Credit Reports and Ransomware Reminders

Thanks to my NAPFA colleague,  Ken Weingarten, CFP® of Lawrenceville, NJ for these recent reminders about ordering your credit report, and how to avoid a ransomware attack on your computer or mobile device.

You are eligible to request a free credit report once per year from one of the three credit agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. Below you will find instructions for Experian. Future posts will remind you about Equifax and Transunion.

[Note: all of those cute ads you see on the television are for an unnecessary service (for most people at least).] The link below is where the truly free credit reports can be obtained. Here are the steps necessary:

1. go to  www.annualcreditreport.com
2. follow the on-screen prompts through the process
3. ensure you select Experian this time around
4. click “print report” once your report appears on the page
5. review the report to ensure everything is fine
6. you may wish to save your report – you can create a new folder and simply title it “Credit Reports”

If you find there is something amiss, contact that agency immediately. You can contact Experian at 866-397-3742.

If you are married, make sure your spouse obtains his/her report, too.
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Also, here is an excellent list of cyber security tips from a financial institution I do business with that I would like to share. Here is the message in its entirety.

Security Update – Protecting Yourself From Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) that freezes your computer or mobile device until money is paid to release the contents back to you. The most common type of ransomware, known as crypto-ransomware, encrypts files on infected systems and tries to force users to pay a ransom through online payment methods, in order to get a decrypt key.

Ransomware targets individuals by using a link or attachment that infects your computer or mobile device, or leads you to an infected website. Ransomware is most easily spread through:

  • Phishing emails
  • Advertisements or pop-up windows
  • Downloadable software

The FBI estimates that more than $5 billion in losses came from ransomware attacks in 2017 alone. Ransom fees can vary from $100 – $10,000 or more, with no guarantee that your system will be restored if the ransom is paid.

To help protect yourself from ransomware:

  • Always use antivirus software and a firewall. Be sure both are set up to update automatically.
  • Enable pop-up blockers. Pop-ups are regularly used by criminals to spread malware. To avoid accidentally clicking a pop-up, using a popup blocker will help prevent them from opening in the first place.
  • Never open attachments, or click on a URL contained in unsolicited emails. This holds true even if it comes from someone in your contact list.
  • Only download software from sites you know and trust. Malware can come in downloadable games, videos, music, and file-sharing programs.
  • Keep your software updated. Using old versions of your browser, operating system, or plugins can allow malware through open security holes.
  • Regularly back up the content on your computer and mobile device. Be sure to back up the content to a location where it can’t be written or erased, like an external hard drive or to the cloud.
  • Use strong passwords and change them regularly. Strong passwords contain a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Never create passwords that contain birth dates, anniversary dates or other easily obtainable personal information.
  • Use the same precautions on your mobile device as you would on your computer when using the internet. About 80 percent of those who use the internet, access it through their mobile device, leaving your smartphone and tablet open to the same issues as your computer.
  • If you do fall victim to a ransomware attack, DO NOT pay the ransom. Paying the ransom does not guarantee that you will receive your data back. It also makes you a target for future ransomware attacks.

By following these tips, you can help protect yourself from a ransomware attack. If your system does become infected with ransomware, taking the above steps will help reduce the impact. Instead of paying the ransom, you can simply have your system wiped clean and then restore it using your back up copy.

Got more questions on credit? Comment here,   schedule a call​ or email us at holly@hollypdonaldson.com so we can respond directly to your concerns.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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