Can Your Adopted Pet Expose You to Fraud?

Unfortunately, pet ownership can also make you a target for phishers, scammers and identity thieves.

Pet ownership has definite upsides. You get companionship and exercise and the satisfaction of doing a good deed. Plus, people who own pets live longer. Unfortunately, pet ownership can also make you a target for phishers, scammers and identity thieves.

The Vector du Jour

With 65% of U.S. households including pets (and an estimated $60 billion in spending on them), pet owners represent persons of interest for scammers.

The focus here is on a nearly universal practice: microchipping.

When a pet is adopted, it almost always comes with a microchip implanted at the back of the neck between its shoulder blades (or on the left side of the neck among European rescues). The chip is the size of a grain of rice, and it includes a 10-digit number that has been registered to the adopter. With more than 94% of dogs coming by way of either rescue and/or adoption according to the Humane Society, this is a fertile field for fraud .

These microchips can aid in the return of a lost animal, but are far from a perfect solution. In fact, a study published in 2012 by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Toward Animals found that after searching the neighborhood and having the pet return on its own, microchips were the most common way pet owners were reunited with their owners. In a study published by the Journal of the AVMA, research revealed that only 22 percent of lost dogs entering shelters were returned to their families. That percentage rose to more than 52 percent when a dog was microchipped.

So there is an argument for microchipping. Because there is no unified database for these microchips, a found pet may be on any number of registries, which is good news from the standpoint of crime prevention, because scam artists can’t just pet-nap an animal, scan it, and contact the owner to collect a ransom. (That said, this scenario is theoretically possible. A universal microchip reader can be purchased by anyone.)

Public-Facing Data Is Risky

Many microchipping companies recommend that you provide your mobile phone number. It makes sense on the pet recovery side of things, but none at all on the protecting yourself from scams side—mobile numbers are fast becoming our new Social Security numbers.

The basic mechanism of the scam is simple, and you should be wary of it. You will either get an email (which you provided information to the registry) or a text (to the mobile number you provided), and it will include your pet’s name and some issue that needs your attention. Maybe your dog license is expired. It could be anything. The point is that with your personal information out there in a public-facing database, you’re ripe for the picking. It’s a scam waiting to happen, and you have provided the means of your own victimization by doing the right thing by your pet.

If you have replied to one of these messages, it’s a good idea to check your credit for any changes, because you may have been communicating with a scammer. (You can check two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

Whenever you get an unexpected message, however you get it, you are in danger of getting got. A basic rule of thumb: distrust AND verify. Provide no information until you’re sure who’s asking for it.

What You Can Do

You can see if your information is public by searching for your phone number. You should also search your home and email addresses. Your goal for the best possible data hygiene would be that none of that information yields your name on a search engine.

If you find your information is out there (and not just in connection with a pet), call the company that provides the information online and ask for it to be hidden from the public. While this may slow the process of getting your pet back should it go missing, you will still be reunited, while not exposing your data to anyone who plugs random 10-digit numbers into a pet microchip registry.

Image: fcscafeine

The post Can Your Adopted Pet Expose You to Fraud? appeared first on Credit.com.

The Common Scams People Still Fall for All the Time

The scams are dumb, but the victims are not. Here's why we keep falling for these fraudulent tricks and how to stop doing so.

The top site for classified ads in the U.K. conducted a study recently that should send a wave or two to this side of the Atlantic. When it comes to scams, it’s all about the bait. Gumtree found that even with the forethought that a listing was a scam, more than a third of their users would still go ahead with a transaction. As my mother would say … Actually, she’d probably just shake her head.

It doesn’t matter where they happen. Scams are as international and ubiquitous as the human capacity to be tricked. And while some scams are super-nova dumb, that does not always mean that most people who fall for them are.

Scams rely on a simple fact of life: People are busy. Most of us aren’t Zen masters of meditation. It’s hard to fully occupy each and every moment because we lead distraction-filled lives. We’re not constantly up on the fire tower scanning the horizon for smoke, and that’s a good thing.

Unfortunately, there are some real slime balls out there who rely on this problem of ours.

Here are some recent scams that are making the rounds:

Amazon Phishing Scam

In this scam, you get an email from Amazon. It informs you that there’s been a problem of some sort. Don’t focus on what sort, because it’s these nuances that will get you got. If you get an email from Amazon telling you that there’s been a problem with an order, or that a recent order was canceled, it’s time to focus. It could be a scam.

How it works: There’s a link in the email that leads to a site that looks identical to Amazon, but you’re not anywhere near the site. The scammers are looking to get your personal information to use in the commission of identity theft, and your financial information to drain your credit card or bank account.

What to do: Visit your Amazon account by logging in directly. Do not use the link in the scam phishing email.

[Editor’s note: Keeping track of your credit scores can help you spot signs of fraud early on. A significant decrease in your scores could be a sign that someone has gotten hold of your information and using it without your permission. You can check your credit scores regularly using Credit.com’s absolutely free Credit Report Summary.]

Smishing Scams

Smishing isn’t terribly different from phishing, but if you’re not expecting at least the possibility of a smishing text, you might fall for it. The text arrives and appears to be from your bank. It could be from your internet provider. Generally, it’s from somewhere that can negatively impact your life, and that would also be in possession of your mobile digits.

How It Works: The smishing text informs you that someone has tried to access your account or it’s been frozen (again don’t get caught up on the details, the account or anything else), and your password or some other data needs to be updated. There’s a link to use where you can authenticate yourself by entering your personal information (for example, your Social Security number), and secure your account.

What to Do: If you regularly use your smartphone to access the internet, bear in mind that there are hidden dangers everywhere, and pause before you pounce on text warnings.

Sweepstakes Scam

You get a phone call from someone very cheerful, and maybe even a little breathless in the delivery of their blue-sky greetings. You’ve just won the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. You’re a millionaire or a $500,000-aire. The prize patrol is 20 minutes away, so get dressed and be ready for your photo op with a beach towel-sized check.

How It Works: This scam preys on the wonderful human trait that, no matter how our day or month or year is going, hope springs eternal. Part of your prep for the prize patrol, however, requires that you pay the processing fee upfront. There could be many explanations for it, but the bottom line is you’re going to have to spend money to collect the prize.

What to Do: Hang up, and don’t bother changing your clothes. If you really have money coming to you from the sweepstakes or lottery, they are legally obligated to get it to you.

IRS Phone Scam

You get a phone call from the IRS, which is not entirely far-fetched anymore because Congress directed the IRS to collect back taxes with help from collection agencies. So, you could get a legitimate call from one of these four collection agencies: CBE Group of Cedar Falls, Iowa; Conserve of Fairport, New York; Performant of Livermore, California; or Pioneer of Horseheads, New York.

How It Works: The caller says you owe taxes (never mind the particulars as this is the nuance stuff that fuels any good scam), and if you don’t pay you’re going to be arrested (or some other bad thing will happen). Payment can only be made through a prepaid debit card or gift card, because of the particular kind of hell you created with your fictional bad behavior. You are informed that the purchase of whatever card you are told to buy is linked to the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System.

What to Do: Hang up and wait for a letter from the IRS notifying you of the situation, or call the IRS directly to inquire about any taxes you may owe.

The Grandparent Scam

Here’s one that doesn’t prey on the attention deficit disorder called daily life, but rather, it plays on the heartstrings. This scam relies on the sharing of information on social media, and the universal inability among some people to recognize a relative’s voice.

How It Works: A targeted grandparent gets a call asking for emergency funds, either directly from the grandchild who is actually a scammer armed with family names gleaned from your social media account — or someone representing them (a lawyer, bail bondsman, police officer). The story is good. All scammers are good storytellers. The ask is doable. They need money wired now.

What to Do: Never wire money unless you are absolutely certain where and to whom it’s going. If possible, double check a request with another relative. If you’re told secrecy is necessary (because a parent or sibling will be mad), just say no. Bigger picture advice: Don’t overshare. Set your privacy as tight as it will go, and don’t let people tag you in photos. And while it’s hard to sift through these days, get rid of any friends on social media who aren’t actually friends. Perhaps you should use this as an opportunity to prune a few friends too. You know, the ones that are always asking you for money.

The One-Ring Scam

This one is simple. Your phone rings once. That’s it. The scam relies on a couple things, though. First, there’s a curiosity factor. Second, there’s the very real possibility that most people have not memorized every area code used in the United States. But forget that, because caller ID can be be gamed with a spoofed phone number. Here’s what you need to know: Your phone rang once.

How It Works: You call back the number, and you’re automatically charged for a service that you didn’t want, or money is otherwise sucked out of your phone account to appear at the end of the billing cycle.

What to Do: If your phone rings once, assume the conversation that didn’t happen wasn’t worth happening. Wait for whomever called to leave a message, and never (ever) return fire.

There are more scams happening all the time, and no way to chronicle every one of them. But the baseline behavior of pausing and thinking for a moment, “Could this be a scam?” is your best protection to keep fraudsters at bay.

Image: Kerkez

The post The Common Scams People Still Fall for All the Time appeared first on Credit.com.

14 Ways to Prevent Fraud on Your Debit & Credit Cards

There's no way to make yourself 100% safe from credit card or debit card fraud, but you can build some pretty tall walls. Here's how.

Every time there’s a large credit card breach, you’ll hear some expert say risks for consumers are low, because it’s easy to cancel a credit or debit card and get a new one. Not so fast. If fraud appears on your bill, but you don’t notice it, you’ll pay for it. More important, changing account numbers is a hassle. You’ll have to update all your automatic payment accounts, for example. Screw up one of those, and you could get hit with late fees from a merchant when your payment is denied.

Despite the liability limits, you’re better off avoiding all this in the first place. Below are suggestions on how to do that. Most involve limiting the number of times you have to share your plastic with someone, decreasing your “attack surface.” Some might be familiar. Others might seem extreme. Either way, there’s no way to make yourself 100% fraud proof. That’s why we’ve also provided tips on the earliest possible detection and reporting of fraud, which is the main way to protect yourself. For example, regularly checking your credit scores can help you spot fraudulent activities on your credit cards. (You can check two of your scores free on Credit.com.) Here’s how to keep yourself as safe as possible.

1. Avoid Using Debit Cards to Buy Things

When I asked Gartner fraud analyst Avivah Litan about her fraud-fighting tips, this is the first thing she said:

“Never use PIN debit, except for bank ATM machines attached to bank branches.”

PIN debit is the technical term for using a debit card as “credit” at a merchant. From a fraud perspective, the “debit or credit” question is meaningless. Either way, you are putting your debit card account information into databases criminals can hack. And recovering from a debit card fraud is much more of a hassle than recovering from a credit card fraud. With credit card fraud, consumers call their bank, dispute a fraudulent charge and don’t pay for that part of their bill. With debit card fraud, money is taken from the victim’s checking account, and the consumer has to argue with the bank to get it back. That usually happens quickly, but in the meantime, the consumer’s balance can dip below zero, leading to overdrafts and other potential problems, like bounced rent checks.

It’s a bad idea to buy things with a debit card. Use a debit card to withdraw cash at a bank ATM. Otherwise, use credit.

Some people use debit card purchasing as a personal finance tool to limit spending. That’s a rational reason to do so. If you must, don’t use PIN debit, so at least a criminal can’t gain access to your PIN at that merchant.

2. Be Careful With Stored-Value Apps

The latest trend in money is “digitized stored value.” You probably familiar with it if you buy coffee with your Starbucks app. Many merchants are now imitating Starbucks with their own digitized stored value apps. But app makers and merchants are not banks. They have less experience keeping money safe. The consequences have been obvious: Starbucks consumers have complained for nearly two years about criminals raiding their app-linked credit cards. Worst of all, consumers with auto-fill have seen criminals conduct rapid-fire conduct transactions through the apps. Starbucks says this impacts a tiny fraction of consumers, and they are quickly refunded. If you are using “digitized stored value,” manually reloading value is safer than loading your credit card and especially your debit card.

3. Have a Separate Card for Digital Transactions

Splitting your transactions among cards can limit the “spillover” if fraud occurs. This tip isn’t for everyone. Some consumers like racking up points on one card. Others are afraid they’ll miss a payment if they have more than one credit card bill each month. But separating out transactions can have fraud-fighting benefits. If you are the type to buy items from less popular websites that might not have the security protections of a larger site, consider having a card you use just for those higher-risk purchases. That way, if the small site is compromised, the impact on your life will be contained.

4. Google Second-Tier Sites

Speaking of second-tier sites, you should always Google them before making a purchase. Search “BobsWidgetSite.com and complaints,” then “BobsWidgetSite and fraud,” before making a purchase the first time. Scroll through a page or two of results, in case the site has done search engine optimization work to beat back complaints. I talk often to victims who do that search only after they are victims of fraud, and then kick themselves.

5. Place a Sticker Over Your Security Code

Here’s a novel idea from computer security expert Harri Hursti. Most credit and debit card credentials are useless without the security code numbers on the back of the card. To limit the risk of physical theft, place a sticker over the numbers and memorize them. They are usually only three or four digits. That way someone else who holds your card for a few moments can’t get enough information to steal from your account. Such physical theft is less common than it once was, but the sticker idea is a simple fraud-fighting tool.

6. Say No to ‘Free’ Trial Offers & Avoid ‘Gray Charges’

About five years ago, a credit card fraud fighting firm named BillGuard.com coined the term “gray charges.” These aren’t traditional fraud, but they aren’t transactions you approved, either. It might be a magazine you didn’t realize you purchased as a bundle at a checkout. It might be a subscription travel service that “accidentally” ended up in your shopping cart when you booked a trip. Or it might be a free trial you forgot about that has now converted to a $20-a-month charge. Either way, gray charges are a hassle, and the easiest way to avoid them is to never sign up for a “free” anything that requires your credit card. Check your shopping carts diligently, and uncheck all the “sign me up for XX” boxes along the way.

7. Don’t Fall for Phishing

Phishing emails have been around for a while – so long you might forget the risk they pose. Big mistake. A study by the University of Texas last year found that phishers “thrive” on consumers’ overconfidence. There was a 500% increase in personalized, social-media-based phishes in 2016. A common, credit-card stealing email might be an alert claiming your credit card on file with iTunes has been rejected, and asking for an immediate update. If you think you can’t be phished, you’re wrong. Never enter your credit card number into a website unless you have manually visited the site by typing the address into your web browser’s address bar. Never click on a link in an email – even one you are certain is real – and enter payment credentials.

8. Don’t Give Your Credit Card Number Over the Phone

This tip is similar: Never give your credit or debit card number to anyone who calls your house. Even if you are certain the call is legit. Always hang up and manually dial the company’s phone number, then give your payment details. That might sound like a hassle, but any reputable company will appreciate your efforts at security. If the person on the other end of the phone gets annoyed, that’s a good indication you are being hustled.

9. Get a Post Office Box

Mail theft is still a cause of identity theft. The simplest way to avoid it is to stop mail from coming to your house. Small P.O. boxes can cost around $100 per year and can offer peace of mind.

10. Use ATMs Carefully & Watch for Skimmers.

You know to make sure no one is watching while you enter your PIN code at an ATM. But how? It’s getting harder and harder to be sure, as hackers are inventing smarter skimmer devices that let them “watch” you remotely. The latest devices are designed to fit snugly over the slot where cards are inserted or even to be snuck inside that slot, invisible to the untrained eye. That’s one reason Litan only uses ATMs attached to a bank branch. ATMs outside grocery stores or gas stations can be easier to attack and often have higher fees. The risk isn’t only at ATMs. So-called “overlays” that fit on top of a merchant point of sale terminal have been spotted at major retailers across the country. Whenever inserting your credit or debit card into any machine, it’s a good idea to look for signs of tampering. You can take a moment to rub your fingers around the edges of a machine to see if an overlay of skimmer has been snapped on top.

11. Keep Track of Your Cards

It’s easy to forget your card at a restaurant after a meal. Develop a personal checklist so you avoid that. Each time you get up to leave a store, or before you go to bed at night, do a card count. If you can’t find your card but you are hopeful it will turn up, you might have better options than you realize. Many times, people are loathe to call and report lost cards because of the ensuing hassle. Some banks let you temporarily “freeze” your card while you look for it, then turn the card back on if it’s found safe. Discover has a feature called Freeze It. Visa and MasterCard also gives their banks similar options. Don’t be afraid to protect yourself while you are looking.

12. Sign up for Mobile Banking

Mobile banking is a great fraud fighting tool. If you aren’t using your bank’s app, you’re missing out. More people used mobile than used a bank branch for the first time in 2015, according to Javelin Strategy & Research.

Mobile banking lets you check your account every day for unusual activity. Use of mobile banking can reduce your attack surface, too, since mobile check deposits mean fewer trips to the ATM.

13. Set Text Alerts for Your Credit Card

Banking apps make it easier to use another trick that helps with fraud detection: text alerts. Most banks allow you to set up texts about transactions. Options include: A text with every purchase, a text for every purchase more than $100 or a daily text with the account balance. I prefer the last choice. Anything more frequent and the messages start to feel like spam, and can be ignored. The tool also helps with spending habits, as you’ll have a daily reminder of how much you’ve spent. Most banks can send the alerts via email, too.

14. Report Fraud Immediately

If you are hit by fraud, time isn’t on your side. You will likely be hit repeatedly until the card is canceled. Most importantly, if you don’t report the fraud in a timely manner, you can be held liable for some or all of it. Most of the time, financial institutions are responsive to fraud, and make reporting concerns and getting replacement cards easy, but early detection is critical.

Image: seb_ra

The post 14 Ways to Prevent Fraud on Your Debit & Credit Cards appeared first on Credit.com.

How to Avoid the Latest Airbnb Scam

Airbnb should have shut down these scams the first time they happened to a customer using their site. But there's a reason they haven't.

A friend of mine showed up last night at a place we sometimes meet. He looked like Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale after lobbing a game-ending home run to Aaron Judge of the Yankees. He was supposed to have been on a plane to Italy. I asked him what happened.

“We were all set to head out,” he said. “First leg: Rome. But I just canceled our tickets, like, a second ago.”

I asked why.

“Airbnb scam,” he said.

It was supposed to be the perfect trip. He and his wife have a 2-year-old, so they were looking for a destination vacation that would let them hang out in one place. The patch of paradise they rented was not an easy journey: two flights, a long car ride, a ferry and another long car ride.

That said, it seemed worth it. The fairy tale villa was on an island off the coast with views of the Mediterranean, a swimming pool and more than enough room for three families. The fee was steep, but not terrible since it was being shared by three renters: 6,000 euros a week.

“We were bummed that we had to be a day late to the place, but it turned out to be a godsend, because when our friends got there yesterday, the owners were there,” my friend said. “They weren’t renting the place. It was the third time that month they’d had people show up who had rented their house on Airbnb.”

The only inaccuracy in his statement is this: They didn’t rent the house via Airbnb. They thought they did.

A similar thing happened to a woman who arrived in New York from Barbados to buy her wedding dress. Malissa Blackman rented two apartments in the heart of the city to accommodate her mom, two sisters and two bridesmaids. When they arrived at 400 Fifth Avenue, the doorman gave the bad news. They’d been suckered, and they weren’t the first victims to come looking for nonexistent rental apartments in the building. At least two other groups had succumbed to the same nefarious plot, paying as much as $400 a night for the fictional flats.

Out $2,000, Blackman was forced to pay for two hotel rooms at an additional cost of $2,600. The next day, she found her perfect dress made by her favorite designer, but after the swindle, the $2,500 price tag was just too much for her. She had to get a cheaper dress and was heartbroken.

What Makes These Scams Possible?

You’re not alone in thinking that Airbnb should have shut down these scams the first time they happened to a customer using their site. But they haven’t because the scams didn’t occur on their site.

Blackman had responded to a property on “airbnb.com” and started to discuss terms with the “owner” of the listing on the site’s proprietary and secure app. She was offered another option during that chat and was asked if it would be possible to email the link. She allowed it, and that was how the scam went down.

Airbnb is clear about the danger of going off its site or app to conduct business. They send a warning email if a member of Airbnb asks to communicate via email. The problem here is that these warnings can be missed in the flurry of email that is triggered when you do business online. Compounding that problem, warnings are so common these days we may ignore them so long as we feel we’re in familiar territory — for instance, while looking at a what appears to be a legit listing on the site warning us.

In Blackman’s case, the scammer sent her a link that took her to a clone site, a perfect copy of Airbnb with one key difference: The URL was airbnb.com-listining-online31215.info. At first blush, this might seem like a hard thing to detect, and maybe you are right there with Blackman, feeling perplexed. There is a tell though, and one you won’t miss going forward if you want to play it safe on the internet. The URL in question goes to a dotinfo address, not a dotcom.

Airbnb phishing tales abound, but these ploys are avoidable if you know what to look for. (Here are three dumb things you can do with your email.) If you are asked to wire money or pay in a way that doesn’t use Airbnb, stop communicating with the renter. It’s a dead giveaway a scam is afoot. Whether you are lured off the site by an Airbnb user or you receive an email with a link to the site, always look at the URL carefully. The differences can be subtle. Better yet, take Airbnb’s advice and stay on its site or app.

If you believe you’ve been the victim of a scam, don’t shrug it off. You can check for signs of mischief by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

Image: noblige

The post How to Avoid the Latest Airbnb Scam appeared first on Credit.com.

What to Do Before You Start Your Home Search

The process of buying a home can be nerve-wracking for some who have not been through it before, but with a little bit of preparation, you can help minimize some surprises along the way.

One important thing you can do as soon as you start thinking about buying a home is checking your credit report. Ideally, this should be done at least six months before purchasing a home in order to give yourself time to dispute information, if needed. It is important to know how your payment history is being reported by your creditors. And if you see any unfamiliar information, it’s important to know how to take action.

Consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report, from each of the nationwide consumer reporting agencies, once a year by visiting annualcreditreport.com.

What should you look for? Any information that might be inaccurate or incomplete. In the personal information section of your credit report, is your name (and any former names, such as a maiden name) listed accurately? Is your address up to date? Are there any addresses you don’t recognize? In the account information portion of your credit report, are all of the accounts listed complete and accurate? Are there any accounts that you don’t recognize? Do the balances appear accurate?

If you find information that appears inaccurate or incomplete, contact the lender or creditor associated with the account. You can also contact the nationwide consumer reporting agency that issued the credit report. If necessary, take steps to change some of your credit-based behaviors.

Here are some other items to include on your checklist as you prepare to buy a home:

— Gather any required documents you may need to apply for a mortgage. Tax returns, pay stubs and bank statements are among the ones you’ll need.

— Figure out how much home you can afford. There are a number of online mortgage calculators that can help. Remember a home’s purchase price is only part of the picture; you may also be responsible for a down payment, closing costs, taxes, insurance and other expenses. Learn your debt-to-income ratio and familiarize yourself with the requirements for loan qualification.

Buying a home is one of the most important – and largest – financial decisions you may make, and you owe it to yourself to prepare for it thoroughly and thoughtfully and hopefully smooth out any bumps in the road to home ownership.

4 Credit Cards With Great Security Features

These credit cards help protect you from identity theft and fraud.

[Update: Some offers mentioned below have expired. You can view the current offers from our partners here — Discover it, Blue Cash Everyday from American Express and Citi ThankYou Preferred. Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

Thieves lurk in the physical and virtual world, looking for ways to access your credit card number or commit identity theft. Whether you shop online or in brick-and-mortar stores, it’s wise to take steps to protect yourself against fraud.

Credit card companies have many tools to help combat credit card fraud, and sometimes offer additional security features to protect against identity theft.

Here are four credit cards with great security features.

1. Discover it

Rewards: 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in quarterly rotating categories like gas stations or restaurants, 1% cash back on everything else

Signup Bonus: Discover will match the cash back you earn in the first year.

Annual Fee: None

Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0%  intro rate for 14 months, then variable 11.74% to 23.74%

Why We Picked It: Discover’s Freeze it feature gives you peace of mind if you’ve lost track of your card.

Security Features: With Freeze it, cardholders can freeze their card within seconds using Discover’s website or mobile app. This way, if you can’t locate your card, you can freeze it and look around before reporting it lost or stolen. If your card is misplaced, Discover offers free overnight card replacement. Cardholders also won’t be held liable for any unauthorized purchases.

Drawbacks: To maximize cash back, you’ll have to do the work of activating and tracking rotating purchase categories.

2. Blue Cash Everyday from American Express

Rewards: 3% cash back on up to $6,000 spent at supermarkets, 2% cash back at gas stations and select department stores, 1% cash back on everything else

Signup Bonus: $100 statement credit after spending $1,000 in the first three months of card membership

Annual Fee: None

APR: 0% intro rate for 12 months, then variable 13.99% to 24.99%

Why We Picked It: Cardholders can control available spending for authorized users.

Security Features: If you have multiple cards for authorized users on your account, you can set a spending limit for each card’s billing period. That way, your authorized user (or a conniving friend) can’t rack up a huge balance. American Express won’t hold you accountable for any unauthorized charges.

Drawbacks: If you don’t spend a lot at supermarkets or gas stations, you may want to look for another cash back card.

3. Citi ThankYou Preferred

Rewards: Two points per dollar spent on dining and entertainment, one point per dollar spent on everything else

Signup Bonus: 15,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months

Annual Fee: None

APR: 0% intro rate for 12 months, then variable 14.49% to 24.49%

Why We Picked It: Citi has an impressive range of security features that help you fight fraud and identity theft. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)

Security Features: If your credit card is lost or stolen, Citi will send you a new card for free and provide an emergency cash advance. To protect you online, Citi can issue temporary credit card numbers for secure online purchases. Finally, if you become the victim of identity theft, a Citi specialist will help you contact TransUnion to put a fraud alert on your credit reports and help you complete a police report. Cardholders aren’t held liable for any unauthorized purchase.

Drawbacks: If you use your credit card for “meat and potatoes” spending and rarely use it on a night out, this card won’t deliver as much value.

4. Bank Americard Credit Card

Rewards: None

Signup Bonus: None

Annual Fee: None

APR: 0% intro rate for 15 months, then variable 12.74% to 22.74%

Why We Picked It: Online shopping is safer with Bank of America’s ShopSafe service.

Security Features: With ShopSafe, you can receive temporary credit card numbers to safely shop online. If abnormal spending patterns are detected, Bank of America will block the card’s use and contact you to discuss potential fraudulent activity. You’ll never be held accountable for unauthorized transactions.

Drawbacks: This is a very basic card without any rewards to speak of.

Choosing a Card With Strong Security Features

Federal law states that you can’t be held accountable for more than $50 in unauthorized purchases if your card is stolen. But cardholders concerned with security should look for card issuers that offer zero liability for unauthorized charges.

To further protect yourself, consider cards that go above and beyond in the realm of security and protect you in areas where you may be particularly vulnerable.

If you frequently shop online, you may want a card that offers temporary credit card numbers for limited time use, which stops digital thieves from gaining access to your real card number. If you tend to misplace things and you’re scared of losing your card, you may want a card that lets you easily freeze all activity.

Of course, if your only credit card requirement is security, you should pick a card with the most enhanced protections. But if you also want a card that rewards spending with points or cash back, you’ll want to consider your spending habits and how a card can reward your purchasing behavior.

What Is Required to Get a Card With Security Protections?

Any legitimate credit card should have some security features. Cards with strong security could be available for consumers with credit ranging from poor to excellent. No matter what card you choose, you should know your credit score ahead of time to gauge your chances of approval. Before you apply, you can check two of your credit scores for free at Credit.com.

At publishing time, the Discover it, Blue Cash Everyday from American Express and Citi ThankYou Preferred credit cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

Image: kali9

The post 4 Credit Cards With Great Security Features appeared first on Credit.com.

Here’s How to Make Sure You Don’t Fall for the Latest Tax Scam

You know never to respond to a phone call from the IRS, because — say it with me — they never call. Well, this latest scam has been taking taxpayers for a ride.

True or False: The time for IRS-related swindles and scams is behind us — until next tax season. If you’re still reading this, you probably guessed “false.” And yep, it’s sad but true: Those pesky swindlers are still at it.

Normally, when summer arrives with its parade of warm days and fewer demands on our attention, there is a quiet month or so when very little happens in the way of IRS-related activities (quarterly payments being the only thing you might expect on a list of tax-related things to do). So, you should be safe from the current scam making the rounds — but you’re not. The IRS recently issued a warning about a scam that’s been luring summertime tax-fraud victims.

You know never to respond to a phone call from the IRS, because — say it with me — they never call. (The agency does have debt collectors representing them now, but you’ll receive several notices before they call you and you can expect to be contacted by one of four firms —CBE Group, ConServe, Performant and Pioneer Credit Recovery — not an IRS agent, more on this below.) Well, this latest scam put a saddle on that old nag and has been taking taxpayers for a ride.

Here’s how: You get a call from the IRS telling you about official correspondence sent via snail mail — certified mail, no less. The letters were returned to the IRS as undeliverable. They tried to mail you the notice you needed. They have to call you.

So, what do you do? Hang up.

The thing about these scams is that they always have the ring of truth to them. (Remember, con man is short for confidence man.) If you stay on the phone, you will be informed that there was an issue with your tax return and you owe money that is extremely late in getting where it’s supposed to be. You have to pay with a card that is connected with the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS). Sounds legitimate, because the EFTPS is one of the ways you can pay your taxes. That said, you can’t do it with a gift card or any other kind of prepaid card, which is what the scam requires to pay out the fraudster. (You can also pay taxes with credit cards, which you can learn about here.)

The IRS never calls to bird-dog money, although there is one new exception. Congress has mandated that the IRS hire collection agencies to chase certain extremely delinquent taxpayers. If you receive such a call, get off the phone and contact the IRS directly to verify the situation.

Also bear in mind that taxpayers who owe the IRS money generally know it. They have received multiple notices, did not dispute the assessments and/or did not make the payments. If you get a surprise call asking for money, be doubtful. (You can see how unpaid taxes are impacting your credit by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

Can You Scam-Proof Yourself?

In this particular instance, you actually can avoid getting got 100% of the time. It’s pretty simple: Simply hang up. But there is no way to absolutely scam-proof yourself.

There are more ways to get burned by tax scams than you can shake a beach umbrella at — bogus tax preparers, scam artists who file a tax return using your identity and steal the refund, sleazeballs who promise huge tax refunds for an extra fee, which is nothing compared to the penalty you will pay after the IRS audits you.

My book Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves provides countless stories about how cyber criminals lure victims, but the best way to stay safe is to do what you’re doing now: Stay aware.

Image: AleksandarGeorgiev

The post Here’s How to Make Sure You Don’t Fall for the Latest Tax Scam appeared first on Credit.com.

5 Scary Wedding Scams to Avoid This Season

The wrong call can mean the difference between an unforgettable wonderful day and a day that makes you angry every time you think about it.

Weddings require many important decisions and the wrong call can mean the difference between an unforgettable wonderful day and a day that makes you angry every time you think about it.

The often unreasonably high expectations of families and friends and at least one spouse-to-be only makes matters more fraught. With such a high level of stress, it’s only a matter of luck that mistakes don’t get made. Scam artists are counting on that.

There will be a repeating theme in this article, and it’s this: Be certain you know who you’re dealing with, and when you think you’re sure, check some more. Here are five wedding scams you want to avoid.

1. Sham Wedding Planners

Scammers take advantage of distraction, and there are few things in life so exquisitely discombobulating as the planning of a wedding. Add to that the high likelihood that the bride and groom may not be overly familiar with different kinds of transactions that help make an event run smoothly — purchases, contracts, rentals, hiring — and you have fertile ground for fraud.

It is a good rule of thumb to look for trouble when anything out of the ordinary comes up. I’ve heard of scams that were run through radio stations, where the “planner” offered a free wedding to a couple who couldn’t afford one and then raised the money from listeners. That counts as out of the ordinary, but the scam that lands in your inbox may be subtler. In the radio scam, vendors are hired but never paid. The “planner” skips town with all the money.

Another familiar scam involves blank checks and the flakiness of many vendor hires. A “planner” will ask the couple for checks written out for a specific amount but without filling in the payee because, they are told, it’s up in the air as to who’s going to get the gig. The scammer cashes all the checks, no one is hired and the wedding doesn’t happen quite so wonderfully as planned. (Here’s what you need to know about bounced checks.)

2. Pricey Wedding Photographer Scams

A photographer shows up and takes pictures. He sends proofs to you. They are tiny and low-resolution, but you can see they are fantastic. Next comes the bill.

Now, wedding photography is expensive, but we’re talking crazy-town prices here. One scammer banked $140,000 before getting nailed. The ruse: Take the money and never deliver the goods or extort a huge payment in exchange for them. The variation on this theme is taking a size-able deposit and simply not showing up.

3. Missing Flowers

When it comes to flower scams, we’re talking about a different line of business but very similar types of fraud. Maybe this scam takes the form of an independent contractor who assures you they make breathtaking arrangements for a fraction of the cost other places charge. All you have to do is write them a check for the flowers you need and show up to your wedding. They’ll handle everything. They never show up, and you can guess the rest.

How to Avoid Vendor Scams

There is no substitute for checking references. You should look for reviews online, but know that this will not help detect a fraudster with several aliases. Ask for references, no fewer than five, and then call them.

Bear in mind that a quality scammer may have a wing man or two, but not five. That said, you never know. Maybe they’ll give you what you request. You still have some agency here. Listen carefully to the references when you call, because if they’re not for real you’ll be able to tell. Get detailed. Be friendly. You’re getting married. They know how great and frenzied that can be (if they are for real).

Additional tactics: Ask about the reference provider’s honeymoon or for the name of another vendor used at their wedding. Be creative. Do your homework, and you won’t get got by these kinds of scams.

4. Gift Theft

According to Vogue, the average cost of a wedding gift in 2016 for a co-worker or distant relative was $50 to $75. For someone closer, it was $75 to $150. While some gifts are purchased online and sent straight to the home of the newlyweds, many are brought to the wedding. And you guessed it — thieves are waiting to steal them.

To avoid the tragedy of walking wedding gifts, make arrangements to either have all the gifts watched or stored somewhere secure.

5. Home Invasion

Nothing like a wedding to signal to a home-invasion specialist exactly when you and your relatives will for sure not be home. The best rule of thumb here is to avoid making public the precise plans for your wedding.

But assuming word gets out, what should you do? Let your neighbors know you’ll be away and ask them to keep an eye on things. If you have an alarm system, make sure it’s armed. It’s also worth calling your local police department to explain your concern. It depends where you live, but they may send a car out to check on your house while you’re away.

Weddings bring out the best and worst in people, but there are ways to ensure you protect what should be one of the most joyous occasions of your life. Avoiding scams is 99.9% a matter of approaching transactions with caution and common sense. When planning your wedding, take the time to make it the time of your life.

Finally, if you have reason to believe you’ve been the victim of fraud, don’t shrug it off. You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

Image: maximkabb

The post 5 Scary Wedding Scams to Avoid This Season appeared first on Credit.com.

Does (at) Instead of @ Really Keep Spammers at Bay?

This simple trick can help reduce spam and add an additional layer of protection against phishers and identity thieves.

Have you ever been on a website and noticed the site owner or another user has written out their email address in some variation of the following?

Name (at) domain dot com

If you wondered if the person was just averse to using symbols, you may be interested to know it’s actually a decent method for reducing unwanted spam emails and protecting yourself from possible phishing scams and even identity theft.

We talked to digital security expert Adam Levin, co-founder of Credit.com and chairman and founder of CyberScout (formerly IDT911), to learn more about how it works.

Good ‘Cyber Hygiene’

“One way spammers harvest email addresses is by sending out bots that are instructed to look for and scrape letter strings that contain the @ symbol,” Levin said.

For that reason, it’s a good idea to practice what Levin refers to as “good cyber hygiene” when entering your email address on public sites. Writing out your email address lets you do that. (Check out our tips for keeping your email safe and secure.)

Phishers can be dangerous, especially if you wade through a tremendous amount of email each day. They create emails that closely resemble legitimate companies and entities that can be difficult to spot as phony, especially when you’re in a hurry to get through your emails.

Using “at” and “dot” makes it more difficult for spambot programs to detect and grab your email address, Levin said. That can be helpful for small business owners whose information is listed on their website, social media accounts or other digital locations.

“For hackers and fraudsters, email addresses are essential tools used to phish their target,” he said. “Because the ultimate guardian of the consumer is the consumer, this is another way to be proactive about protecting your identity and personal data.”

Over the years, some spammers have made an effort to scrape even strings containing “at” and “dot” in hopes of gaining access to email addresses, though sifting through this data to find actual addresses requires manual review and is time-consuming.

If you’re concerned about spammers getting your email information or phone number through this method, you can  create an image of this data that bots can’t read. With this method, the only way for spammers to “harvest” your information is manually, which means you’re pretty safe.

The bottom line when it comes to keeping your information safe is staying vigilant. Check your financial and digital accounts regularly. Check your credit reports for free once a year with each of the major credit bureaus. Ensure the reports are accurate and that you recognize all the accounts. If you suspect there are mistakes, reach out to the bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion).

Finally, to monitor your credit more closely, you can use a free tool like Credit.com’s Credit Report Summary for a breakdown, updated monthly, of the information in your credit report, along with free credit scores. If you see your score drop for no reason, something could be up.

Image: svetikd

The post Does (at) Instead of @ Really Keep Spammers at Bay? appeared first on Credit.com.

Now’s the Time to Talk Online Security With Your Children

Whether you’re a helicopter parent or more laissez-faire, we have some words of wisdom to offer.

Summer’s here and the time is right for getting hacked or worse, having the contents of your computer held hostage by ransomware. For a couple of carefree and extreme data-consuming months, kids everywhere will be doing whatever they want online even if you’ve tried to control them.

In other words, be very afraid.

Only you know if it is time to have “the talk” with your child about online security. But before you sheepishly clear your throat in their doorway, have you had the talk with yourself?

No amount of whistling in the dark will keep you safe from the crazed clicking of an unthinking child. It’s crucial to remember that safe online habits aren’t an innate skill; they need to be taught. That said, there are many parenting styles when it comes to all things online. Some parents choose to be hands-off about it, and if that’s working for you, more power to you.

Actually, I take that back. There are countless pitfalls, pratfalls and worse awaiting your child — and with that your entire family — as well as anyone else unlucky enough to be connected to your home network.

Whether you’re a helicopter parent or more laissez-faire, we have some words of wisdom to offer. Here are four subjects to broach when talking online security with your children.

1. Stay Alert

Online security and threats threats are fluid. You can be completely on top of your game one day and get hacked the next because you aren’t prepared. The goal should be to become security-minded. While it helps to know about the most recent exploits and threats, it’s better to get into the mindset of those old Highlights Magazine exercises and think, “What’s wrong with this picture?” The moment you think you’ve got everything under control, you become an easier target. Stay alert. (If you believe you’ve been the victim of identity theft, don’t shrug it off. You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

2. Use Better Passwords

Increasingly, people are turning to password managers to keep their accounts safe, since it can be difficult to remember a large number of long and strong passwords. These managers generate random passwords and allow you to manage the process with a single master password. If you are not using a manager, make sure everyone in the house is using sufficiently complex passwords that are unique to the key accounts in your home, and never let your kids use any of your passwords!

3. Monitor Them

No one likes the specter of Big Brother, but your kids aren’t your siblings, they are your wards. While many advocates of internet privacy will say that a child’s travels online should be protected, even from parents, I think of monitoring online behavior in the same way I do a trip to the pediatrician — it’s my duty as a parent to know and protect all of my child’s sensitive personal information.

The same goes for internet history and app usage. You need to know what they’re doing. While bullying, compromising pictures and other activities you may find could make a different conversation necessary, your job is online safety.

4. Establish Ground Rules

The best way to keep your family safe from the wandering clicks of a child is to start teaching a secure mindset right away. Tell them to look for secure HTML, which can be found in the URL of your browser, where you will see a padlock symbol or the letters HTTPS (instead of HTTP) or both.

Have rules about app shopping. Encourage your kid to check with you if they are unsure about a site or an app. Pick an app store that you know won’t carry shady app developers. Teach your kids about phishing scams, how they work and what to do when they think one arrives in their email or messaging apps. But most important, let the subject of online security be an ongoing discussion.

These are some big-picture considerations and a few on-the-ground concerns to help you start thinking about online security. Only you can figure out the best way to tell your child to keep their online travels safe and protect your whole family.

Image: mixetto 

The post Now’s the Time to Talk Online Security With Your Children appeared first on Credit.com.