Identity theft and data breaches are increasingly common threats to anyone who makes transactions online or shares their information with an online platform. Identity theft has evolved into various forms with fraudsters finding new ways to bypass security systems. Read this blog about data breaches on Facebook & LinkedIn.
A 2019 report put the number of identity theft victims at 13 million in the US. Attacks cost them $3.5 billion out of pocket. The risk of identity theft is higher for those on social media platforms. Identity thieves use automated software to scrape and aggregate public information from social media platforms creating a profile that can be used fraudulently.
327 million users in the recent LinkedIn data breach suffered such an attack. Facebook has recently come under fire over a misreported data breach that affected more than 500 million of its users’ personal information.
It seems we’re all at risk of having our data “pwned” in a breach or getting hacked. How can you protect yourself as a consumer? To better protect yourself from a data breach, you need to know what you’re up against.
The Most Common Types of Identity Theft Online
Account takeover occurs when someone gains access to your accounts and takes control of them without your knowledge or consent. They can transact and withdraw funds just as you would.
Debit and Credit Card Fraud
This type of fraud occurs when someone makes unauthorized transactions using your card. They don’t need your physical card, the card number, pin, and security code are sufficient to do damage and even attempt hacking your other accounts.
Online Shopping Fraud
This is most common when using public WIFI. Scammers will pose as fake merchant websites to collect your payment information when you check out.
If your mail is intercepted, sensitive personal information like social security numbers can be acquired. Be vigilant and spot if any in mail statements you have subscribed to fail to arrive.
Tax Identity Theft
Fraudsters file tax returns using your personal details and then keep your tax refunds. This type of identity theft has been on the uptick due to the new programs related to COVID-19 such as the direct stimulus check and tax due date extensions.
Senior Identity Theft
Senior citizens are particularly prone to identity theft scams. Scammers get senior citizens to divulge personal information by pretending to call from the IRS or Social Security Administration.
Often their social security numbers are used to create fraudulent profiles and take out lines of credit.
Medical Identity Theft
This occurs when someone poses as you to get medical care in your name. You will get extra charges on medical services you didn’t use or your medical insurance premiums go up inexplicably.
Signs of Identity Theft
These warning signs can be spotted through regularly monitoring your credit report and finances.
- Strange transactions on your debit or credit cards
- Credit card bills and statement fail to come in the mail without you opting into paperless billing
- Your credit score going up or down inexplicably without any different actions on your part
- Unrecognized social security number in your records
- Rejected electronic tax return
- Receiving an unrequested tax transcript
- You’re denied a credit card application or loan with no known reason
- New accounts and credit cards in your name that you didn’t apply for
- Debt collector calls about unknown accounts
- Inaccurate medical records
How To Check If My Identity Has Been Stolen
Here are the signs to look out for if you suspect that you’re a victim of identity theft.
- Check your credit card bill and bank account statements often and report any discrepancies immediately no matter how small.
- Run your credit report or register for a credit monitoring service that can do it for you. Data breaches may affect your credit score.
- Monitor your finances closely can help you spot trial transactions by identity thieves
- Use trusted data leak check tools like HIBP or the one by Cybernews to verify if your email address, phone number, and domains have been in data breaches.
Here’s some more information on how to detect identity theft.
What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen
- The first step is to report the instance of identity theft immediately to the relevant organizations such as your bank or credit card issuer. Have them cancel the cards and issue new ones. Most importantly, freeze your credit with the credit bureaus to make sure more damage can’t be done.
- Change account details associated with the cards such as usernames, pins, and passwords.
- File a police report and check out FTC’s identity theft site to report the identity theft and get a recovery plan.
- Regularly review your credit report. US citizens are entitled to one free credit report per year.
- Request the removal of the fraudulent activity from your credit report. You can also dispute
- Set up a fraud alert that has multiple-factor authentication before processing a new application. You can also freeze your credit which will bar any new applications. It will make credit applications more complicated for you but is well worth the hassle.
How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
It’s better to be proactive rather than waiting to mop up the mess after a data breach or identity theft attack. Here are safety measures you can apply:
- Use strong passwords with two-factor authentication or sign up for secure password managers like 1Password.
- Never share personal information over the phone since legitimate organizations will never call to ask you for these details
- Only use trusted WiFi networks especially when banking or shopping online.
- Check your credit report regularly and monitor your finances for discrepancies
- Keep your social security card in a secure place, never in your wallet.
- Review healthcare and insurance notices for any suspicious activity or dates that don’t add up
- Protect your mail by shredding any personal information. Monitor your mail to make sure no notices or bills are missing.
- Be mindful of anyone looking over your shoulder as you enter sensitive information.
The best way to combat identity theft is a combination of robust passwords and caution in your online transactions. Constantly monitor your credit report, your finances, and insurance notices to catch the fraud early.
Is it Advisable to Pay Off Collection Items?
The majority of consumers appear to believe that if they pay off collections, their credit scores will improve and become better. A shocking truth has emerged: this is not actually the case. Just so you’re aware, negative items can remain on your credit reports for a maximum of seven years, and your credit score will only begin to improve once the negative item has been removed.
What are Collection Accounts and How Do They Work?
Collection accounts are entries on a credit report that indicate that a debtor has fallen behind on previous obligations. Original creditors may have sold the defaulted debts to a debt buyer or may have assigned the debts to collection agencies after the default occurred. It should come as no surprise that the collector’s ultimate goal is to work on the client’s behalf in order to have the defaulted debt collected from the debtor or as much of it as possible.
The majority of the time, these collection accounts are reported to credit reporting agencies. According to the FCRA, or Fair Credit Reporting Act, these are permitted to remain on credit reports for up to seven years from the date of the initial debt’s first delinquency.
The Consequences of Paying Off Collections on Your Credit Score
The ramifications of completely paying off collection accounts will not disappear in an instant, however. You will still need to wait until the statute of limitations has expired before this information can be removed from your credit report. As previously stated, this will typically take approximately seven years. Fortunately, information from the past will have a smaller impact on your credit score.
Despite the fact that paying off collections will not improve your credit score, there are several ways in which you can take advantage of this situation:
Credit card or medical bills can result in debt collection lawsuits, which you can avoid if you take the proper steps.
As a result, you will be able to avoid paying interest fees to debt collectors. A debt collector is constantly selling and buying accounts, and he or she may continue to charge you fees and interest on the accounts that have been purchased.
In the event of a settlement or payment in full, the credit report will reflect this. When it comes to lenders, it can have a positive impact because they are likely looking beyond your credit score and instead of looking at your credit history and other factors. Comparing those who successfully repay an extremely past due account to those who never managed to do so, the former will demonstrate greater financial responsibility.
You will eventually be able to benefit from the most recent FICO Score model. Despite the fact that the FICO 9 is still in the early stages of implementation, the vast majority of lenders will eventually adopt it. Medical bills will be given less weight in this model, and paid accounts will be completely ignored when it comes to collections.
According to the law, the majority of negative credit information, such as collections, should be removed from credit reports over time. The fact remains that attempting to settle or pay off your debt as quickly as possible will be in your best interests. Not to mention the fact that, in contrast to older models, the newer models for credit scoring do not take into consideration collections with zero balances. If you don’t think you’ll be able to handle it on your own, you can always enlist the assistance of professionals who can simplify the entire process for you.
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How Bad is an Eviction and How Long Does it Stay on Your Credit?
Every time someone mentions a record during an eviction, what they are really referring to is a background check as well as your credit report and history. In general, an eviction will appear on your credit report for up to seven years.
That is correct; you read that correctly. It will be there not for 7 months, but for as long as 7 years, according to some estimates. Eviction is, therefore, a major issue in this community, and it is treated as such. Landlords, in particular, are wary of renting to tenants who have a history of evictions on their records. If you are ever evicted, this fact will follow you wherever you go for the next seven years, no matter how hard you try to forget it.
For landlords to know that you have been evicted in the past, there are two ways to find out.
If the reason for your eviction was non-payment of rent, your landlord may have forwarded this account to a collection agency, which will then appear on your credit report as a result of your actions.
When the courts were involved in your eviction, the case judgment is considered public record, and landlords who use tenant-screening services will be able to see this information if they conduct a background check on the tenant in question.
Is it possible to have an eviction removed from your credit report?
Anything that is accurate on your credit report will remain on your report for seven years. If there is ever a mistake, you will have the opportunity to contest the decision.
This error will be removed from your credit report if you can provide proof to the credit reporting agency that a mistake was made. If you were successful after being served with an eviction notice, you should provide proof of your victory to the reporting agency. There are landlords who will attempt to evict people even if they do not have a legitimate or acceptable reason to do so.
How Can You Find a Place to Rent if You Have an Eviction on Your Credit Report?
It is important to understand that just because you have an eviction on your credit report does not necessarily mean that you will be unable to rent for the next seven years. However, even though your report contains an eviction, there are still several options available to you for finding a place to live in the meantime.
Take the initiative.
Inform the property manager or landlord of your intention to evict them prior to submitting your application and explain your circumstances to them. Even if the eviction took place years ago and you have maintained a good tenant record since then, there is a chance that the landlord will rent to you again.
Look for someone who will sign on as a cosigner for you.
It is possible for you to obtain a rental unit if you have a co-signer who has good credit and can vouch for you. Your parent or another person with good credit can serve as your co-signer. If, on the other hand, a payment is not made on time, your landlord has the right to and will almost certainly ask for the money from your cosigner.
Pay in advance if possible.
A high probability of obtaining a rental unit exists if the landlord recognizes your willingness to pay the rental value in full upfront for a period of 3 to 6 months.
What’s the bottom line?
It is preferable to avoid being evicted in the first place if you want to avoid having any eviction information on your credit report.
Why did House Prices Go Up in 2020 During the Pandemic
The pandemic brought with it a lot of surprises, one of them being the rise in house prices. The US economy plummeted with millions of Americans finding themselves out of work and without food. No one would have predicted that at the time when times were hard for everyone, home prices would become overheated, mortgage rates would skyrocket, and the supply for houses would not meet the demands and consumer confidence in the housing market was reducing. The housing market was booming.
Right at the beginning of the pandemic, no one was willing to buy a house or even sell one. This was because of the uncertainties of the time brought about by Covid-19. In a span of a few months, most day-to-day activities were confined to the available properties. Houses became a key asset and prices began to rise.
The US real estate market in context
The American real estate market suffered a huge blow as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. The recession saw the prices of houses fall by a big margin and the world’s largest real estate market was affected in ways no one would have imagined. This was as a result of subprime mortgages that were given in large numbers to help as many Americans as possible to become homeowners. Homeowners found themselves mortgages that were higher than the value of their houses. By 2013, the market was showing signs of recovery. From 2018 to 2019, the market began to fall slightly.
For many Americans, owning a home is very important to them as it allows them to build up their wealth, make it easy for them to access credit, and be able to save more as they no longer have to pay rent. A large percentage of homeowners rely on mortgages to acquire homes after raising the down payment from their savings or with money from their families. It was expected that the pandemic would lead to foreclosures especially since the economy took a downward spiral at the start of the pandemic. Many people also lost their source of income and were unable to keep up with their mortgage payments.
The most expensive real estate in the USA is found in San Francisco, California. San Francisco has a booming economy fueled by the presence of tech companies like Apple, Facebook, Intel, and Tesla that have their headquarters in the nearby Silicon Valley. The city also has been at the forefront in matters progressive culture which attracts more people to relocate to it. As a result of the thriving tech economy that brings billions of dollars into the city, and rising housing demand, the city is the most expensive place to buy a house in the US. On average, the price per square foot is $1,100.
Why do house prices go up in general?
The value of a house is usually expected to depend on the demand for living in a particular area, but things like recessions and pandemics are known to have an impact that can either be positive or negative. House prices go up when the supply does not meet the demand. One of the key factors that affect the supply has to do with the regulations that restrict the number of housing units that can be built. For example in a single-family zone, it’s illegal to build townhouses or apartments, or condos on any spaces designated for single units and parking minimums must be met. This forces contractors to make provisions for parking spaces even in places where it’s unwarranted.
Some local governments allow groups of people to block developments they feel will have a negative impact on the overall value of the entire estate. These local zoning regulations are making it impossible for most Americans to move to better estates due to the shortage of housing.
Why did house prices go up during the pandemic?
The price for houses is determined by the existing demand and supply dynamics. The fewer the number of houses available, the higher the prices for the available units would be. If the number of buyers is fewer, then the house prices would be lower. The prices went up because the pandemic affected both supply and demand. A lot of people were in a rush to take advantage of the falling mortgage rates which made it easier to acquire homes at a cheaper price.
As a result of the falling mortgage rates, houses were not staying on the market for long. Among those who bought the homes were first-time homebuyers or those who were buying a second home. These put a lot of pressure on the market as were not putting another home on the market as they took one out of it. In some instances, others chose to refinance their mortgages based on the lower rates instead of acquiring a new home.
Because of the pandemic, people who had plans of listing their homes did not do so and those who had listed their homes took them off the market. As a result of the social distancing rules at the height of the pandemic, not many people were willing to show their houses.
Home developers did not anticipate a surge in the demand for housing during the pandemic. A number of them had let go of their employees and had shut down. At the same time, prices for materials like lumber also added to the construction costs alongside the scarcity of skilled workers.
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