Here’s What to Do the Next Time a Business Asks for Your Credit Card by Phone or Email

When we provide our credit card information via remote means, we are often made more vulnerable to identity theft. Here's why.

Recently, I was booking a hotel reservation for a family member and in the process was asked to provide certain information. It was a simple third-party credit card authorization. What could possibly go wrong?


Beyond the fact that I am professionally paranoid — I wrote a book about it — there are so many ways for your information to wind up in the wrong hands, especially your credit card information. When we provide our credit card information via remote means, we are often made more vulnerable to identity theft by the authentication process itself.

There is no best way to conduct this sort of business remotely without putting ourselves in danger of becoming victims of identity theft, but there are better and worse ones. These days, it’s more expedient to focus on the very few ways sensitive information can be made available to third parties without creating unnecessary exposure.

A Better Way for Another Day?

If you are unfazed about sending your information via electronic means, consider something similar: paying for a meal with a credit card. We expose our data and send it on a journey every time we pay a bill at a restaurant.

I saw my first portable credit card reader on American soil the other day when paying the bill at a new restaurant. First, I want to say that the lunch was excellent, and I would have gone back even if the waiter hadn’t trotted out that marvelous handheld identity theft reduction device. I am scam-obsessed, and have long envied our friends on the other side of the Atlantic — and locations in other directions as well — for the ubiquity of at-table card payment.

The reason those machines are great is simple: The server has no opportunity to write down or photograph your card information.

Let that sink in … It’s unsettling now that you think about it, right? All those times a server has walked away with your credit card, what stopped him or her from snapping a quick pic of the front and back before returning to your table?

That reader is new technology. The service industry is finally (belatedly) getting hip to the challenge of protecting consumers from identity theft and other scams, but what should you do while it’s still in catch-up mode?

How to Send Your Stuff

The form that was emailed to me by the hotel made the threat of a sneaky waiter snapping pics of my credit card seem like amateur hour.

Obviously, the reservations department asked for my credit card number and expiration date. They also wanted my billing address, work and home phone numbers, email address and signature. Then there was the outline of a box, under which were the words: “Copy front of the credit card” and “Copy of ID.”

Now, I’ve already confessed to being someone who looks for the angle crooks will try to use. The idea of sending, in addition to all the other information requested, an image of a valid form of identification — in my case, my driver’s license — was truly unthinkable. I’d sooner have my Social Security number puffed out by a skywriter over the House that Ruth Built during a Yankees-Red Sox playoff game. (Not convinced? Read up on the surprising ways identity theft can hurt you.)

The form gave me the option of sending my cornucopia of sensitive personal information via email or by way of fax. Which is the better choice?

Hackers Are Really Good at What They Do

Phone calls and faxes conducted over phone lines can be rerouted, emails can be intercepted. Phone calls can also be listened to, and therein lies another problem. When you call a service provider — any kind that costs a set amount every month— there will come a time during the call when you will have to provide your Social Security number so that the company can run a credit check. A service rep is going to ask you for it — the whole thing.

Remember the waiter? Same problem.

Absolutely nothing can stop that person from writing down your information. And before you ask why you can’t input the information on your keypad, remember: Phone calls are not secure, the tones can be intercepted. Encryption is both complex and costly. This is why the federal government has been investigating the possibility of a universal identifier. But in the meantime, those credit checks or authentications pose the same, if not greater, peril as your credit card’s journey at most restaurants.

Old Is New (But Not Fail-Safe)

As counterintuitive as it seems, using the fax in this scenario is the safer path, though it is not completely safe given the possibility of data interception.

Pro tip: Call before sending a fax that contains personally identifiable information or anything else that is for as few eyes as necessary, and ask the person on the phone if they are near the fax machine, or if not if they can be. Call again to make sure the transmission has been retrieved and isn’t just sitting in a tray waiting for a scam artist to come sauntering by with a smartphone and a shopping list of things they want to purchase using your information.

While we await better solutions, you are the ultimate guardian of your personal information, and your vigilance given the myriad threats out there will lead the way for change. In the meantime, get in the habit of monitoring your finances for any sign of mischief. You can view two of your free credit scores, with helpful updates every 14 days, for free on

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10 Events Homeowners Insurance Doesn’t Always Cover


If you own a home, you most likely have homeowners insurance (it’s typically required to secure a mortgage). You know your insurance policy covers your home and the possessions inside it in the event of a fire or theft, but you may not realize there are many things which are not covered by your homeowners insurance.

Before you have a claim, it is important to know what your insurance provider will and will not cover so you can alter your policy or budget accordingly.

1. Flooding

Flooding is usually not covered under a standard homeowners insurance policy. If you live in an area prone to flooding, you may have already secured flood insurance. However, many people who do not live in this type of area do not have this additional coverage. You can visit the National Flood Insurance program to learn more about adding this to your insurance line up.

2. Earthquakes

If you haven’t experienced an earthquake in your area, you probably feel you do not need to worry about earthquake coverage. However, there have been more instances of this in less typical parts of the country, like the one that hit Oklahoma recently.

If you have a basic policy, it likely will not cover this type of damage. Therefore, you would need to take out additional insurance to cover your home. This is usually only an issue in areas which face higher risk, but you can ask your agent about this and decide if you should purchase it or not.

3. Animal Bites

Many times, basic homeowners insurance does not cover any sort of animal bite. If you have pets, you need to check your current policy to see if you are covered or not. If you are not, find out what you can do to cover yourself.

4. Sewer Backups

If your sewer backs up into your home, a standard insurance policy may not cover you. If you live in a newer home, this may not be as much of a concern. However, if your house is older, or you have a septic tank, this could be more of an issue. Ask your agent about adding in additional coverage.

5. Sinkholes

With more and more stories of these instances hitting the news, it is something you need to consider. If you reside in Missouri, Texas, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky or Tennessee, you are more likely to have this potential issue arise. There are riders you can add to your policy to protect your home, should this happen to you.

6. Termites

In the majority of cases, the damage caused by these little bugs is not covered and the only way you can cover these costs is by paying out of your own pocket.

7. Simultaneous Events

If you happen to suffer severe wind damage and then your home floods, you may not be covered. The reason? Flood is not covered under your policy. It is what the insurance world calls “anti-concurrent causation.” This is when two events happen at the same time — one of which is not covered under your policy.

8. Burst Pipes

While many times a burst pipe is covered, there are times when it may not be. For example, if it is due to homeowner negligence, such as not leaving the heat on when away on a winter vacation or forgetting to drain a pipe, then it may not be covered. Make sure you take the necessary steps when you are going to be away to help prevent damage. And consider talking with your insurance provider to see what your policy coverage entails.

9. Mold

Mold is horrible and, not only is it ugly, it can actually make you sick. You might check with your provider to see if mold damage is covered by your current policy. If you ever have water in your home for any reason, it’s a good idea to get it cleaned up as soon as possible to help prevent mold growth.

10. Identity Theft

This is actually slowly changing with many companies, but some do not cover the problems that arise because of identity theft. Some companies offer optional additions for your policy, which can cover things like the cost to get your credit restored. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on

No matter which company you use for your insurance, make sure you talk about these instances and add in those riders or consider purchasing additional insurance as needed. Make sure you take the time to read your own policy, or go over it with your provider, to help you avoid any surprises.

Image: Marilyn Nieves

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5 Things Guaranteed to Happen When You Apply for a Credit Card


Ever wonder what happens when you apply for a credit card? You submit the application, but what happens afterward remains a mystery to most people. That’s because credit card applications can be processed a bit differently, depending on the issuer. Underwriting standards vary, issuers may look at different versions of your credit reports or credit scores and varying algorithms get crunched. 

Still, regardless of how a credit card issuer chooses to review your application, there are a few things that are certain to happen during this process. Here are five of them.

1. Your Identity Will Be Verified

When asked for their personal information, some people would prefer to remain anonymous and create a pseudonym. But intentionally providing misinformation — or lying — on a credit card application is illegal (it’s essentially considered fraud.) Plus, when you apply for a credit card, you will be asked for a lot of personal information, including your name, your birth date and your Social Security number. All of these must match up with a real person who has an actual credit history before your account can be considered. If you don’t provide all of this relevant info or make a mistake when filling the form, you can expect the card issuer to contact you for accurate info.

2. You’ll Receive an Immediate Response

The credit card issuer will always respond to your application immediately but not necessarily with a decision. In some cases, applicants receive instant approval, but they’re just as likely to only receive confirmation that their application has been submitted with a promise of further review.

3. Your Credit History Will Be Examined

Once the card issuer has verified your identity, it will research your credit history with at least one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies. In fact, your authorization to do so was included in the fine print you agreed on when you submitted your application. Scrutiny will be placed on your payment history, the amounts you owe and any other recent applications for new credit.

4. You’ll Receive a Decision

Every job seeker has had the experience of applying for a job but never hearing back from the employer. At least when you apply for a credit card, you’re guaranteed to find out if you were approved or denied. If it’s the former, you can look forward to receiving a card in the mail, along with a statement of benefits and terms and conditions. If your application is denied, the card issuer will send a letter called an adverse action notice. This legally mandated notice will explain why your application was denied, say, for carrying too much debt or having too many recent credit inquiries on your credit report.

5. A Hard Inquiry Will Appear on Your Credit Report

The credit pull that the issuer conducts is considered a hard inquiry, which will almost always appear on your credit report and can hurt your credit score. That’s why it’s generally recommended that you refrain from applying for too many credit cards at once. Instead, you’ll want to do some research ahead of time to find out which one is right for you and whether your income and credit score can qualify for it.

Understanding the Application Process

Knowing a little bit about the credit card application process can allow you to maximize your chance of approval. First, you can make sure you accurately fill out the personal identification section of your application, double-checking all of the identity information that you supplied. But more importantly, you should also be verifying that the information in your credit history is accurate.

Fortunately, the consumer credit bureaus are required to offer everyone a free credit report, which you can obtain at If you find any errors, you can contact the credit bureau to dispute the information. (You can also see where your credit stands by viewing two of your credit scores for free each month on

As soon as you apply for a credit card, you can also take a look at the confirmation. If it doesn’t offer an approval or denial, it may still provide an application confirmation number and a phone number to follow up with for an immediate decision. If your application is denied for any reason, you can learn why from the adverse action letter and take steps to fix the problems it identifies.

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Comcast’s Newest Product: Cable Without a Credit Check

It’s no secret many utility and cable companies check your credit when you sign up for services, but that may not always be the case. In fact, Comcast is releasing a new TV package — Xfinity Prepaid Service — which doesn’t require a credit check.

Xfinity Prepaid Service is a no contract, pay-as-you-go plan for TV and Internet services that allows customers to renew their subscription every 7 or 30 days. There is a one-time fee for the starter kits, which includes the first 30 days of TV and/or Internet, and then you can decide when to “refill” your services.

“We want to create an easy, pay-as-you-go option for people who want more flexibility and predictability when buying our services,” Marcien Jenckes, Comcast’s executive vice president of consumer services, said in a press release.

The TV package offers two tiers — more than 45 or 140 channels — while the Internet package has one option with download speeds of up to 10 Mbps. You can choose to order these services individually or bundle them at a discount.

Service Availability

Both the TV and Internet services will be available later this year in select states — Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Florida and Indiana — and are expected to be everywhere Comcast serves by the end of 2017. Comcast has also signed a deal with Boost Mobile to offer Xfinity Prepaid Services in some Boost Mobile locations later this year and all 4,400 locations Comcast serves by the end of 2017.

Changing Service Providers

Remember, it’s important to read the terms and conditions of any Internet or cable plan you are considering in order to determine which one might be best for you. It’s also a good idea to comparison-shop before entering into any contracts or formally subscribing to new plans.

And, if you do opt to ever change service providers, it’s a good idea to keep track of your payments throughout the transition to avoid getting hit with late fees or missing a payment. The latter could eventually wind up in collections and may be reported to credit bureaus, which can lower your credit score. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on

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