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How to Protect Yourself Online, According to a Hacker

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Cybercrime is on the rise and we’re all exposed, without exception.

The FBI fielded 300,000 more complaints regarding suspected internet scams in 2020 than it did in 2019 — many designed specifically to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic and the stimulus money doled out by the federal government. On the dark web, Social Security numbers, passports and credit card information sell for as little as $1.

“Everyone’s information is available,” says cybersecurity expert Brett Johnson.

With all the non-stop news about cyber attacks on gas pipelines, meat plants and fertility clinics, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But Johnson, a former cybercriminal who once ran a popular online identity theft ring, says being aware of these dangers isn’t enough. If you want to avoid becoming a victim, you need to take action.

“You can’t wait for someone to protect you,” he says. “You have to try to protect yourself.”

Step one: Think like a hacker

Johnson knows a thing or two about cyber attacks. Between 2002 and 2004, he ran ShadowCrew, credited as the first forum for cybercriminals to share tips on hacking, credit card fraud and various other scams.

These days, Johnson works as a cybersecurity consultant and public speaker, and is dedicated to helping people avoid falling victim to cybercrime.

His advice varies from person to person.

Someone who works in upper management at the top of the corporate ladder might get hit with sophisticated cyber attacks aimed at installing ransomware in their company’s network. (Often, this kind of attack paralyzes their company’s operations until they agree to pay a ransom.) Other victims might fall victim to identity theft or credit card fraud.

Understanding your place in this “cybercrime spectrum” will allow you to protect yourself accordingly, Johnson says.

Regardless, who gets hit first is not determined by algorithm or strategy, he says. It’s all ease of execution.

“It boils down to who is an easier victim,” he says. “Who is that lowest-hanging fruit?”

Step two: Protect yourself like one

The best deterrent for cybercrime is making a criminal think you’re not worth the effort. And Johnson says “you can be better protected than 90% of the people out there” with these three things:

Use a password manager
Most people use the same password, or variations of the same password, across their digital existence. So if just one of their credentials falls into the wrong hands, they can end up losing everything from their Gmail account to their online banking logins.

The solution, Johnson says, is a password manager. With the help of this software, you can generate a unique and strong password for every one of your online accounts — all stored behind an encrypted key known as a master password.

Monitor your credit
Sites like CreditKarma and Experian offer credit monitoring services that alert you of any suspicious activity on your accounts, or if your information has been compromised in a data breach. Some even notify you if your information has been spotted for sale on the dark web. Many credit monitoring services are free and offer premium features as an upgrade.

Freeze your credit
A credit freeze can be an effective tool even if you’ve never been a victim of identity theft, Johnson says.

It restricts access to your credit report, making it impossible for a criminal to open up a new line of credit under your name. Freezes don’t prevent unauthorized credit card purchases, and you’ll have to unfreeze your credit if you want to, say, open up a new credit card. But the process is completely free, and usually takes effect immediately.

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Step three: Treat social media like the threat it is

Posting an overabundance of information, photos, geo-tags and other data on your social media profiles gives bad guys some key resources to act against you.

Mother’s maiden name? There’s that selfie with a tag. Alma mater? Check out the pic from last year’s reunion. It’s all there.

“Criminals will go through every single bit of social media to find anything they can use to their advantage,” says Johnson. Carelessly volunteering all this data can become a big liability.

Be careful about what you post. Check your privacy settings, and make sure you’re not revealing your location, or using the same password to log into third-party websites. It’s also a good idea to go over your “friend” list with a fine-tooth comb, Johnson says.

“Do you actually know your 10,000 ‘friends?’” he says. ” If you don’t, why on earth are you sharing anything with them?”

Step four: Protect yourself offline too

New scams have emerged in light of the pandemic, looking to cheat people out of their stimulus money. Wide-scale uncertainty added to the problem, with many Americans lowering their guard due to work from home arrangements and other new responsibilities. And while many of the scams people fall victim to have been around for decades, they’re becoming more sophisticated every day.

Spoof calls”— fake calls that appear to come from a police state, hospital or social security office — are a prime example. For most people, getting these kinds of calls forces them to react emotionally while proper reasoning takes a back seat.

Let’s say you get a call informing you that something terrible will happen unless you hand over some money. Maybe you’re being told that your last few child support payments have bounced, or that your grandson is in jail and needs bail money.

Even if you’re skeptical, simply engaging with these scammers can be harmful, Johnson says, since the person on the other end can use whatever you tell them to fill in the blanks on the profile they’re creating of you and your household. (Saying something as innocuous as “stop calling my house,” for instance, confirms that you’re on a residential phone that another family member might also use.)

The best advice, Johnson says, is to hang up the phone.

If you believe your personal information may have been compromised, use Money’s free search tool to check if your email address was exposed as part of a data breach.

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Are Sallie Mae Student Loans Federal or Private?

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When you hear the name Sallie Mae, you probably think of student loans. There’s a good reason for that; Sallie Mae has a long history, during which time it has provided both federal and private student loans.

However, as of 2014, all of Sallie Mae’s student loans are private, and its federal loans have been sold to another servicer. Here’s what to know if you have a Sallie Mae loan or are considering taking one out.

What is Sallie Mae?

Sallie Mae is a company that currently offers private student loans. But it has taken a few forms over the years.

In 1972, Congress first created the Student Loan Marketing Association (SLMA) as a private, for-profit corporation. Congress gave SLMA, commonly called “Sallie Mae,” the status of a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) to support the company in its mission to provide stability and liquidity to the student loan market as a warehouse for student loans.

However, in 2004, the structure and purpose of the company began to change. SLMA dissolved in late December of that year, and the SLM Corporation, or “Sallie Mae,” was formed in its place as a fully private-sector company without GSE status.

In 2014, the company underwent another big adjustment when Sallie Mae split to form Navient and Sallie Mae. Navient is a federal student loan servicer that manages existing student loan accounts. Meanwhile, Sallie Mae continues to offer private student loans and other financial products to consumers. If you took out a student loan with Sallie Mae prior to 2014, there’s a chance that it was a federal student loan under the now-defunct Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP).

At present, Sallie Mae owns 1.4 percent of student loans in the United States. In addition to private student loans, the bank also offers credit cards, personal loans and savings accounts to its customers, many of whom are college students.

What is the difference between private and federal student loans?

When you’re seeking financing to pay for college, you’ll have a big choice to make: federal versus private student loans. Both types of loans offer some benefits and drawbacks.

Federal student loans are educational loans that come from the U.S. government. Under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, there are four types of federal student loans available to qualified borrowers.

With federal student loans, you typically do not need a co-signer or even a credit check. The loans also come with numerous benefits, such as the ability to adjust your repayment plan based on your income. You may also be able to pause payments with a forbearance or deferment and perhaps even qualify for some level of student loan forgiveness.

On the negative side, most federal student loans feature borrowing limits, so you might need to find supplemental funding or scholarships if your educational costs exceed federal loan maximums.

Private student loans are educational loans you can access from private lenders, such as banks, credit unions and online lenders. On the plus side, private student loans often feature higher loan amounts than you can access through federal funding. And if you or your co-signer has excellent credit, you may be able to secure a competitive interest rate as well.

As for drawbacks, private student loans don’t offer the valuable benefits that federal student borrowers can enjoy. You may also face higher interest rates or have a harder time qualifying for financing if you have bad credit.

Are Sallie Mae loans better than federal student loans?

In general, federal loans are the best first choice for student borrowers. Federal student loans offer numerous benefits that private loans do not. You’ll generally want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and review federal funding options before applying for any type of private student loan — Sallie Mae loans included.

However, private student loans, like those offered by Sallie Mae, do have their place. In some cases, federal student aid, grants, scholarships, work-study programs and savings might not be enough to cover educational expenses. In these situations, private student loans may provide you with another way to pay for college.

If you do need to take out private student loans, Sallie Mae is a lender worth considering. It offers loans for a variety of needs, including undergrad, MBA school, medical school, dental school and law school. Its loans also feature 100 percent coverage, so you can find funding for all of your certified school expenses.

With that said, it’s always best to compare a few lenders before committing. All lenders evaluate income and credit score differently, so it’s possible that another lender could give you lower interest rates or more favorable terms.

The bottom line

Sallie Mae may be a good choice if you’re in the market for private student loans and other financial products. Just be sure to do your research upfront, as you should before you take out any form of financing. Comparing multiple offers always gives you the best chance of saving money.

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Tips to do some fall cleaning on your finances

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Wealth manager, Harry Abrahamsen, has five simple ways to stay on top of the big financial picture.

PORTLAND, Maine — Keeping track of our financial stability is something we can all do, whether we have IRAs or 401ks or just a checking account. Harry J. Abrahamsen is the Founder of Abrahamsen Financial Group. He works with clients to create and grow their own wealth. Abrahamsen shares five financial tips, starting with knowing what you have. 

1. Analyze Your Finances Quarterly or Biannually

You want to make sure that your long-term strategy is congruent with your short-term strategy. If the short-term is not working out, you may need to adjust what you are doing to make sure your outcome produces the desired results you are looking to accomplish. It is just like setting sail on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. You know where you want to go and plot your course, but there are many factors that need to be considered to actually get you across and across safely. Your finances behave the exact same way. Check your current situation and make sure you are taking into consideration all of the various wealth-eroding factors that can take you completely off course.

With interest rates very low, now might be a good time to consider refinancing student loans or mortgages, or consolidating credit card debt. However, do so only if you need to or if you can create a positive cash flow. To ensure that you are saving the most by doing so, you must look at current payments, excluding taxes and insurance costs. This way you can do an apples-to-apples comparison.

The most important things to look for when reviewing your credit report is accuracy. Make sure the reporting agencies are reporting things actuary. If it doesn’t appear to be reporting correct and accurate information, you should consult with a reputable credit repair company to help you fix the incorrect information.

4. Savings and Retirement Accounts

The most important thing to consider when reviewing your savings and retirement accounts is to make sure the strategies match your short-term and long-term investment objectives. All too often people end up making decisions one at a time, at different times in their lives, with different people, under different circumstances. Having a sound strategy in place will allow you to view your finances with a macro-economic lens vs a micro-economic view. Stay the course and adjust accordingly from a risk and tax standpoint.

RELATED: Financial lessons learned through the pandemic

A great tip for lowering utility bills or car insurance premiums: Simply ask! There may be things you are not aware of that could save you hundreds of dollars every month. You just need to call all of the companies that you do business with to find out about cost-cutting strategies. 

RELATED: Overcome your fear of finances

To learn more about Abrahamsen Financial, click here

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How to Get a Loan Even with Bad Credit

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Sana pwedeng mabura ang bad credit history as quickly and easily as paying off your utility bills, ‘no? Unfortunately, it takes time. And bago mo pa maayos ang bad credit mo, more often than not, kailangan mo na namang mag-avail ng panibagong loan. 

Good thing you can still get a loan even with bad credit, kahit na medyo limited ang options. How do you get a loan if you have bad credit? Alamin sa short guide na ito. 

For more finance tips, visit Moneymax.

 

 

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