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How to protect against ID theft: best protection practices

How to protect against ID theft: best protection practices

Near 30% of Consumer Fraud Complaints Make Up ID Theft

In the blink of an eye, unscrupulous identity thieves can gain access to your personal and/or financial information and ruin the good name you’ve worked your whole life to establish for yourself. And If you’re unprepared and don’t recognize that the crime has taken place, months or even years worth of damage can accumulate before being noticed and action can be taken to resolve the problem. The effects can be devastating, putting your and your family’s well-being in jeopardy. 

No one is safe from Identity theft … and regardless of what steps you take to prevent it, there is no guarantee you will not become a victim.

The means by which identity thieves obtain an individuals personal or financial information are so numerous that it is impossible to guard against them all and the possibility of becoming a victim always exists for everyone. But precautions can be taken to reduce the chances and safeguards set in place to minimize the effects in the event you become a victim of identity theft.

Reduce the chances … DETER, DETECT, DEFEND! 

Here’s some good news… the information contained in this report can reduce your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft … and minimize the effects if you ever do. By taking just a few minutes right now, you can learn how to DETER, DETECT, and DEFEND against identity theft! Read on to learn what you’ll need to do before and after the crime.

In the new Deter, Detect, Defend campaign, The Federal Trade Commission has broken the process of dealing with identity theft into 3 helpful phases, and outlined steps to be taken in each.

DETER – Deter identity thieves by safeguarding your information.

· Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information-Identity – Theft All bills and account statements, credit card offers, and any other pieces of mail that contain your personal or financial information should be shredded and not just thrown in the trash.

· Protect your Social Security number – Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.

· Don’t give out your personal information-Whether on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet don’t reveal your personal information unless you know who you are dealing with. Check with the Better Business Bureau if you have questions about a company’s legitimacy.

 · Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails-If it is a company you know and have an existing relationship with, type the web address you know directly into your web browser. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer. Keep them up-to-date to guard against the latest threats.

· Don’t use obvious passwords-Common and simple passwords like your date of birth, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number are too easy for a thieve to guess.

 · Keep your personal information in a secure place at home-This is especially important if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home.

DETECT – Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements.

· Be alert to signs that require immediate attention 

  •  Bills that do not arrive as expected o Unexpected credit cards or account statements
  •  Denials of credit for no apparent reason
  •  Calls or letters about purchases you did not make

· Inspect:

  • Your credit report. Credit reports contain information about you, including what accounts you have and your bill paying history.
  • The law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting companies–Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion–to give you a free copy of your credit report once a year upon request. 

Your financial statements.

Review financial accounts and billing statements regularly, looking for charges you did not make.

DEFEND – Defend against Identity Theft as soon as you suspect it.

· Place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports and review the reports carefully-

A Fraud Alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert; a call to one company is sufficient. Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and debts on your accounts you don’t recognize and can’t explain.

· Close accounts– Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently. Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your consent. Follow up with copies of supporting documents. Use the ID Theft Affidavit at www.ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement. Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged. Keep copies of documents and records of conversations about the theft.

· File a police report- File a report with law enforcement officials to help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime.

· Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission– Your report helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations.

 Online: www.ftc.gov/idtheft 

More Ways to Protect Yourself.

Sorting through credit card offers and other unwanted mail may be frustrating and seem like a waste of time, but think twice about just throwing them in the trash … unless you don’t mind increasing your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft. “Dumpster Diving” is a technique where identity thieves rummage through your trash in search of bills, credit card offers, and other pieces of mail that contain your information.It is just one of the numerous ways your personal and/or financial information can be stolen. You won’t even know it’s happened until one day you get a notice from a collection agency for unpaid bills in your name, with a company you’ve never heard of, in a city and state you’ve probably never been in!

Eliminate the Source.

The best way to deal with a problem is eliminate the source. So if you didn’t have those credit card offers and other unwanted junk-mail coming in, you wouldn’t have to worry about how to handle them. Guess what? With a quick phone call, letter or online request … you can save time and energy, as well as give yourself additional protection against identity theft.Here is some information that will help you eliminate the source of the problem.

1. Credit Card Offers

The credit bureaus offer a toll-free number that enables you to get out of having card offers mailed to you for either five years…or permanently. Just phone 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688). You will be prompted to provide some personal information, including your home telephone number, name, address, and social security number. All information provided is confidential and is used only to process your request. And if over time you get lonely for some junk mail and decide that you want to receive the card offers again, simply phone the same number and you will be added back on the list.

2. Junk Mail

The Direct Marketing Association has a Mail Preference Service that allows you to reduce the amount of commercial advertising mail that you receive at home for five years. There are several ways to have your name added to the “do not mail” list. The quickest and most efficient way is to hit this link: Do Not Mail Website.

From the website, you can enter the required information, print the letter, and mail the letter to the address listed below. Or for a nominal fee of $5, enter the required information and hit the “register online” button.

Don’t want to enter your information online? No problem, just mail a letter that includes a brief paragraph requesting to be excluded from the marketing lists, your name – be sure to list all name variations including, Jr, Sr, etc. – current and previous address, and signature to:

Direct Marketing Association

Mail Preference Service

PO Box 643

Carmel, NY 10512

Important note: You will not stop receiving mailings from organizations that are not registered with the Association’s mail preference service, but at least this measure will greatly reduce the amount of advertising mail you receive.

3. Email:

The Direct Marketing Association also has an Email Preference Service that allows you to get out of receiving unsolicited commercial email for five years.

Visit Do Not Email Website. Enter up to three email addresses and a confirmation will be sent to each email acknowledging the request. Replying to each email confirmation within 30 days is required by DMA, or the email address will be deleted and the request will not be processed. Unfortunately, this measure will not eliminate most “spam” email, but again, will at least help to reduce the amount of junk email you may be receiving.

4. Phone:

It’s so well worth the time – if you haven’t done it yet, do yourself and your family a favor, and get on the National Do Not Call Registry. Wouldn’t it be great that knowing every time the phone rings…it’s actually someone calling for you or your family, not someone out to sell you something? 

Protect yourself from annoying telemarketers and phone solicitations by putting your home number on the Do Not Call list via this link: 

Do Not Call List

Removing your information from the above lists will not only save you a lot of time and frustration, it will also help protect you against identity theft.

Home Energy Audits

Home Energy Audits

With rising utility cost to heat or cool a home many homeowners are looking for ways to reduce these types of cost.

A fast growing field is home energy auditing. Not a new field but new in the area of residential homes. And in most cases unregulated. 

With high tech tools (such as infrared cameras) an inspector will come to your home and inspect and suggest the fixing of various energy hogs throughout one’s home.

Some States offer its residence upward to $ 1,000 if they make improvements to lower energy cost. In fact recently the State of Massachusetts Senate passed a bill requiring that home sellers provide prospective buyers with an audit scoring of the home’s efficiency.

But today most people simply want to know whether it is worthwhile to find the various leaks, look at appliance efficiency, and have healthy air in the home.

Antique Wood Stove Some problems can be resolved without an inspection. If your home has a furnace that is 30 to 75 years old you recognize there could be a problem. The furnace efficiency is kaput and a newer one would be more efficient. However the cost of replacing the heater or furnace may be an insurmountable task and the payback may not yield the return on replacement. 

If it is decided to get an energy audit, expect to pay between $ 300 to $ 700 or more. Therefore one’s energy consumption needs to have jumped significantly over a short period of time or was extremely high from the start of occupying the home to justify the cost of finding out what has to be done to decrease costs overall.

Upon completion of an energy audit one will receive a 15-50 page report of problems that exist inside and outside of the home. It will include recommended fixes, such as replacing the heater/air conditioner/appliances, as an example and will give a ballpark figure of what it will cost to make the fixes.

True some things can be done by the homeowner. But when windows need to be replaced, or a separation between ceiling and walls needs fixing, or exterior electrical outlets need to be replaced then one needs a professional to do these things and the homeowner is looking at some significant cost.

Home Inspection Is the home energy audit worth the price?

Yes. It would be good to know where the problems are and certainly one could, if they wish, create a plan of attack to resolve the most critical. So some action to reduce energy cost may result in some good savings for the homeowner which may warrant the expenditure. 

But one has to be careful to make sure that the problem being resolved is the real problem. If one puts insulation in the attic and it is the roof that needs to be replaced, the savings, if any, will be extremely small. 

It is a case by case situation and the bottom line is money and the pay back for implementing the required changes.

Mortgage Payment Is More Important Than Price…..Say What?

Mortgage Payment Is More Important Than Price…..Say What?

You have your home listed along with hundreds of others. What will it take to get a buyer? Reduce the list price? NO! Reduce the buyers monthly payments. But…….

A strategy to consider……help the buyer save money and you will sell your home. But…..

Be smart up front and plan a strategy when you list your home of offering the buyer a reduction in interest rates (buy down) instead of a reduction in your asking price.

What occurs with most offers to purchase from a buyer is a price approximately 5 to 10% (or more) less of your asking price. The initial reaction of sellers is to disregard the offer. 

Rethink that strategy. Show the buyer that with you buying down his/her interest rate they save money. How can this occur?

Game plan on blackboard. Work with your realtor, banker or mortgage broker and put together a schedule showing the potential buyers the savings they achieve. What will they achieve?

First they will see that with the sellers (your) offer of a buy down of interest they will realize the need for less income to qualify for a loan. Using only numbers would the buyer be impressed by the fact that his/her annual income doesn’t have to be $ 100,000 but could be closer to $ 75,000 to qualify for a loan. You bet! Does it help you? You bet! A very critical point of contract negotiating strategy.

With a buy down strategy the second item that a buyer achieves is a reduction in monthly mortgage payments. Will this be important to the buyer? You bet! Depending on the loan amount buyers can realize $ 100 to $ 500 (or more) less in monthly mortgage payments. Will this impress your buyer? You bet!

And then they can be shown the overall savings in interest that they will achieve over time because of your recommended buy down of interest rate.

What do you get? You sell your home, at the price you want and have a happy buyer.

But you say “it costing me money.” Yes but its money that you would be giving up when you reduce your asking price (remember that 5% to 10% counter offer). You simply have channeled the funds to help you keep a buyer and today “a buyer” is worth more than gold.

Sweat A Lot – Save On Energy Cost

Sweat A Lot – Save On Energy Cost

Infrared Saunas. An item that some people feel they need in their home is an infrared sauna. These saunas are advertised as a way to detoxify and rid one’s body of toxins and uranium that are ingested from fish, pesticides and polyvinyl chlorides (new car smell).

However great the ads say these saunas are, they do only one thing for the human body…….makes it sweat and there is limited if any detoxing involved.  The organs that help the body to detoxify itself is the liver and kidney says Dr. Dee Anna Glaser, Dermatology Professor at St. Louis University.

Dr. Donald Smith of UC Santa Cruz, who studies treatments for metal poisoning, states that sweating does limited if anything to rid the body of mercury or other metals.

So if you plan to spend thousands of dollars on a sauna to detox it will not happened.  You will simply sweat.

Source Information: Article “You sweat, but toxins likely stay” by Chris Woolston.

Solar Construction New Solar Panels. Home owners are looking for ways to reduce high energy prices to heat or cool their home.

Being marketed is a thin film technology which is mounted on glass windows and other type surfaces to absorb the sun’s rays is an experimental method being looked at as a substitute for silicon which is in very short supply.

Thin film appears to be less costly to manufacture, more durable, less unsightly than the bulky solar panels and cost less to install. However it hasn’t generated the same kind of power as silicon.

And in both cases, when the sun doesn’t shine neither produces significant if any energy. There also some questions now being asked as to how much a homeowner saves with energy panels. So the industry is still young and growing and the savings to cost is just starting to be debated.

An unrelated item that will save a homeowner money on energy cost is a tankless water heater. Expensive to install but it will save money on utilities. It could be money well spent.