Repairing Your Credit After ID-Theft

Zebert L. Brown

In my last blog, I pointed out that identity theft is a major problem for consumers no matter the size of your bank account, and I outlined a few free, simple safeguards you can take to protect yourself against identity theft. In this week’s blog, I’ll outline steps you should take to repair the damage resulting from identify theft. But first, some myth busting concerning ID-theft protection and credit repair services.

According to ConsumerReports.org, only one-third of all cases reported as ID-theft actually involve stolen identities. The rest involve stolen credit cards. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take all necessary precautions to protect yourself against ID-theft. Hackers and scammers are getting smarter in how they carry out their crimes. Therefore, the harder you make it on them the better off your digital wallet will be.

You could pay an identity theft protection service, such as, LifeLock, TrustedID or Zander Insurance’s ID-Theft Protection Plan, to protect your identity for a small monthly fee, but most of the services they charge for their services you can do yourself for free. Such services include:

Posting a Fraud Alert to your Credit Card Account. Contact any of the three major credit bureaus to set this up yourself:

The first credit bureau you contact will notify the rest.

Opting-Out of Email/Mailing List. Optoutprescreen.com is “the official Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website to accept and process requests from consumers to Opt-In or Opt-Out of firm offers of credit or insurance”. Just click on the “Out-In/Out-Out” button at the bottom of the screen to begin the application process. Once your application is submitted, your request remains in affect for 5-years. You’ll have to renew your application at this point in order to continue the service.

Credit Reports and FICO Scores. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus each year. You can contact each credit bureau separately or you can request all three at annualcreditreport.com. It should be noted, however, that your FICO credit score doesn’t appear on free versions of your credit report. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you contact the credit bureaus directly and pay their one-time service fee (usually between $15-20 per report) to obtain a complete copy of your credit report with credit score.

(Note: FreeCreditReport.com will also provide you a copy of your credit report with credit score from Transunion during their 7-day trial period…for $1, but in order to receive your credit reports from the other two credit reporting agencies, you’ll have to subscribe to their membership service at $14.99 per month.)

Report a Lost/Stolen Debit/Credit Card. If you can pick-up your cell phone or search the web, it’s a sure bet you can contact your bank or credit card company yourself and report your debit or credit card as lost or stolen or if you suspect someone has committed bank fraud by writing unauthorized checks against your account.

Of course, there’s that $1 million total service (insurance) guarantee these company’s claim. This may sound good, but if your lose is covered by other forms of insurance (homeowners/renters, merchant or even federal consumer protections) it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see a penny of that so-called “guarantee”. So, what should you do to recover your identify if you’ve become a victim of identity theft?

  • Contact your bank or credit card company immediately and report your credit card as lost or stolen. In most cases, your bank or credit card company will close your account and start a new one at your request provided you’re able to show prove of fraudulent activity. Your monthly credit card statement along with a copy of the police report (see below) should do the trick.

  • If the theft includes personal checks, ensure to place a “stop payment” on the check or series of missing checks.

  • Change the Personal Identification Number (PIN) to your ATM upon being issued new debit/credit cards.

  • Place a fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus to prevent any further unauthorized purchases using your credit card.

  • Place a freeze on your credit accounts. This will prevent any new credit activity from being added to your account for at least five months.

  • Contact local law enforcement to complete a police report providing as much information as you can concerning the loss or theft of your debit or credit card or other identification that may be missing (i.e., driver’s license, Social Security Card, etc.).

  • Obtain copies of your credit reports and review each for suspicious activity and dispute any questionable purchases. This includes any new lines of credit opened in your name.

  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to close any fraudulent accounts opened in your name.

  • You may also want to contact your local Postmaster, Social Security Administration and state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to report a wrongful change of address or that vital pieces of identification has been stolen and/or misused in your name.

  • Contact your creditors (those you normally pay via debit or credit card) and notify them of the investigative work being conducted concerning ID-theft of your accounts. Follow-up your phone calls with a Certified Letter.

Being penny-wise while protecting your identity doesn’t have to mean sacrificing quality results. It simply means finding the right services to do the job at a price you can afford. And what better price is there than free? By doing it yourself, your only cost is time, but by taking immediate action you’ll be protecting yourself against liability for any unauthorized purchases charged to your accounts resulting from the loss or theft of your banking or credit card information. Of course, you could pay for the convenience of having these services performed for you, but now that you know you can do them yourself for free, why not put that money towards an investment account of some sort, e.g., a Roth IRA or 529 Qualified Tuition Program plan, and watch those dollars grow instead?

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion by posting your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Like me on Facebook and Follow me on Twitter.

10 Smart, Cost-Saving Grocery Shopping Tips

 

Zebert L. BrownAccording to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a family of four spends approximately $627.90 a month on groceries – and that’s being on the thrifty side! For most Americans, their grocery bill constitutes the third largest household expense behind paying the mortgage and transportation costs. And from the looks of things it doesn’t appear that foods costs will be coming down any time soon. So, what can you do to reduce your grocery bill?  Here are 10 cost-saving tips that can save you big bucks on your grocery bill:

  1. Plan your meals. It might sound tedious, but planning your meals a week at a time helps to streamline your grocery shopping. This way you only purchase those food items you need. This works whether you’re on a tight budget or a fixed income.

  2. Make a grocery list. If done right, your grocery list should include all the necessary ingredients to make your menus complete. By making a grocery list, you also minimize the risk of impulse buying which only adds to your grocery bill. And at today’s food prices, who wants to spend more than they have to on food?

  3. Price Matching. Most grocery store chains will match the price of a competitor’s sales price provided you can show them the sales price. Bring coupons or competitor’s sales ads with you and present them at the check-out to save a few bucks.

  4. Use Coupons. The stories you’ve heard of The Coupon Lady saving hundreds on her grocery bill are true! Clipping coupons remains the best way to save money on your grocery bill. It’s no easy task; you have to do a lot of work up front to get organized, but the cost savings are worth it provided you’re willing to look for bargains. Collect weekly circulars for coupons or print them from such on-line sites as Coupons.com, MyCoupons.com or GrocerySmarts.com.

  5. Use In-Store Discount Cards. We all look for the sale price whenever we go shopping, but many grocery store chains, such a Kroger, offer in-store discounts using their store discount card on top of their sale price. Using a store’s discount card can add extra savings to your grocery bill.

  6. Shop Generic. We’ve heard it said before, “shop generic”, and it’s true that buying off-brand food items can save you money. In fact, many name brand grocery store chains now offer store brand items of their own in place of the old white or yellow “generic” packaged food items. If you’re worried about taste or quality, don’t be! Most store brand foods taste just as good as the retail brands or better, and are of high quality, too. So, don’t be afraid to try an off-brand item. You won’t be able to tell the difference and you’ll save a lot of money in the process.

  7. Shop at Discount Stores. While the big grocery store chains offer many of the name brand items we all love, discount stores, such as Dollar Tree, Dollar General and Aldi’s, offer quality grocery items at very competitive prices. In most cases, their every day low prices beat the retail grocery store chains hands down. So, don’t be fooled into thinking low-cost means “cheap”. Discount stores offer significant cost-savings on many of the common food items you routinely buy at a faction of the cost. And they taste good, too.

  8. Be tech savvy – Use Shopping Apps. You can compare prices of name brand grocery store items or even create shopping lists using shopping apps, such as GroceryIQ or Grocery Pay. So, if you think $2.95 is too expensive for that 20 oz. can of named brand soup, compare prices right from your iphone and if you find the same item for a cheaper price at another store in your neighborhood, head across town and by it there. Better yet, show the cashier at check-out and if they price match, buy it! Talk about choice and competition!! There are several other grocery shopping apps you can download at the Google Play store and most apps are free. So, shop around and find the best app that works for you.

  9. Shop at Farmer’s Markets. Fresh fruits and vegetables are already expensive and unstable weather conditions can only mean prices will go higher. But your local Farmer’s Market can help lower the cost of fresh produce because all items are locally grown providing you with significant savings. All Farmer’s Markets undergo rigorous state health and safety inspections. So, you can rest assured they meet the highest health and safety standards. But just as important, the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables are cheap compared to your local grocery store chain. So, give your local Farmer’s Market a try. You can find a Farmer’s Market near you at www.localharvest.org.

  10. Buy in Bulk. If you’re feeding a small army, chances are buying bulk is worth your time and can save you money. But even if you’re feeding a family of four, buying in bulk can provide long-term savings for those grocery items you buy routinely. Simply use what you need for the here-and-now, and store the excess away for later use. Membership at the leading two bulk buying stores, Sam’s Club and CostCo., is relatively inexpensive. So, if you have extra pantry space, buying in bulk can be worth it in the long-run.

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion and post your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.