Frozen.

We freeze our food for safekeeping, right?

But, have you frozen your financial files by putting a credit freeze in place? Probably eight out of ten times I ask a person this question, I am met with a blank stare.

“What is a credit freeze?”

Each year, tens of millions of Americans become victims to identity theft. And even though the crooks are working hard to build a financial data file on each of us, there actually IS something we can do to safeguard our financial identity.

And all it takes is a good, hard freeze.

What is a credit freeze?

A credit freeze means your credit files at the national credit bureaus are frozen. On lock-down. No longer accessible to anyone but you. A new credit line (an auto loan, credit card, mortgage etc) cannot be opened without you and only you ‘thawing’ your credit files.

It’s as if you hide your most important financial records away from prying eyes and crooked crooks. Like a top secret safe and only you know the combination.

In September of 2018, a new federal law guarantees a ‘Free Freeze’ for all. In the past, states could charge fees to freeze and thaw credit reports, but now this simple, yet very effective strategy is available to all for free.

This law also allows you to put a freeze in place for your under-16 child. If you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a legal power of attorney, you can get a credit freeze for that person also.

How exactly does a credit freeze work?

Call or go online to Transunion, Experian and Equifax Credit Reporting Agencies and request a freeze. They must put the freeze in place within one business day.

If you need to apply for a loan or credit card, either call or go online to lift or ‘thaw’ the freeze in order for your credit file to be accessed by the creditor. This will go into affect within one hour or on the requested date range. You can also make the freeze request by mail, but it will be three business days after receiving the request before it goes into effect.

Remember, the credit freeze and credit freeze lift/thaw is FREE.

And I won’t lie to you, the credit reporting agencies don’t make it easy. You may have to scroll through a lot of offers to lock your credit, monitor your credit or any other various fee-only offers. The freeze IS there and it IS free by federal law, but you may have to search through a lot of non-free offers to find it.

Just keep in mind it is free. Period. F.R.E.E. That means no cost to you!

If you have been victim of identify theft, you can also place a one year fraud alert or an extended fraud alert for seven years. A fraud alert lets creditors know they must contact you before opening a new account. But the credit freeze is essentially the same thing and not limited by any time line.

Credit Bureau Contacts

Contact the national credit bureaus to request fraud alerts, credit freezes (also known as security freezes), and opt outs from pre‑screened credit offers.

Equifax
Equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services
800-685-1111

Experian
Experian.com/help
888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)

Transunion
TransUnion.com/credit-help
888-909-8872

My Goat Has Been Got

Postal Scam,Elderly scams,financial scams

 

Each time I think nothing will surprise me when it comes to thieving scammers, I hear a more shocking story.

My last blog post HERE, about the fake IRS caller, who made a ‘We have an active shooter!’ call to the local sheriff, when his intended victim wouldn’t fall for the scam, won the prize for the most creative ‘bad guy move’ in my book. It seemed the crooks had hired a creative team to come up with new and improved ways to wreck havoc on their victims.

But today, my goat is officially ‘got’.

My senior citizen friend got a letter in the mail from the United States Postal Service, verifying his request to have all of his mail forwarded, due to a move. But there was a problem.

He wasn’t moving.

This scam, aimed at a 90-year old gentle man, a retired veteran, and much-loved Papa, genuinely makes me angry.

The crook had submitted a Change of Address form to the USPS, in order to redirect my friend’s mail to a different mailbox,  so it would be easy to intercept checks and steal personal identity information. Since ID is usually required to request this, we are not sure how it was pulled off.

Here we have a very creative crook, and a lazy one at that.  He or she must have gotten tired of driving up and down neighborhood roads, opening one mailbox after another, stealing fresh mail. Maybe, this person got stung by a bee from a climbing mailbox Clematis or accidentally lifted an envelope covered in ants. A new and efficient manner of thievery was needed, so this criminal got the brilliant idea to submit a change of address form to the post office.

I would even bet this form was submitted for multiple neighbors.

While I admire the unique quality of this scheme, he obviously did not think it all the way through to realize he was leaving a trail of crumbs to his own address or a registered P.O. Box.

Silly bad guy. Don’t make these plans late in the night when you’re tired. Think it through, man, think it through.

We need to work as a community to protect one another from these miserable low-lifes.

Here is a list of what you and I can do to stay safe from these thieves.

1.  Spot a Scammer – They often pretend to be from the government, a charity or a family member.You may get a call, full of static, saying it is from a teenaged grandchild needing wired money to get out of jail. DON’T BELIEVE THE CALLER ID. Caller ID can be faked. All it takes is $10 and an account with the right company and your caller ID can become whatever you wish. If you get a call, and you have a doubt, hang up, and research the actual person or organization.  DO NOT CALL BACK THE NUMBER THEY GAVE YOU OR WHAT IS ON THE CALLER ID. This goes for emails too. Contact the organization yourself and verify verify verify.

2.  Research – The world is at your fingertips. If any organization or product sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Research them on your computer and type in the company or product name with the word ‘scam’. You can also search for the phone number that called you to find if others have complained.

3.  Hold Onto Your Money – If you have truly won a prize, you will NOT be paying a fee to collect the prize. PERIOD. If you receive a letter stating you have won a contest you have no memory entering, it is a scam. If you get a request to send in $20 to collect a prize, it is a scam. Do not wire money to anyone you don’t know personally. And do not pay upfront for services, as this is a common tactic to steal your money.

4.  Pay the Safe Way – Credit cards have vast fraud protection built in, but some payment methods do not. Services such as Western Union or MoneyGram are full of risks, as it is nearly impossible to get your money back. This is also true for reloadable cards like MoneyPak, Reloadit or Vanilla. Government offices and legitimate companies will not request that you use these payment methods. Some IRS scammers even request payments be made on iTunes gift cards. iTune Gift Cards!

5.  If in Doubt, Share Your Concerns With a Trusted Friend – Share your concerns! Call your grown kids, call your pastor, call your accountant, anyone you trust! Let them help you figure out the validity of the call or letter or email. Scammers will push you to make a decision NOW, and they may even threaten you. This is your clue to slow down and check out their story. Do not be embarrassed. Check it out.

6. Hang up on Robocalls – If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message, hang up and report it to the FTC. Robocalls are illegal, and often the products are scams. Do not press ‘1’ to speak to a person or to be taken off the list. That could lead to more calls. Just hang up and report the call to www.ftc.gov/complaint

7. Be skeptical about the word ‘FREE’ – Some companies will use a free trial to get you to sign you up for products. Then they will bill you monthly and automatically renew you each year. Do not give out your credit card number or your bank account number for a free trial. Review your statements each month. Before you agree to a free trial, research the company and read the cancellation policy.

8. DO NOT deposit a check and wire money back – Scammers will send you a check and then request you wire them money back because they ‘accidentally’ sent too much to pay for an item you had for sell. It can take a bank weeks to discover a fake check. This is a scam that can get you in hot water with the police!  By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within a few days, but if a deposited check turns out to be a fake, you are responsible for repaying the bank and you could even be arrested. It has happened to many people and is a common scam.

If you spot a scam or are a victim of a scam, report it to ftc.gov/complaint. Your reports help the FTC and other law enforcement agencies investigate scams and bring the bad guys to justice, and also, don’t forget to sign up for scam alerts by email from the FTC https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USFTC/subscriber/new?topic_id=USFTC_31

Every little nickel and dime and $18 counts!

Today, I reduced my comcast bill by $18 per month by returning the rented modem and using my own modem and also, removing the digital boxes from two tvs we hardly ever watch.

That’s $216 saved each year and sadly, $3456 we spent on renting these items over the 16 years we have lived here.  $3456!! That actually makes me a little sick. For that amount of money, I could take a family to Disney world! Buy a used car for a struggling friend!

Are you paying these fees? If you are, I want to challenge you to make a change and swap out your rented modem for a shiny new modem that you own. It’s not difficult, albeit a little intimidating.  I purchased the Arris SB6183 modem from Bestbuy, called comcast, told the agent the serial number for the activation, attached the power cord, the ethernet cord and voila! We had internet!

I gathered up the old modem, power cord, the guest room digital boxes with their cords and remotes, and took advantage of a great new partnership comcast has with UPS. I dropped off the equipment, signed my name, and they shipped it back for free.

It was that easy!

If you have a house phone, the Arris modem doesn’t have a phone jack so I took care of that with the OBI202 and a google voice number. Now we have our house phone with a new number which I chose,our mobiles, and thankfully, we will no longer be hearing from “Rachel at card services.”  Any voice mails come to me as a text and it all took less than two hours. If you want address-identifying 911 service from your house phone you will need to sign up for 911 service at Anveo. Again, this was easy and done via the OBI website.

Was it a pain in the rear?

Yes, yes it was…just a little. But I took care of that with a slice of key lime pie.

Now, we have $18 per month back in to our budget where it belongs!

 

 

Sea Monkeys aren’t really monkeys

Consumer tip for reading reviews

I was thinking today how we have such an advantage, over years past, with the internet. Before buying anything, a car, a water filter, a pair of shoes, or even Sea Monkeys, we can read hundreds of reviews.

Can you imagine what it was like ‘back in the day’ when we could only go by word-of-mouth, and even that was limited to our own circle of friends and family.

Hence, the wild success of Sea Monkeys. Those crafty little smiling faces tempted me every time I read a Sixteen or Tiger Beat magazine. “A Bowlful of Happiness! Instant Pets!”
I finally gave into the ad, which promised a highly interactive time with these smiling sea critters. The package arrived in the mail, and it was no more than a few teeny tiny dried shrimp. They didn’t press their noses against the fish bowl glass with a big smile, waving their little sea monkey hands. Nope, they were just some old dried out shrimp.

In today’s world, Sea Monkeys would have gotten multiple 1 star reviews on amazon, followed by outraged posts yelling in caps, “DON’T WASTE YOUR MONEY!” OR “THEY AREN’T REALLY MONKEYS!!” And even better, we could have learned how the inventor of this sham was actually a Nazi sympathizer who was quoted as saying Hitler “had just gotten bad press”, and was using our hard-earned allowances to further his Nazi beliefs.

All of this leads me to say, review your items before purchasing and know the source. Not all reviews are equal. Free review sites could easily be highlighting reviews written by a summer intern, hired to sway the unsuspecting public.

I was researching a popular home improvement company and the easy-to-find online reviews were ALL five stars.  Pages and pages of five stars. My suspicions were confirmed when I dug a little deeper and found a previous employee saying that they were paid to write five star reviews. This company was luring consumers into spending ten times the average cost of a new roof or new windows.

Consumer reports is a good place to start. I agree with most of their assessments, but found it is important to even read the consumer reviews of their reviews. The Speed Queen washer is one example. CR gave it a big raspberry, due to it’s higher water consumption, but the consumer reviews were all five stars, praising its longevity and heavy-duty steel USA-made parts.

You work hard for your pennies and dimes. Watch where they go and let today’s marketplace guide you to the smartest  purchase.