Five Tips to Avoid Identity Theft

Identity theft victims reported losing more than $15 billion in 2014. That’s more than the combined losses from burglary, motor vehicle theft and other property theft in the same period. While it’s no surprise that identity theft can leave you feeling vulnerable, there are things you can do to take some control.

Step 1: Order your credit report when you realize you’ve become a victim. You need to quickly find out about any errors showing up on your report. Go to annualcreditreport.com for free copies of your report from all three nationwide credit-reporting companies-Experian, Equifax and Transunion.

If you see any errors or fraudulent charges, report them to the credit reporting companies right away. They will investigate those items and then forward the information to the business that reported it. The business has 30 days to respond.

If the business providing the loan finds an error, it must notify the credit reporting company so your file can be corrected. If your credit changes because of the business’ investigation, the reporting company will send you a letter with the results.

Step 2: Place a fraud alert to make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. Call any one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies and ask them to put an initial fraud alert on your credit report. They must contact the other two companies about your alert.

Equifax

1-800-525-6285

Experian

1-800-397-3742

TransUnion

1-800-680-7289

While there’s an alert on your report, anytime a business performs a credit inquiry they will need to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. This may require contacting you, so be sure you’ve updated your credit report with your current contact information. The alert will stay on your report for 90 days and allows you to order an additional free copy of your report from each of the three credit reporting companies.

Step 3: Consider a credit freeze. A Credit Freeze, also known as a Security Freeze, gives you maximum control over who has access to your credit. It can stop a thief from opening new accounts in your name because lenders and other creditors won’t be able to get your credit report.

With a Credit Freeze in place, even you will have to take special steps to apply for credit. You can still open new accounts, apply for a job, rent an apartment, buy insurance, refinance your mortgage, or do anything else that requires your credit report. But businesses will need to verify your identity so they may need to contact you and you will have to call the reporting company to lift the freeze in order for the business to review your report. Again, be sure they have your most current information through your credit report.

A few things to know: Due to stringent laws, you’ll have to contact each reporting company separately to place a Credit Freeze. Also, placing a credit freeze does not affect your credit score. Finally, the cost depends on where you live. If you are 65 or older, or a victim of identity theft and submit a valid investigative or incident report, complaint with a law enforcement agency or the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the fee will be waived.

Step 4: File an Identity Theft Report. An Identity Theft Report is a great weapon. You can use it to get fraudulent information removed from your credit report; stop a company from collecting debts that result from identity theft-or from selling the debt to another company for collection. You can also use it to place an extended fraud alert on your credit report, and to get information about accounts the identity thief opened or misused.

Filing an Identity Theft Report is simple: Submit a complaint about the theft to the FTC. When you finish writing all the details, print a copy of the report. It will print as an Identity Affidavit.

File a police report about your identity theft, and get a copy of the police report or the report number. (Make sure to bring your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit and attach it to your police report).

Some credit reporting companies may ask for more information or documentation than the Identity Theft Report includes. It depends on the policies of the credit reporting company and the business that sent the information about you to the reporting company.

Step 5: Report fraud on existing accounts. For any of your accounts that show fraudulent charges, contact the business right away. Explain that you’re an identity theft victim. Close the account and follow their reporting process. You can ask if they’ll accept your Identity Theft Report. Additionally, write to the fraud department of each business. By law, they have to review your letter, investigate your complaint, and tell you the results of their investigation. If the information is wrong, the business must tell the credit reporting company. Make sure to ask for a letter from the business confirming that it removed the fraudulent information.

On any credit card or bank account that remains open, take steps to protect yourself. Change your password and place code words on accounts that allow them. Code words are offered on some accounts as an added level of security. You can typically choose your code word. You might consider using something only you would know and is not public knowledge. Finally, continually monitor your accounts, keeping an eye out for any suspicious activity.

Gone Phishing

During these last lazy days of summer, a fishing trip might seem like a great idea as a favorite past time for many.

But beware of other types of ‘phishermen’ on ‘phishing expeditions.’

Phishing is the favorite process of scam artists to try to get consumers to divulge personal identification information like account numbers, Social Security Numbers or addresses.

Once a scamster has your personal information it can wreak havoc on your personal financial management.

Methods familiar to most include elaborate imitation websites combined with emails and some type of message that your account information needs to be reverified because of some sort of special offer or need to update the institution’s account database.

With the recent credit crisis and proliferation of special loan programs, homeowners have been favorite targets. One example: Email solicitations by a legitimate-sounding credit union advertising low rates for mortgage refinancing. Or emails offering loan modification programs or ways to stop foreclosure.

Other techniques are taking advantage of the trend toward the use of more social networking sites. With the advent of such resources like Linked In, Twitter or Facebook, some identity thieves will find enough personal information (i.e. employment, residence, education) to help them become you.

Remember that a government agency or financial institution will never ask you to provide your personal identifying information in an unsolicited email. One way to check the authenticity of any such email is to scroll over any visible links in the email to see the website suffix. Anything other than ‘.com,’ or ‘.gov’ or ‘.org’ might be indicating a non-US-based computer server and a likely scam source. Also consider scrolling across the bottom of the subject email. Sometimes there are hidden links which may also provide an indication of the foreign origin of the email.

If in doubt, call the agency or firm directly but use a phone number provided from one of your statements, not from the email. You can also check on the legitimacy of the source by checking with the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov) or trade organizations.

For instance, a visit to the National Credit Union Association ( www.ncua.gov ) determined that the credit union refinance offer was phony. Banks, financial services firms and insurers all have regulators and industry trade groups that can verify the legitimate existence of an organization.

Not all ‘phishing’ expeditions are hi-tech. Some are as low-tech as rummaging through garbage cans and dumpsters for mail showing account numbers. Others include phone calls using the same message of ‘updating account information’ as noted in the email version above.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Be careful about leaving information lying around. When on line, clear your ‘cookies’ often and avoid leaving your passwords or credit card information pre-filled at financial websites you visit. Make sure that your computer is protected with updated versions of anti-spyware, anti-malware and pop-up blockers. Check your credit report to make sure it is accurate and that no new unauthorized accounts have been opened in your name. Get your free copy of your credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com.

Off-line you can protect yourself by shredding old financial records as well as credit card offers since these are prime sources for dumpster divers.

Don’t just throw away old computers, hard drives or cell phones. There is too much information on them that can be retrieved by a tech savvy ID thief. Hard drives should be shredded or use a baseball bat. You’ll protect yourself and be able to vent a little to get even with all the frustration that technology may have caused you.

With a little effort, you can protect yourself and not become bait for an unwanted ‘phisherman.’

Second Mortgage Loans Are Cool for Debt Consolidation and Cash Out

With the refinance boom officially over, second mortgage loans are cooler than ever. Many homeowners have been blessed with low interest rate first mortgage loans that they want to keep. The need for cash did not disappear with the refinance boom, so 2nd mortgages and home equity loans will be the loans of choice for the next few years. Anyone who has a 30-year fixed rate loan at under 6% should keep their existing loan in tact and take out a second loan on their home if they need cash. The Federal Reserve has hinted that there are more rate hikes coming, so if you are a mortgage broker or lender, it is time to brush up on your second mortgage product line, because people still need to access cash, and there is no better way to accomplish this.

Home Equity Loans to 125%

You don’t need any equity, and this loan program will actually allow you to exceed the value in your home up to 125%! These 2nd mortgages are typically offered with a fixed interest rate for 15, 20 or 25 year repayment terms. If you have credit card debt, or high rate loans, this is an excellent loan for eliminating compounding interest and saving money! IHE executive, Sandy Sarconi stated, “There is no better way for a hard-working family with no equity in their home to lower bill payments and get out of debt.”

* Fixed Interest Rate 2nd Mortgage

* No Mortgage Insurance Ever

* No Equity Second Mortgage

Stated Income Second Mortgages

More and more people are seeking reduced documentation loans. More and more people have become self-employed, and many people simply like the streamlined process.

* Stated Income Equity Loans

* No Income No Asset 2nd Mortgages

* No Income Verified Home Equity

* No Doc Equity Refinance

Second Mortgage Credit Lines

Sure the interest rates are variable. Yes the Fed has increased the prime rate index eight times in the last few years, but people love low payments that interest only loans provide. People also love the flexibility of only having to pay interest on the money you access. Where else can you get money waiting for you without having to make payments until you use spend cash!

* Interest Only Payments

* Home Lines of Credit

In 2006, the often bashful, second mortgage has emerged from the shadow of first mortgage, and evolved into the cool loan of choice.

Refinance Investments at the Best Interest Rates

Real estate investment has become very popular in the last few years. With all kinds of “no money down” real estate courses being sold on infomercials and in every home business or investing publication that exists, people have rushed to buy properties for investment purposes. Unfortunately, many of these people are not interest rate savvy and are doing themselves a disservice by not refinancing some of their investment property mortgage loans.

Refinancing an investment property can be complex, but there are some things you can do to make sure you’re doing it at the right time and you’re getting the lowest interest rates possible. The key is to stay on top of the mortgage industry trends and know when to dig deeper and consider a refinance.

The first thing is, do your homework. Interest rates change constantly. The going rate this morning may change by this afternoon! Unless you know what it is, you don’t know if you’re getting the best deal or not. And it makes a big difference! Small adjustments in interest rates can mean tens of thousands of dollars difference in total payments over the life of the loan. Read the financial news. Track mortgage interest rate trends, especially in your country or local area. An educated consumer is a wise consumer. This applies to loans as well as any other purchased item.

Second, use a mortgage broker. These trained professionals know exactly how to get the lowest interest rates possible, no matter what your specific circumstances. If you have a poor credit rating or are self-employed, you have a unique situation that brokers are trained to handle. They have access to thousands of lenders, each with many different programs. They know how to evaluate these programs and find one that will fit your needs. In combination with your own expert knowledge of current economic trends, using a mortgage broker will help you immensely in finding the best refinancing deal.

Third, buy down as much as you can. “Buying down” is a term used to describe taking some of the interest expense up front as “points.” The more you can do this, the lower the interest rate you’ll end up paying on the loan. This is always a good idea. Buy down as much as you can afford to. It may cost an extra few thousand at closing, but it will save tens of thousands in interest payments over the life of the loan.

Forth, negotiate. It’s not very well known that you can negotiate to lower your loan interest rates. Talk to more than one lender, or even more than one mortgage broker. Make sure each knows that you’re talking to others. Indicate that others have given you a lower rate. Don’t lie, but always be prepared to walk away. If you’ve done your homework and know the going interest rates, you’ll find that negotiation will bring you to the rock bottom interest rates you’re looking for.

These four tips will help you save thousands of dollars with the proper refinancing to the best possible interest rates for your investment properties.

How to Write a Loan Modification Hardship Letter That Gets Results

Modifying your loan is the way to avoid foreclosure, particularly if you cannot refinance. The loan modification hardship letter tells your lender what they need to know, and is a basic step toward solving your financial woes. Many loan modification requests are denied merely due to a loan modification hardship letter that was poorly written.

Your hardship letter should describe your financial dilemma to your lending institution, explain the reason you need a loan modification, and show them that this is the help you need to keep repaying their loan. The lender must see that you are determined to keep your home, and that this take top priority in your financial affairs.

Yes, your lender needs to know your story, but you must stick to the basic facts. Be brief and to the point. Sincerity makes for a more winning appeal than complaining or tear-jerking. Be honest, underscore how important it is to you to keep your home, and justify loan modification as the path to repayment of the loan. Your lender must believe that you will not default again if they modify your loan.

Due to the current economic crisis, lenders’ phones are ringing off the hook with tales of woe, and you do not want your plea to be overlooked. Your letter should be a few pages at most, preferably shorter. Take a positive, can-do attitude in your letter, and present them with your plan of action to get your finances under control again. The underlying message needs to communicate to your lender that you are responsible, diligent, and merely going through a rough patch. Their serious attention to your request is the second chance you need.

There are two main ways to get the support you need before you approach your lender. Find a trustworthy financial advisor with a proven track record of helping homeowners like you, one who can help you state your particular case. Also, look for online templates that show effective hardship letters. These sample documents will show you how your letter should look in order to get the loan modification you need.