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Greeley fraud investigation specialist offers advice to avoid top scams – Greeley Tribune

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Scammers are constantly working to find vulnerable people across the globe and exploit their situations for the scammers’ personal gain.

Scammers aren’t just on the hunt for easy money. In some cases, they’re working to steal victims’ personal information, like full names, dates of birth or Social Security numbers, to hide behind different identities as they steal from others. Others may sell personal information to scammers looking to pose as someone else.

Greeley Police Fraud Investigation Specialist Lisa LaBracke said scams of all kinds are on the rise as people faced unemployment or furlough due to the pandemic.

“People are trying to work from home. They need some extra income,” she said.

The top scam local residents are currently reporting is the unemployment scam, according to LaBracke. An impostor will file a claim for unemployment benefits, using the personal information of someone who has not filed a claim. They will have payments deposited into an account controlled by the scammer, or have the funds sent to another scam victim.

Scammers have also tried posing as the unemployment office and asking people to send funds back to them by purchasing gift cards. Once the victim gives the scammer the information to withdraw the gift card funds, it’s practically impossible to track the funds. LaBracke said this is a common sign of a scam.

“Usually with all these scams, they’re going to request funds generally by gift card,” she said. “Anytime you’re asked to get a gift card and told to scratch off the back, it’s going to be a scam. No legitimate company or individual is going to ask you to pick up gift cards for payment.

Scammers have also started using smartphone apps to request funds, including Zelle, Cash App, PayPal and Venmo. The scammer-owned accounts are commonly opened with another victim’s information, again making tracking the funds an impossible task, according to LaBracke.

Once a scam victim sends money over, that’s usually the last they’ll see of it. LaBracke said funds are usually sent overseas, to places such as Turkey and Romania, where local police can no longer track those funds.

“I’ve been with the police department for a year, and I haven’t had a successful scam case that resulted in funds being recovered,” she said.

Websites including Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and eBay are common places for scammers to try finding victims. Both buyers and sellers should be on the lookout for signals they may be dealing with a scammer.

For sellers, LaBracke said scammers may send a check for a much larger amount than what the seller asked for, and then ask the seller to send back part of the amount with gift card information or to pay supposed courier fees.

LaBracke said several people have reported trying to purchase inexpensive vehicles on Craigslist that turn out to be scams. The seller might claim the vehicle is out of state and request payment before the victim ever sees it in person. Scammers will usually try to get payment through an app to complicate tracking the funds.

Another popular online marketplace scam right now is fake rental properties, according to LaBracke. Many leases are ending around this time of year, so scammers will list properties that aren’t actually available. The listing might include a low price, say that bad credit is OK and warn the victim the deal won’t last.

When contacted, the scammer will ask the victim to fill out an application, which includes the person’s identifying information. They’ll then sell that info or use it to conduct other scams. Scammers may also try to get a down payment on the property before the victim sees it.

Scammers use more than big purchases to prey on the vulnerable. Even puppies can be used in the commission of a scam, LaBracke warns. The scammer may create an entire fake profile posing as someone living nearby and give an elaborate story about why the puppy is available. The puppy might be a purebred and available for a very low price.

After the victim pays a deposit, the scammer might text the victim and say the puppy also needed shots or give some other reason, like insurance, to request more money from the victim. No matter what the victim pays, however, the puppy never arrives.

In a different scam, products do arrive, but not for the victim. Scammers will post a job offer for something like a “quality control inspector.” The supposed company may have an entire website, LaBracke said, but the website is fake. Victims are asked to complete an application, again giving out their personal info, and informed they’ll be responsible for forwarding or reshipping merchandise that will be shipped to their home.

The victim is told to print a new label for the package and then send it again, either to another reshipper or out of the country completely. The original merchandise, often expensive electronics, were purchased with fraudulent funds. The additional shipping helps make it difficult for law enforcement to track the original purchaser who is using fraudulent funds.

While the “reshipping scam” has become pretty popular within the past year, another scam that’s gone on for years still claims victims today. Scammers sometimes pose as a utility company and threaten to shut off services if payments aren’t made immediately. The scammer may even call from a phone number that appears to be the company’s posted number, a practice known as spoofing.

“All of these scams thrive on people’s emotions and putting them in a situation where it’s, ‘You need to pay now, otherwise X, Y, Z is going to happen,’” LaBracke said.

Scammers will also commonly tell victims not to tell others about what’s happening, whether it’s family and friends or coworkers and the bank. In one plot, scammers will target employees of corporate chain stores or restaurants and say the manager or owner is under investigation for embezzlement. The employee is told to take all the money from the register or safe and purchase gift cards to settle the matter. In that scheme, the employee is told not to tell others, to avoid “tarnishing the investigation.”

The pandemic has changed details on some scams. Instead of being told the manager or owner is under investigation, the employee may be told they need to facilitate a mask and glove delivery, LaBracke said.

Avoid getting scammed

Though scams can vary greatly in the details, there are typically a few common themes that can help people identify the situation is a scam. LaBracke said the following are red flags to look for:

  • Trying to get your money as quickly as possible in a way that’s difficult to trace.
  • Telling you to pick up gift cards or reloadable cash cards for payment.
  • Asking for your online banking login information.
  • Offering something that seems too good to be true.
  • Offering to pay for work before you actually do it, especially if you haven’t met them in person.
  • Calling from a phone number you don’t recognize.
  • Telling you to keep the matter to yourself.

If you think you’ve come across a scam, but aren’t sure, LaBracke said residents can always contact the police department for an opinion from law enforcement.

For those who think they were just scammed, LaBracke offered a few tips.

If you just sent money by gift cared and think it might have been a scam, immediately call the number on the back of the card and ask to stop the transaction or freeze the account. If you gave out banking information to a suspicious person or website, contact your bank immediately. If your computer was compromised, take it to a local or national computer repair professional you can trust.

For personal information, LaBracke recommended putting a freeze on your credit report with the three major credit bureaus. In fact, LaBracke said, that’s a good idea for anyone who isn’t applying for credit in the next three months.

“I tell everybody this,” she said. “It’s just going to be an extra layer of protection for you to prevent identity theft.”

Another way to prevent being targeted by scammers is going through your phone service provider to set up a call filter that will automatically detect potentially fraudulent calls. LaBracke said people should add phone numbers they expect calls from and not answer calls from unknown numbers. If the call is legitimate, the caller will likely leave a voicemail.

Finally, to keep on top of common scams, LaBracke offered two resources: the Federal Trade Commission, which lists common scams and even offers emailed updates for scam alerts, and the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a Federal Bureau of Investigations website tracking internet crimes. Both websites also offer forms for people to file complaints about online crimes or scams.

Though being victimized by a scammer can feel embarrassing, LaBracke said she encourages scam victims to tell their friends and family about the scam. It’s not uncommon to be a scam victim. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center’s 2019 report, more than 9,600 Coloradans lost a total of more than $65 million to internet crimes in 2019.

“Get the word out because the only way that we’re going to stop scams from happening and stop people from being victimized by these scammers is by word of mouth and by not sending them any money,” she said. “Once we cut them off from their supply, that’s the way to stop them.”

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Bad Credit

3 credit habits that you need to break

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Are you using your credit card responsibly? Or do you have a few bad habits? Take a look at three common bad habits that people have with their credit cards and the best ways to stop doing them.

Habit 1: Pushing the limits

The first bad credit habit is pushing your outstanding balance close to its limit. What’s wrong with that? The first problem is that you’re giving yourself a larger debt load to contend with every month — one that accumulates interest the longer that it sits. It could be very difficult to pay down, and it could even lead to you maxing out your card.

The second problem with this habit is that it leaves you vulnerable to emergencies. You’ve taken up the majority of your available credit, so you can’t depend on it for unexpected payments. What if you need to pay for an urgent repair and there’s not enough room on your card? What can you do?

To avoid that difficult situation, you could apply for an online loan to help you cover the emergency costs and move forward. See how you can apply for an online loan in Ohio when you have no other safety nets to fall back on. It’s important that you only turn to this solution when you’re dealing with an emergency. It’s not for everyday purchases or small budgeting mistakes.

In the meantime, you should try your best to keep your credit utilization at 30% or lower — this means that your balance should be below the halfway point of your limit.

Habit 2: Paying the minimum

You pay your credit card bills on time, but you only give the minimum payment. While this habit can stop you from racking up late fees and penalties, it can still get you into hot water if you’re not careful.

Only paying the minimum for your bill will make it very difficult for you to whittle down the balance, especially when you’re continuing to charge expenses on your card. You’re only taking $20-$25 off a growing pile.

So, what can you do? If you’re paying this amount by choice, stop it — you’re only making things harder for yourself down the line. If you’re paying this amount because you don’t have any more funds, look at your budget to see whether you can cut your monthly costs to get more savings and use them to tackle your balance.

Habit 3: Using it for every single expense

You don’t need to put every single expense on your credit card. Your morning coffee? Your afternoon snack? Putting these small, everyday expenses on your card is a habit that can make your balance climb quickly.

You also don’t want to put some very important expenses on there, like mortgage payments. For one, these payments are large and will take up a significant amount of your credit. Secondly, if you need to use a credit card to make these payments on time, you need to reinvestigate your budget to see whether you can actually afford your living space.

So, what you should you do? Use a debit card, cash or checks to pay for the items above. Only put expenses on your credit card that you’re positive you can pay off in a reasonable timeframe.

Don’t let these bad habits drag you down and get you into financial trouble. Break them now, before it’s too late.

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Free credit reports have been extended; here’s why it’s important to check yours regularly

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Checking your credit could save you from identity theft. (iStock)

Typically, you’d be able to check your credit report — at least for free — just once annually through each of the three major credit reporting agencies. But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, credit reports are now more accessible than ever.

Credit reporting companies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are all offering  free credit reports weekly through April 20, 2022.

The move means better insight into your financial health during what, for most, is an economically challenging time. According to experts, it might also be a time that’s ripe for at-risk personal information and identity theft, too — even more reason consumers should be checking their credit on the regular.

HOW OFTEN DOES YOUR CREDIT SCORE CHANGE?

Have you checked your annual credit lately? If not, here’s what you need to know about these free nationwide credit reports and how to get them. If you’re not sure where you fit on the credit score spectrum, you may want to start using a credit monitoring service to track changes to your credit score. Credible can get you set up with a free service today.

Free credit reports for all?

The nation’s three credit bureaus initially started offering free weekly credit reporting last year, just after the pandemic began. In early March, they announced they’d extended the offer for another year, this time through April 20, 2022.

To request your free credit reports and access copies, you can go to AnnualCreditReport.com and provide some basic information to verify your identity (things like your date of birth, Social Security Number, and address).

Once your report is ready, you should see a detailed list of all open and closed accounts in your name, your payment history, recent credit activity and more.

5 BENEFITS OF HAVING A GOOD CREDIT SCORE

Protect yourself from identity theft

There are many reasons why checking your credit activity is important, but chief among them? That’d be the prevalence of data breaches in today’s world — not to mention the risk of identity theft they come with.

“In the past, it was perfectly acceptable for people to check their credit history once a year, but now with security breaches happening on a regular basis, consumers should be monitoring their credit more closely than ever,” said Clint Lotz, president and founder of TrackStar.ai, a predictive credit technology firm.

Lotz said the Equifax breach — which exposed over 147 million Americans’ personal information in mid-July 2017 — is the perfect example of why watching your credit report is important as far as identity theft protection goes. The pandemic, he said, adds an extra layer of risk to things.

“It took them [Equifax] months before they even realized they had been hacked, and considering that they hold files on hundreds of millions of Americans, it’s fair to say that many identities were stolen by the time they caught up to it,” Lotz said. “With many of us worrying about very serious issues not related to our credit, it’s a prime time for that stolen data to be put to work by bad actors in slow, methodical ways and in the hopes that nobody notices it.”

More reasons to check your credit

Checking your credit health often isn’t just good for detecting fraud alerts and to protect your identity, though. You can also monitor your report for errors — things like inaccurately reported late payments, for example — and then dispute those with the credit bureau.

If the error gets corrected, it could improve your credit score and make a jump from bad credit to a FICO score that’s more favorable. Not sure of your credit score? Head to Credible to check your score without negatively impacting it.

WHAT IS CREDIT MONITORING, AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

You can also use your credit reports and scores to monitor your financial habits — like the timeliness of your payments or how much debt you have left to pay off. Both of these factors can play a big role in your score, as well as how likely you are to get approved for loans, credit cards and other items.

“If you’re taking out a loan, getting insurance or even applying for a new job, checking your credit will allow you to see an overview of what would be seen by others looking at your credit,” said Leslie Tayne, a debt relief attorney with the Tayne Law Group. “Staying up-to-date on your credit reports and information allows you to know exactly where you need to improve.”

Want to be sure your credit is stellar before applying for a loan or insurance policy? Consider Credible’s partner product Experian Boost, which lets you use positive payment history on utilities, streaming and other bills to improve your credit score.

Set up a monitoring service, too

Though checking your credit reports manually is smart, you should also consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. These consumer financial services check your credit information and score regularly and alert you of any changes.

IS IT WORTH PAYING FOR CREDIT MONITORING?

If you’re interested in monitoring your credit or improving your score, head to Credible and learn more about how Experian can help. You can also use Experian Boost to get credit for on-time bill payments.

Have a finance-related question, but don’t know who to ask? Email The Credible Money Expert at [email protected] and your question might be answered by Credible in our Money Expert column.

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Do Personal Loans Have Penalty APRs?

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Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We may receive a commission when you click on links for products from our affiliate partners.

When you make your credit card payment late, you’re often subject to late fees and a penalty APR, which is a temporary spike in your interest rate.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for instance, has a 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR, but the penalty APR is a variable 29.99% (see rates and fees). Penalty APRs usually last for at least six months, but card issuers often reserve the right to extend them — especially when you continue making late payments. A look at the terms for the Citi® Double Cash Card show us that the “penalty APR may apply indefinitely.”

Penalty APRs are certainly not a trap you want to fall into, but it’s not something you usually have to worry about if you have a personal loan. Personal loan lenders can, however, charge late fees upwards of $39 per late payment. Whether your loan charges late fees all depends on how good of a loan you qualify for, and that comes down to your credit score, borrowing history and ability to make your payments.

Personal loans also tend to charge lower interest rates than credit cards, too. The average personal loan interest rate for two-year loans is currently 9.46% according to Q1 2021 data from the Federal Reserve, compared to 15.91% for credit cards.

Typically, interest rates for personal loans range between roughly 2.49% and 24%, but personal loans for applicants with bad credit can come with even higher APR — so do your research before applying.

Other common personal loan fees include:

  1. Interest: The monthly charge you pay to borrow money
  2. Origination fee: A one-time upfront charge that your lender subtracts from your loan to pay for administration and processing costs
  3. Late fee: A one-time fee charged for each payment that you fail to make by the due date or within your grace period
  4. Early payoff penalty: A fee incurred when you pay off your balance faster than planned (because the lender misses out on months of expected interest payments)

As you can see, personal loans can be costly, even without a penalty APR. It’s obviously best to avoid paying extra fees whenever possible. That’s easier to do when you have a good to excellent credit score, since you’ll qualify for better loan options.

Select has a free tool to help match you with personal loan offers without damaging your credit score.

None of the loans on our best personal loan list charge origination fees or early payoff penalties, but some may charge late fees.

Our top picks for best personal loans

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.

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