just concentrate on building your credit score.
A low interest rate – For your first credit card, you likely won’t be offered a really low interest rate, but that doesn’t mean you should be taken for a ride. Shop around for a card offering a reasonable rate, maybe only slightly higher than the average rate. If you can find one with a reasonably low fixed interest rate, even better.
Incentives for good behavior – Why not earn brownie points for playing by the rules? Look for a card that offers incentives, such as a bonus points, a grace period or no foreign-transaction fees.
Credit card dos and don’ts Once you’ve opened your card, or cards, make sure you use them to build and maintain that excellent score. Follow these guidelines and you won’t go wrong:
No one wants to be the victim of credit fraud. Aside from the stolen money you may never recover, victims of fraud can be faced with an enormous hassle. That hassle involves the closing of accounts, putting a fraud alert on your credit and a huge ding on your credit history, which can be difficult to fix.
Whodunnit? When we’re talking about credit card fraud, everyone’s pointing fingers at everyone else.
Consumers tend to blame the credit card issuer, but the vulnerability usually lies with the point-of-sale terminal. Tampering with a credit card reader takes just a few minutes and can be done with an inexpensive device that’s available on Amazon. In addition, there are lots of other ways your information can be skimmed, none of which point to a security deficiency with your credit union or credit card company.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prevent and recognize credit card fraud before it happens. Read on for all you need to know about credit card fraud in 5 lists of fives.
5 ways your card can be frauded
It’s physically lifted from your wallet.
The old-fashioned pickpocket is still a very real threat. Invest in a secure wallet and/or purse and always keep your card inside.
A restaurant or bar server skims it.
When you hand over your card to a dishonest server at the end of a meal, you give them a few minutes to skim your card while it’s in their possession.
A terminal you use is compromised.
Payment terminals can be tampered with and rewired to transmit your information to scammers. This is especially common in pay-at-the-pump gas stations.
An online breach puts your information on the black market.
After a company you use suffers a breach, your personal information may be up for sale on the dark web.
Your computer’s been hacked.
Once a scammer gets inside your computer, they have full access to all of your sensitive data.
5 signs a terminal’s been compromised
The security seal has been voided.
Many gas stations have joined the war against credit card crimes by placing a security label across the pump. When the pump is safe to use, the label has a red, blue or black background. When it’s been breached, the words “Void Open” will appear in white.
The card reader is too big for the machine.
The card reader is created to fit perfectly on top of the machine. If it protrudes past it, it’s likely been tampered with.
The pin pad looks newer than the rest of the machine.
The entire machine should be in a similar condition.
The pin pad looks raised.
If the pin pad looks abnormally high compared to the rest of the machine, the card reader may have been fitted with a new pin pad that will record your keystrokes.
The credit card reader is not secured in place.
If parts of the payment terminal are loose, it’s likely been compromised.
5 times you’re at high risk for credit card fraud
You lost your card.
If you misplaced your card – even if it was eventually returned to you – there’s a chance your information has been skimmed.
You’re visiting an unfamiliar area.
When patronizing a business in an unfamiliar neighborhood, you don’t know who you can trust.
A company you use has been breached.
If a business you frequent has been compromised, carefully monitor your credit for suspicious activity.
You shared your information online with an unverifiable contact.
If you’ve willingly or unwillingly shared sensitive information online and you’re not certain of the contact’s authenticity, you’ve likely been frauded.
You downloaded something from an unrecognizable source.
Have you accidentally downloaded an attachment from an unknown source? Then your computer has likely been compromised and you’re at risk for credit card fraud.
5 ways to protect yourself against credit card fraud
Check all card readers for signs of tampering before paying.
Never share your credit card information online unless you’re absolutely sure the website you’re using is authentic and the company behind it is trustworthy.
Check your monthly credit card statements for suspicious activity and review your credit reports on a frequent basis.
Use cash when patronizing a business that’s in an unfamiliar area.
Don’t download any attachments from unknown sources.
5 steps to take if your credit card has been frauded
Lock the compromised account.
Dispute any fraudulent charges on your compromised accounts and ask to have them locked or completely shut down.
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
Consider a credit freeze.
This will make it impossible for the scammer to open a line of credit in your name.
Alert the FTC.
Visit identitytheft.gov to report the crime.
Open new accounts.
Begin restoring your credit with new accounts and lines of credit.
At [credit union], we’ve always got your back! Call, click, or stop by today to ask about steps you can take to protect your information from getting hacked.
Your Turn: Have you ever been a victim of credit card fraud? Share your story with us in the comments.
How many times a month do you fill ‘er up? It’s a mindless chore, but did you know it can also be the beginning of a financial nightmare? Gas pump skimming is an old crime that’s made a comeback – and your debit card may be at risk.
Every day, 29 million Americans pay for fuel using a credit or debit card. However, compromised pumps with skimming devices installed by scammers have recently been found in several states.
Since these skimmer devices are almost invisible, they can be really difficult to spot, enabling them to easily capture the information of up to 100 cards a day! And, thanks to Bluetooth technology, the criminal doesn’t even need to return to the scene of the crime to collect the data their skimmer has obtained; it can all be done remotely from as far as 100 yards away.
Yes, EMV-enabled technology has become more commonplace, but gas stations were given until 2020 to update their payment systems. This makes them even more vulnerable to such hacks.
Protect yourself against this heinous hack by arming yourself with all you need to know about card skimmers.
How it works
Hackers choose their gas pumps wisely. They usually opt to outfit the one that is farthest from the on-site convenience shop. This way, their activity is out of the range of any security cameras at the shop’s entrance. The hacker will then place a skimming device on top of the pump’s card reader. It will usually be identical to the existing reader, with only a few and hard-to-spot differences.
Sometimes, hackers may place a skimmer inside the pump itself. This task can be done in less than a minute. The hacker can then leave the area and access all the data being collected by the skimmer, with no one being the wiser.
Choose your payment method wisely
You may consider giving yourself extra protection by using a credit card or cash to pay at the pump. A credit card may be compromised just like a debit card, but you can easily dispute fraudulent charges made on your card. Depending upon your financial institution, your debit card may offer minimal purchase protection.
If you want the safest payment method, cash is a good bet. However, remember that cash cannot be replaced if lost or stolen.
How to spot a skimmer
If you don’t like the idea of carrying around wads of cash, you can still protect yourself against skimmers. Use caution while at the pump, and learn how to spot a skimmer. If something looks suspicious, move on to the next pump and report your findings to the local police as well as the gas attendant on duty.
4 ways to spot a skimmer:
Use your eyes. Check out the card reader very carefully. Do the numbers on the PIN pad look raised? Do they look newer or bigger than the rest of the machine? Does anything look like it doesn’t belong? Is the fuel pump’s seal broken?
Check the tape. Many gas stations place serial-numbered security tape across the dispenser to protect their pumps from skimmers. If the tape has been broken, or there’s no tape on the dispenser at all, it may have been compromised.
Use your fingers. Feel the card reader before sliding your card into the slot. Do the keys feel raised? Is it difficult to insert your card? These are both red flags that the card reader may have been fitted with a skimming device.
Use your phone. There are several free anti-skimming apps you can install on your phone, such as Skimmer Scanner. Using these apps, you can scan a card reader for a skimming device and get an alert if one is detected. You can also check your phone’s Bluetooth to see if any strange letters or numbers appear under “other devices.”
General card safety
It’s always a good idea to practice general safety when using a card to pay at the pump.
Choose the pump that is closest to the store and always cover the number pad with your hand when inputting your PIN. If you haven’t yet updated to a chip card, now’s the time to do so. It’ll offer you an extra layer of protection. It’s also a good idea to periodically check your account statements for suspicious charges.
Your Turn: How do you pay at the pump? Why do you choose this method? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!
In a recent scam targeting cash-strapped millennials, fraudsters are once again cashing in on people’s naivety and goodwill. Only this time they’re using social media to make it happen.
What makes the scam especially cruel is that fraudsters specifically look for victims who are short on funds, such as students with large loans hanging over their heads, struggling single parents or young professionals searching for a job. People who are desperate for cash also prove to be desperate enough to believe almost anything that will help them earn them a quick buck. Unfortunately, this vulnerability, coupled with the broad reach and easy plundering that scammers are granted by using social media, has made card cracking more successful in luring victims than many other scams.
Card cracking scams start with an innocent-looking social media post that appears like the dozens you scroll through every day. The post may show up on the victim’s Twitter feed, Facebook page or on Instagram, and it will always showcase some form of quick cash. It might be an easy-to-win contest with a huge reward for the winner. It can be a dream job that will instantly be yours – as soon as you follow the instructions. It may even be a complete giveaway, such as a cash bonus or a gift card that you’ll be granted just for sharing some information. If you click on the embedded link, you’ll be asked for your checking account information, your PIN or your online banking credentials.
Once the scammers have this information, they can do any number of things with their prize, from withdrawing large sums of cash from your account to using your debit card number for a massive shopping spree. They may even help themselves to funds you have in your account, such as a paycheck or student loan.
In another iteration of card cracking, scammers will tug on victims’ heartstrings, claiming their personal accounts are frozen and they have no access to money. They’ll ask the victim to allow them to access the victim’s account for simple transactions such as depositing checks. Once the checks are in, the scammer will cash in on the amount, and a few days later, when the check bounces, the scammer will be long gone. This variation is sometimes played out in person, on college campuses.
In yet a third scheme, card crackers promise victims a cut of fraudulent funds if the victim allows them to use their account. Victims often rationalize this crime by assuring themselves that they’re not actually playing a part in the fraud. Of course, they will still be held accountable when the scammers are busted.
Sadly, falling victim to a scam can be especially harmful for a millennial who is just beginning to build their credit history.
Don’t be the next victim. Here’s how to protect yourself from card cracking:
1.) Never share personal information with a stranger
You’ve heard it a thousand times, but this rule cannot be overstated. Never share sensitive information with a correspondent whose identity you can not verify with absolute certainty. You wouldn’t think of giving your checking account number to a solicitor you met on the street; why would you share it with a stranger online?
Of course, victims of card cracking and similar schemes believe the scammers are legitimate. That’s why it’s important to authenticate a web address, company or offer by asking for a street address or phone number. Additionally, by educating yourself about these scams, you’ll be able to spot one immediately.
2.) When it’s too good to be true, it usually is
Remembering this rule of thumb will go a long way toward helping you recognize scammers. Free or easy money exists only in fairy tales. Don’t believe the Facebook post that promises you’ll land that dream job you’ve been searching for if you only hand over your account passwords. Ignore the offer for a free gift card and don’t believe the sob story about frozen accounts leaving people penniless.
3.) Never cash a check for someone else
You are not a credit union or a check-cashing business. If someone approaches you in person or online and asks you to cash a check for them, politely refuse. Unless you would trust this person with your life, there is no reason to believe their tale is legitimate or that their check will be honored.
4.) Report suspicious activity If you notice any suspicious activity on your account, report it immediately. You may have fallen prey to a card cracking scam and you don’t even know it!
Scammers may be smart, but you can be smarter. When you’re educated, alert and aware, you’ll be able to spot most scams before it’s too late.
Have you recently spotted any card cracking scams on your social media platforms? Share what tipped you off in the comments!
The downsides of cancelling a credit card are usually not worth it Many consumers are tempted to limit their debt by closing one or more credit cards as a result of the steady rise of the cost of living and credit card interest rates. However, though there are many reasons to close a credit card, there are ultimately even more and better reasons not to.
Adverse effect on credit score
If you care about maintaining a good credit score, you should avoid closing a credit card even if you have fully paid off the balance. This is because your credit score is based on a number of different factors that will almost all be adversely affected by closing a credit card.
“An account closure could wind up hurting your score because it eliminates the available credit line associated with the card and could easily skew your…credit utilization. It could also lower the age of your credit report, which may affect your score over time,” warns Jeanine Skowronski, credit card analyst and reporter for Bankrate.com.
According to FICO™, the United States’ biggest credit scoring service, 10 percent of your credit score is determined by credit mix. The more diverse the mix of your credit types, the better, so you should especially avoid cancelling a credit card if it is your only one or one of just a few.
Another 15 percent of your credit score is determined by the length of credit history. Because of this, you should take care not to close your oldest credit card. “Lenders tend to view borrowers with short credit histories as riskier than borrowers with longer histories,” writes LaToya Irby, credit and debt management expert, in a May 2017 article for TheBalance.com. “Closing your oldest credit card won’t impact your credit score immediately. But, once the credit card falls off your credit report several years down the road, you might see an unexpected credit score drop.”
More importantly, 35 percent of your credit score is determined by your payment history. If the credit card you want to close has a long and good history, closing it will hurt your credit score significantly. “If you have a good payment history on a card, then it is a good idea to leave that card open. This is especially important if you have a poor history with other cards or forms of credit,” says Chizoba Morah, contributor for Investopedia.com.
Debt and identity theft
Limiting debt and preventing identify theft are among the top two reasons people might decide to close a credit card. According to Morah, “When people feel they are spending too much money and cannot resist the lure of the credit card, they close the account.”
Furthermore, Morah adds that “by closing a credit card, they can lessen the chances that their identity will be stolen,” a risk that is increasingly at the front of people’s minds given the increase in identity theft in recent years.
While these are legitimate reasons to cancel a credit card, there are alternative methods to tackling these without incurring penalties on your credit report.
Alternative methods There are a couple of steps you can take to keep a credit card open while making it very difficult to use it, thus limiting the aforementioned temptation and risk of identity theft. One step is to remove your credit card information from any online retailer that still has it, such as Amazon, so that it can never be unintentionally used by you or the retailer.
Another step is to destroy the physical credit card itself so that there is no risk of losing it or having it stolen. “If you have an inactive credit card or a card with a high balance, cut it up instead of closing it so that the history remains on your credit report but you won’t accumulate more charges on it,” advises Morah.
Ultimately, the negative consequences of canceling a credit card more than offset the potential benefits, especially as these benefits can be explored via alternative means. Unless the credit card you want to cancel is very new, mostly unused and one of many other credit cards, you are likely better off leaving it open.
Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.
How to protect your information when shopping on the internet It seems all too common these days to hear about major breaches at retailers that leave consumers’ credit card numbers and personal information vulnerable to identity thieves. In perilous times, it feels tenuous enough using a credit card to complete purchases in-store, let alone online. If you shop online frequently, the question of whether it is safe to store credit card information online for the purposes of faster and easier check outs is a valid one that can be approached a number of ways.
Assume the worst
In an April 2014 article on NerdWallet entitled “Should I Save My Credit Card Payment Information on Retail Websites?”, website contributor Lindsay Konsko states the obvious in a blunt fashion: “[Y]ou must understand that anything you put on the internet should be considered completely unsafe and available to the public. No matter how much a website boasts about its security, it may still be vulnerable.”
You can save your credit card information with retailers if you shop there frequently enough that it might warrant it, but you should only do so fully understanding the level of risk involved. Some retail outlets like Amazon.com provide two-step authentication to protect your information and help you spot when someone might be attempting to access your account, but even then, it is not entirely protected from the possibility of data breaches.
Consider the alternatives
CNET Senior Editor Lexy Savvides recommends protecting yourself from the possibility of having your credit card information stolen from an online retailer by considering instead the option of shopping online with a prepaid card. According to Savvides, prepaid credit cards are advantageous in that they can help curb impulse shopping and can easily be reloaded (for a small fee), but arguably the biggest advantage that they provide online shoppers is that “even if the card’s details are compromised somewhere along the chain, there is a limit to the amount of money that can be taken.”
The reality, as unfortunate as it may be, is that there can be no guarantee of the complete safety of your credit card information. Having said that, it is within your power to determine how much risk you face. Savvides notes that you should only enter credit card information when checking out online if the website has an https connection and “a padlock or another digital security certificate to ensure that you are only entering your details on a site that encrypts the transaction end-to-end.”
Savvides also recommends being attentive when it comes to monitoring transactions. Konsko notes that most credit card companies offer fraud protection and low or zero liability for fraudulent charges, but it is not always guaranteed that a credit card company will notify you when a charge goes through even if it is unusual. As such, frequent or even daily monitoring of your balances and transactions can be key to shutting down identity thieves before they have an opportunity to do any major damage.
Savvides notes that credit card companies like MasterCard and Visa offer secondary levels of security to protect your credit card information by requiring a private code or password before completing a purchase. Before deciding whether you feel comfortable storing your credit card information with a retailer online, make sure that your credit provider will protect you in the event of having that information compromised. When it comes to credit, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.
If used carefully, credit can be a helpful financial tool. For example, using credit to purchase a home now, rather than trying to save up the whole purchase price, makes financial sense. The home provides a place to live that will perhaps increase in value and the mortgage interest offers a tax deduction. Credit may also help you deal promptly with costly emergencies.
Many consumers turn to credit when faced with unexpected home or auto repairs, as well as medical emergencies. And credit offers convenience, enabling you to rent a car or hotel room or buy airline tickets over the phone or online. In many situations, credit offers peace of mind; there is no need to carry large amounts of cash when shopping or traveling.
Despite all the advantages and conveniences credit can provide, there are some pitfalls associated with credit use. Credit can be expensive. Interest rates (often ranging from 14% to 22%), finance charges, annual fees, and penalties can dramatically increase the cost of any purchase made on credit. Then, there is a tendency to overspend on credit. It is much easier to spend more than you can afford when all you have to do is pull out the plastic. Over-extension gets thousands of consumers into financial trouble every year.
It is possible to have the best of both worlds, though. Designing a realistic spending and savings plan so you are aware of how much credit you can afford, as well as comparing the cost of credit and shopping around for the best deals, will help you avoid credit trouble.
Here are a few more tips:
Keep your charge receipts in an envelope with a running total on the outside. If the total exceeds an amount you consider appropriate, you know it’s time to curtail your spending.
Save monthly for expenses such as auto maintenance, holiday gifts, and the kids’ school clothes. That way you don’t need to use credit to cover these expenses, or, if you do charge them, you can pay the balance in full when the bill arrives.
Monitor interest rates. Choose lower-rate financing options whenever possible.
Limit the number of open credit card accounts you have. You don’t need more than one or two credit cards, and it’s much easier to keep track of your total outstanding debt with just a couple of accounts.
How Much Debt Is OK?
As a rule, no more than 15% of your net (take home) income should be committed to consumer debt payments each month. Another way to determine how much debt is appropriate for you to carry is to first complete a family budget. The amount remaining after you deduct your monthly savings and living expenses from your net income is the most you should have going to debt repayment. If you’re sending more than that to your creditors each month, you may want to consider credit coaching to help you reduce your debt load.
Shopping for Credit
When shopping for a credit card, you should first decide how you plan to use it so you can compare the features that are important for you. It is important to understand the difference between a charge card and a credit card. The balance on a charge card must be paid in full every month. Paying only a portion of the bill will cause your account to be delinquent. A credit card allows you to carry a balance for as long as you want, provided you make at least the minimum monthly payment due.
If you will pay your credit card bill off every month, a low annual fee is important. If you usually carry a balance, look for the lowest interest rate. Shop for a grace period, the amount of time after your purchase during which finance charges are not assessed. Some banks and finance companies give you up to 30 “free” days, but it has to be at least 21 days. However, interest starts accruing immediately on cash advances; there is no grace period and the interest rate is higher than that applied to regular purchases.
Depending on your payment and credit use habits, you may also be affected by late and, possibly, over-limit fees.
If you have no credit or a bad credit history, you may be able to obtain a secured credit card. A secured card works just like a regular credit card except that you must leave a deposit—usually between $250 and $500—with the issuing bank as collateral. If you default on your payments, the bank takes the money owed out of your deposit.
The interest rate and annual fee on a secured card are often a bit higher than on a regular card. But a secured card can offer you the convenience of a regular credit card and the opportunity to improve your credit record. When comparing cards, try to find one that does not charge an application or processing fee and confirm with the issuing bank that they will report your payment performance to at least one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax. Make the most of this chance to build an unblemished credit report!
Used with Permission. Published by BALANCE Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.
In today’s digital age, you need to be especially careful when making online purchases
With online shopping becoming the norm, people have also become more susceptible to identity theft. It’s imperative that you be careful and mindful of how you shop online.
A November 2016 article in The Balance by contributor LaToya Irby outlines seven tips for safe online shopping:
Conduct your online shopping only on websites you trust It may sound obvious, but using your credit card to make online purchases only on those websites you know and trust could save you from becoming a victim of fraud. Never click on links provided via email; instead, type the entire URL of the website into your browser to open the site.
Never shop from a public place Public computers are susceptible to hacker technology, such as software that captures your keystrokes and retains your personal and credit card information. Additionally, public Wi-Fi is unsecured and, as such, could redirect your device to a fake internet connection that an identity thief can monitor and use to intercept your personal information.
Keep your devices protected from viruses
Always stay up to date with virus and spyware protection software, and make sure you are using antivirus software that is reputable, not the type for which you receive an ad via email or in a pop-up window.
Check with the BBB first The Better Business Bureau marks websites with poor customer service records, so make sure to check out the credibility of the site in question using the BBB before making a purchase.
Use credit cards, not debit cards Credit cards have better protection services against fraud than debit cards, so you’re liable for fewer fraudulent charges if they occur. Additionally, you could lose access to your account and your funds while the financial institution sorts out a debit card that has been compromised, whereas with a credit card the only access that’s affected is that line of credit.
Make sure the website you use is secured Always look for the green lock symbol at the start of your URL browser, and make sure you type in the website using “https” to ensure the site is secured to encrypt your information when making online purchases.
Keep track of your purchases with receipts Just as with in-store purchases, printing a copy of the receipt of your online transaction will help you track your credit card activity. Use the printed copy to compare against your monthly credit card statement and watch for fraud.
In a November 2016 article in the Better Business Bureau by APR, CFEE Janet C. Hart recommends checking both your credit card activity and your bank account activity once a week, rather than waiting for the monthly statement. This ensures you catch fraudulent activity shortly after it’s occurred instead of finding out weeks later.
Hart also advises that we be wary of phishing scams—emails seemingly from a business claiming an error with your order or your account and asking you to confirm personal and identifying information. Legitimate businesses do not send these types of emails.
“Beware of ‘GREAT’ deals — if you find a website offering deals that seem too good to be true, they probably are. You may get a knock-off product, a product that is not the brand you ordered, or you may get nothing at all,” adds Hart.
Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.