3 Kinds of Information You Should Never Share on Social Media

The digitization of information and the popularity of social media may be putting consumer privacy at risk now more than ever. Some social media users, teenagers especially, may be unaware that the information they share — from their location to their paycheck — could be used for identity theft and fraud. About 92% of teenagers post their real name, 82% list their date of birth and 71% show their city or town of residence on their social profiles, according to Pew Research Center.

Here are three kinds of information to never share on social media:

1. Driver’s License Details

Some users may be tempted to post their first driver’s license on social media to boast about their accomplishment or laugh at a silly photo. However, a valid ID card, such as a driver’s license, will contain your date of birth, picture and other personal identifiable information that thieves could copy.

Avoid sharing personal information that may lead to identity theft, including your date of birth and Social Security number. Access to this information could allow identity thieves to open new lines of credit.

2. Vacation Itinerary & Location Data

While you are excited to share pictures about your fun vacation to exotic locations, do not share information about your getaway beforehand on social media, such as how long you will be gone and where you are going.

Not only do potential thieves know that you will be out of your home for that period of time, they could take advantage of your absence and burglarize your property. If you also use geotagging for your posts to show your location or list the city where you live, burglars could use this information to target your home, according to USA Today.

3. Bank Account Information

Posting any kind of financial information in a public space could invite fraud. Although some people might use social media to post about their first paycheck from a new job in their excitement, they should not display images of their paycheck because it contains bank account information. In 2014, law enforcement authorities charged a huge identity theft ring that looked for victims’ financial information via Instagram postings of paychecks, CNNMoney reported.

The victims showed images of their paychecks with the hashtag #myfirstpaycheck, which held bank account and routing information. With this information, the thieves were able to make fake checks and steal from businesses.

If any of your data has been posted online — or even if not — it’s vital to watch your credit reports and credit scores closely for signs of fraud. You can get your credit reports for free annually from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. There are also several sources that will give you your credit scores for free, including Credit.com — where it’s updated every 30 days so you can monitor for any changes that could signal a problem.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Brett Montgomery was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

5 Expensive College Financial Aid Gotchas

It’s crunch time for high school seniors: May 1 is College Decision Day, the day most college-bound students will let universities and colleges know whether they will be enrolling. For students agonizing over multiple offers, a big factor in choices will (or should be) financial aid. After all, the less you borrow as a student, the less student loan debt you’ll have to repay after college.

But those financial aid letters students have received can be confusing at best, and downright deceptive at worst. One parent told me about the worst one her daughter received: “It showed the parents’ out-of-pocket cost after the small award, plus the maximum federal student loan, plus a big Parent PLUS loan … and it looked so reasonable,” she said. Her daughter didn’t fully understand that it would mean a big chunk of debt for both the parents and the student to repay after college.

When reviewing financial aid offers, here are five student aid gotchas to watch out for:

1. Loans in Disguise 

Financial aid awards will often lump loans together with grants and scholarships and sometimes may not even use the word “loan” to describe money that will be borrowed. But a loan is a much different animal than grants and scholarships that don’t have to be repaid. “When I hear colleges talk about how loans make school more affordable, it’s misleading,” says Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president Edvisors.com, which offers free tools to help plan and pay for college. “Loans really provide cash-flow assistance,” he explains. It’s not free money, even if it feels that way. “In most cases loans increase costs because they charge interest,” he says.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy, a higher education expert who teaches parents how to cut the cost of college at TheCollegeSolution.com, is especially concerned about parent loans listed as aid. “They’ll stuff a big Parent PLUS loan in there, but they shouldn’t even be in financial aid letters,” she insists. Interest rates are high, and any parent can apply for one. “Be careful if a big chunk of your award letter is a Parent PLUS loan,” she says.

2. Front-Loaded Grants

Grants and scholarships may make the first year look affordable, but that equation can change in subsequent years. How do you know if a school “front-loads” grants? It can be hard to tell, admits Kantrowitz. One approach is to ask the financial aid administrator what will be required to renew the awards in subsequent years. He also suggests using the government’s College Navigator website which lists average grants for the first year and all other years for each school. “It’s not perfect,” he says. But if you see a substantial decrease after the first year, that can be a red flag.

3. Missing Costs

If you simply compare tuition costs, you’ll likely be missing some key items, including room and board, meal plans, travel, books and “other” fees (a category that can rival a cellphone or cable bill in the number of add-ons). Be sure essential costs are listed and try to make sure they are realistic, Kantrowitz warns. “Some have a textbook allowance of $250 and in some courses a single textbook can be $250,” he says. When aid letters don’t list the total cost of attending that institution, awards may seem more generous than they really are.

4. Missing Expected Family Contribution

Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is basically a proxy for how much a family is expected to pay, at a minimum, for one year of college and it’s generated when a student fills out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE (which many private schools use). Just as you don’t have a single credit score, you’re likely to end up with multiple EFCs for private colleges. “Every school that uses the PROFILE can create its own EFC because there are hundreds of questions they can add,” says O’Shaughnessy.

If the EFC is not on your award letter, ask the school what number it is using. “Schools just don’t like to tell people what their EFC is because parents would then be able to tell if the financial aid package is a good deal,” O’Shaughnessy says. She gives the example of a student who is awarded $25,000 in grants. On the surface that may appear like a generous award, but if the total costs are $50,000 and the family’s EFC is $5,000, it’s not. (What that would mean is the gap between what was owed each year and what the family would need to pay would be $25,000 per year — for a family whose realistic ability to contribute is closer to $5,000 per year.)

5. Missing Bottom Line

The net price is the cost of attendance minus any grants you get from any sources. Some aid awards will list the true net price, but others will throw in loans.  “You need to know how much you will pay after all the free money is deducted,” says O’Shaughnessy. It’s also possible to appeal a financial aid award if you think it’s too low or if your circumstances have changed since you filled out the FAFSA.

If you end up incurring large amounts of debt to pay for school, it can be difficult and painful to dig out. If you have a high monthly payment or you’ve fallen behind, student loan debt can make it difficult to get a mortgage or other lines of credit. You can see how student loans are affecting your credit by checking your credit scores, which you can do for free on Credit.com.

So read those letters carefully and if the true cost isn’t clear, don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, this is your future you’re looking at — in more ways than one.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Gerri Detweiler was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

How Often Should I Check My Credit?

If you’ve ever taken care of a sick child, you’ve probably checked their temperature much more often than you would ordinarily — and you may be using an actual thermometer instead of gently touching a forehead or neck to get a rough idea of whether there’s a fever. But what do you do when the patient is your credit? It’s not as if you can check your credit a few hours after administering the “medicine” to be sure it’s having the desired effect. How do you know what’s prudent and what’s obsessive?

First, it depends on what you mean by credit. If you mean credit reports, the information about you and your payment history, checking annually seems reasonable unless you have a specific reason for reviewing it more often. You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The information used to calculate your credit scores comes from these records, so you’ll want to make sure they’re accurate and that your information is not mixed up with someone else’s. The bureaus do not share information with each other, meaning there can be variations across all three reports, so you’ll want to look at all of them. (If you have never done this before, we suggest getting all three at the same time. After that, some people choose to check them at different intervals — such as one every four months.) If you find mistakes, you can dispute them.

How Often to Peek at Scores

Your credit scores, which help lenders decide whether to extend credit to you and at what interest rate, are calculated from data in your credit reports. Those should be checked at least once a year unless you plan to apply for credit, particularly a car loan or mortgage, if you are working to build or rebuild credit, or for one of the reasons we describe later in this article. In those cases, you’ll want to check about once a month so that you can monitor your scores. For some, that’s as simple as looking at a number on a monthly credit card statement. You can also get free scores from consumer websites (including Credit.com, which offers two scores, updated monthly, that are truly free, in addition to personalized advice on how you can improve your score). Those scores help you see yourself in much the same way lenders do.

If you don’t like what you see at first, you can work to improve your scores. Some monitoring services allow you unlimited access to credit information, so you could theoretically check every day. But that would make it easier to obsess over every point, and scores fluctuate frequently as information gets updated. You’re really looking for trends, not small day-to-day changes. Lenders are well aware that scores change from day to day and that small differences are all but meaningless. (Though they can be meaningful if your score is close to the line on a credit score range, where you would get better terms for a score that is even slightly better). But a score that is comfortably within a given range won’t get you better terms than one that barely makes the cutoff.

Once a month, though, should give you a clear idea about trends. Do be careful to compare the same credit score each time (there are hundreds of different models), and don’t stress about small fluctuations. Beyond that, be sure you understand why your credit score changed if the shift is significant.

Aside from plans to borrow, there are other reasons you may want to monitor your scores monthly. If you think you may be the victim of identity theft or have recently had your personal information compromised in a data breach, keep close tabs on your credit. Same thing if you have recently divorced. If you are in the job market, review your credit because employers sometimes check credit reports as part of the employment process.

If none of those apply, it’s still smart to make sure your credit is healthy — if you’ve ever had to replace a car unexpectedly, you already know that. Plus, sometimes the first sign of identity theft is a credit score that has changed without any obvious explanation. So while it’s not absolutely essential to check your credit every single month, keeping an eye on your credit scores each month can be helpful. Think of it as an early-detection test that can turn up a problem before symptoms appear (and when it’s easier to treat).

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Gerri Detweiler was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

How Long Does It Take to Get My Free Credit Report?

Q. How long should someone wait for a credit report? I mailed AnnualCreditReport.com requests for a single credit agency report for my daughter and myself, but neither of us have received a response. I do not want to send an additional request and be billed for multiple reports.

A. We’re glad to see you are checking up on your credit.

As you’ve indicated, AnnualCreditReport.com is the place you can get copies of your credit reports from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax once a year for free.

If you access the credit reports online, you’ll get them immediately.

If you make the request by phone at 877-322-8228, it will take about 15 days for your reports to be mailed to you.

If you do it by mail, your request will also take about 15 days from the time they receive your request. It could take as long as three weeks before you receive it.

You mentioned you also made a request for your daughter. If she is a minor (an adult should make the request herself), it’s possible that she doesn’t have a credit file yet. That would be indicated to you when the credit bureau responds to your request.

If the requests seem to be taking longer, it’s possible the credit bureau needs more information to verify your identity. If that happens, you’ll also receive the request in writing.

If you’re interested in your credit score, too, take a look at this report on free credit scores. You and your daughter can also get free credit scores, updated monthly, on Credit.com.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Karin Price Mueller was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

4 Ways Credit Cards Will Change By 2020

It’s hard to believe how some things have changed during our lifetime. Not long ago, we used to hurry home to watch our favorite shows on low-definition televisions, but now we stream high-def programing on demand through the Internet onto any device with a screen. In addition, we now have our choice of dozens of hybrid and electric cars that don’t quite drive themselves yet, but may just do so in the not-too-distant future.

Given the fantastic pace of innovation, what might we expect from our credit cards in the next five years?

1. Chip and PIN everywhere. While 2015 will be the year that most merchants in the United States adopt smart-chip compatible terminals, the technological migration away from from magnetic stripes still has a way to go. Nearly all card issuers and merchants are just now using the chip-and-signature implementation, which just replaces the magnetic stripe with a more advanced microchip. So if someone steals your credit card, it can still be used fraudulently. The next step is to migrate to the chip-and-PIN standard, already in use in Europe and several other parts of the world. Only when credit card transactions require the input of a personal identification number (as ATM transactions do now) will we truly reach the next level of security.

2. One card fits all. There are currently several companies vying to introduce a single credit card that will store and transmit the information from all of your accounts. Right now, these cards cost more than $100 apiece, and none has proved itself in the marketplace. But cardholders can expect that the quality of these devices will rapidly improve while the price falls to a level considered to be an affordable, or perhaps even negligible, expense.

3. A standardized smartphone protocol for credit cards. When it introduced Apple Pay, Apple made prominent the idea that we could make payments with our mobile devices. Nevertheless, the adoption of the iPhone and the Apple Pay standard has been far from universal. So it seems logical that the next step in the evolution of mobile payments will be an industrywide technological standard, rather than a proprietary one, much like the EMV smart chip and the magnetic stripe that came before it.

4. Taking the card out of credit. You don’t carry around a plastic card that represents your savings account or investments, so why do you need a physical object to represent your line of credit? The purpose of the credit card itself is to authenticate the transaction, and it isn’t very good at that. Since credit cards can be lost, stolen, damaged, or just left at home, perhaps the ultimate solution will be to carry no credit card at all. Inexpensive fingerprint readers, like the ones in every new iPhone, could be easily included in merchant terminals, allowing us to leave our cards at home. When shopping over the phone or online, our devices could store and transmit our account information, making the plastic credit card itself into a relic of past.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Jason Steele was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

How to Stash Half Your Income in Savings

It probably sounds impossible. It may even feel impossible. But increasing the percentage of your income that you put toward savings can pay off big time. Adding more money to your retirement can allow you to retire earlier or live a more lavish lifestyle in retirement. So before you set your long-term financial goals like the average person, consider setting aside more, maybe even half of your income for the future.

Create a New Budget

In order to save this much money, you will likely have to adjust your current spending habits and patterns. People tend to live and spend according to their salary, but it’s a good idea to create a budget that helps you live well below your means. This requires you to prioritize the future more than the present. We often hear of the 50/30/20 budget where you spend 50% of income on needs, 20% on financial goals like retirement or paying off debt and 30% on wants. So in the new breakdown, you will likely have to reduce both some needs and some wants.

Increase Income

One of the easiest ways to save more money is to make more money. By increasing your income, saving 50% won’t have as big an impact on your life. Consider asking for a raise, applying for a promotion or new job, getting a manageable part-time job or starting a side hustle where you earn money in your free time.

Decrease Housing Costs

You can also consider living somewhere more affordable (this calculator can help you see how much house you can afford) because housing tends to be the largest portion of people’s budget. Choosing a home that costs less in rent or mortgage can really help you reach your goal.

Open a Special Savings Account

It can be a good idea to have separate accounts for different savings goals. For example, one for your emergency fund, one for your vacation fund and one for your home down payment. Whether you are planning to save 50% of your income for a short term to reach a specific goal or you plan to do this for the long term, forming a strategy can help.

Split Direct Deposit

If possible, you might want to talk to the payroll or human resources experts at your office to inquire about splitting your pay in half. Fifty percent of each paycheck can go where it does now (likely your checking account) and 50% can be assigned for your new savings account (an IRA, Roth IRA or savings account). Putting savings on autopilot can make it much easier to stick to your plan and be less tempted to break your own spending rules.

Track Progress

Even with the best intentions and a plan in place, sometimes things come up. Life happens. So it’s important to check your progress regularly — including any time you incur a financial change, like a raise, windfall or new mortgage. It’s a good idea to know your balance, and stay on top of how much you are paying in fees.

While it may not be easy, these tips can still motivate you to save more — whether that’s 50% of your income or another percentage that works for you.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by AJ Smith was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Is Your Personal Finance Blog Setup for Failure Instead of Success?

A friend of mine, Gary Foreman from The Dollar Stretcher, pointed out a set of facts to me recently that made it painfully clear why new personal finance blogs are finding it difficult to find their audience. And also why it looks like it will get increasingly tough to do so if blogs don’t work together. Collaboration is the logical and obvious answer. But keep reading and see if you agree.

According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute the number of searches conducted on Google is dropping after a long upward climb.

Google Searches

The numbers say there were about 66,430,000,000 fewer Google searches in 2014 than 2013. Yet the total number of page indexed by Google in the same time increased by 9,000,000,000. This is a function of more sites adding more pages and just new sites coming online.

Online competition with the addition of pages and sites is becoming tougher and small sites will continue to get lost in the deeper ocean of content.

When I first got online in 1994 it was easy to get noticed. I was even named the Microsoft site of the month back then. Today the new blogger would find that accolade tough to accomplish. Life is a much harder for new sites and that limits the opportunities for success.

Search traffic statistics show an ever more alarming decline and one reason may be people are getting more results from apps, Siri, or other options other than typing a question into a Google search box.

total searches

With such tough core changes between sites, searches, and visitors it leaves you wondering how trying to compete using traditional methods like SEO alone is going to be a good strategy. You don’t have to be a personal finance genius to see those numbers are not going to add up favorably.

My idea is the more that personal finance bloggers work together to share great content with readers from the Personal Finance Syndication Network then the more we can keep readers in our friendly arms than letting them go elsewhere.

By working together we can all do better. Alternatively, you can say I’m full of crap and you can try to radically alter the way the internet is fundamentally changing. Good luck with that approach.

To learn how the Personal Finance Syndication Network works and to participate, click here.


‘Delayed, Harassed & Threatened’: Feds Fine Mortgage Servicer $63M

Nationwide mortgage servicing company Green Tree will pay $63 million to settle allegations that it mistreated mortgage holders, federal authorities revealed this week.

Green Tree was accused of misleading consumers about their monthly payments, harassing them if they were as little as one day late, forcing them to making payments using a pricey “Speedpay” system, stalling short sales and not honoring mortgage modifications. The firm will return $48 million to consumers and pay a $15 million civil penalty; it admitted no wrongdoing.

“Green Tree failed consumers who were struggling by prioritizing collecting payments over helping homeowners,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “When homeowners in distress had their mortgages transferred to Green Tree, their previous foreclosure relief plans were not maintained. We are holding Green Tree accountable for its unlawful conduct.”

Green Tree, based in St. Paul, Minn., has rapidly expanded into the residential mortgage market and services loans for millions of homeowners, in part by buying the rights to service loans from other servicers. The firm was accused of failing to honor mortgage modifications that had been granted to homeowners after it acquired the loans from other financial institutions.

“It’s against the law for a loan servicer to lie about the debts people owe, or threaten and harass people about their debts,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Working together, the FTC and CFPB are holding Green Tree responsible for mistreating homeowners, including people in financial distress.”

Green Tree did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Credit.com. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the firm said it is developing and deploying “best practices.”

“We believe this resolution is in the best interest of Green Tree, our consumers, our clients and our shareholders,” CEO Mark J. O’Brien of Walter Investment, Green Tree’s parent company, told the newspaper. “We … continue to be committed to properly serving homeowners and helping them remain in their homes.”

The CFPB and FTC alleged that:

  • In numerous instances, Green Tree took two to six months to respond to consumer requests for short sales. This could have cost consumers potential buyers, and it may also have cost them other loss mitigation alternatives while their short sale requests were pending.
  • If a consumer was two weeks or more past due, Green Tree consumers could receive seven to 20 phone calls a day, some starting as early as 5 a.m. or continuing until as late as 11 p.m. The collectors didn’t limit themselves to home phones, calling some people at work. Some Green Tree representatives also told consumers that nonpayment of their mortgage loan could result in arrest or imprisonment. Or, representatives threatened seizure or garnishment of the consumer’s wages when Green Tree had no intention to take such actions. Such threats are illegal.
  • Green Tree deceived consumers to get them to pay $12 for its pay-by-phone service, called Speedpay. Green Tree representatives would pressure consumers to use the service by telling consumers that Speedpay was the only available payment method to ensure the payment would be received on time. In fact, Green Tree accepted other payment methods that do not involve a fee, such as checks and ACH payments. Green Tree also made payments from consumers’ bank accounts without their authorization. For example, homeowners who gave Green Tree their account numbers to set up a one-time payment through Speedpay later discovered the company had used the information to arrange for additional payments without their consent.
  • Green Tree furnished consumers’ credit information to consumer reporting agencies when it knew, or had reasonable cause to believe, that the information was inaccurate, and failed to correct the information after determining that it was incomplete or inaccurate. (Consumers are entitled to free copies of their credit report every year from each of the major credit reporting agencies to ensure that they are accurate.)
  • Green Tree told consumers they owed fees they did not owe, or that they had to make higher monthly payments than their mortgage contracts required.

The order would also require Green Tree to end the alleged mortgage servicing violations, honor the prior loss mitigation agreements, take efforts to help homeowners preserve their home and provide quality customer service, according to the release.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Bob Sullivan was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

What Happens to Your Credit When You Die?

What exactly does happen to your credit when you die? It’s certainly not an everyday question that comes up, but whether you’re dealing with the estate of a loved one, or you’re wondering for your own estate-planning purposes, it’s certainly an important one. It’s no minor detail to secure the credit details in the event of one’s death, as a person’s credit can still be vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.

When someone dies, all the creditors of the deceased need to be notified, as do the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This responsibility falls to the executor of one’s estate. When contacting the credit reporting agencies, an executor of the estate should request that the credit file be flagged as “Deceased: Do not issue credit.”

The executor of the estate also must forward copies of the death certificate to creditors and credit reporting agencies. Be sure to send certified letters and keep copies of all correspondence regarding the deceased’s credit.

To check to whether there are any outstanding debts, the executor of the estate also may wish to request a copy of the deceased’s credit report.

Heirs & Debt

So what happens to your debt when you pass away? Well, if you jointly held debt with your spouse, for example, the joint account holder or co-signer on a credit account becomes solely responsible for the payment of the account.

When it comes to solo credit accounts, however, heirs are generally not responsible for them. However, there are exceptions.

In community property states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and, if you choose it, Alaska) one spouse may be liable for the debts of another, even if they didn’t agree to them or even know about them.

So in a community property state, a surviving spouse may be held accountable for the credit card debt of a spouse after he or she dies.

Many community property states do offer exceptions for education debts, unless the surviving spouse co-signed for the loan.

According to the U.S. government, federal education loans will be canceled once the borrower dies and the school or lender is sent a copy of the deceased’s death certificate. But lenders of private student loans may have different policies.

So it’s all the more important to be on the same page with your spouse on an ongoing basis about all outstanding debts, and know which ones you might end up being responsible for. And, of course, have a plan to pay them off if and when you need to.

Checking your own credit reports regularly can help you keep track of your own debts, as well as any of your spouse’s debts that are also in your name. You’re entitled to your free credit reports once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com. Another good habit to cultivate is checking your credit scores regularly, as a sort of snapshot of your credit. There are a number of ways to get your credit scores for free, including through Credit.com, where they are updated for you every 30 days.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Lucy Lazarony was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

7 Ways You Put Your Identity at Risk on Vacation

The vacation you’ve saved and planned for is finally here, and you’re ready to relax — which is why it’s especially bad that identity thieves are ready to go to work. They know that chances are your guard is down, at least a little, making it a perfect time for them to take advantage of that opportunity.

Here are some very real ways you might be putting your identity at risk when you’re on vacation:

1. Telling Too Many People

By this we mean — at the very least — Facebook. How many “friends” do you have? And how many do they have? Those check-ins from the airport? Pictures from the cruise? A potential identity thief knows you’re not at home. Identity thieves might even know when your plane lands and how long it will be before you come home if they happen to be friends with a friend of a friend of a friend.

2. Not Telling Enough People

While broadcasting your absence from home isn’t wise, neither is failing to alert the post office or your credit card issuers that you will be away. Some credit card issuers will view activity in another area or country or geographic area and shut down your card — and that’s the last thing you want on vacation. And preapproved credit card offers or card statements isn’t something you’d like for someone to be able to simply lift from your unattended mailbox.

3. Using Insecure Public Wi-Fi Networks

Whether you’re checking email or (we hope not) uploading photos for Facebook, it’s easy to let your excitement get the better of you and forget about basic precautions when using public Wi-Fi. Worse, as long as you’re connected, you may be tempted to check credit card activity or the balance in your checking account. If the network you’re on isn’t secure, you could be taking a big, big risk.

4. Losing Your Mobile Device

You probably just intended to put it down for a second. Your regular routines that keep things from disappearing have been abandoned and … maybe it’s in the pocket of a jacket that’s at your hotel, or do you think perhaps it slipped under the seat of the rental car you turned in yesterday? Losing a device is bad enough. Losing a device that contains an identity thief’s jackpot — email, social media, banking apps, contact lists, photos, etc. — is much worse. And the worst of all possible worlds? Losing a device that’s not password-protected and has your open email accounts available for perusal by anyone who picks it up.

5. Being Careless With Sensitive Information

You don’t have to have a security clearance to deal daily with sensitive information, and it’s easy to leave it lying around. Taking a cruise or staying in a hotel? You may think you don’t have sensitive information in your cabin or room if your credit card is with you, but your itineraries, rental car contracts and hotel bills all contain personal data. If someone calls you telling you that you need to pay a bill, don’t assume it’s legitimate. Either make the call to that company yourself or pay in person. And remember — just because a person is wearing a uniform doesn’t necessarily mean they are an employee. Exercise caution. If you are using your own car for vacation, be sure you remove registration paperwork and other personal data from the glovebox before valet parking. Overkill? Perhaps, but it’s simpler to do that than to untangle an identity theft mess.

6. Credit Card Missteps

Skimmers at gas stations continue to be a problem, and tourist spots are a favorite target. Carrying every credit card you have can be a mistake as well. There’s nothing wrong with matching rewards to spending to maximize what you can get, but be careful with those cards. Consider setting mobile alerts for every single card transaction while you are away. That password-protected phone you are not going to lose can be your friend. Finally, be sure that you have copies of credit cards you bring (front and back). You can take a picture and store that information in a (password protected) file, so in the event the physical card is stolen, you have all the information you need to contact your issuer. You could consider bringing a card you plan to use, along with a backup should anything happen to it. Keep these in different places so that if you lose one, you do not necessarily lose the other. Here’s what you really, really don’t want: for someone to snatch your wallet, which contains all your credit cards, plus the paper where you dutifully recorded all the card numbers and issuer phone numbers. Keep things separate.

7. Not Being Super-Careful With Your Debit Card 

A debit card, particularly a prepaid one, can help you stick with a budget because you can’t spend more than is loaded on the card. It can ensure that you will resist the temptation to spend more than you planned and that you won’t receive a bigger-than-you-remembered bill after you return home. But debit cards take the money out almost instantaneously, and if a thief gets a hold of the number they can drain the balance. If you are counting on those funds to pay for your travel expenses you could find yourself in a bind. So if you anticipate being in a transaction situation in which the card will be out of your possession, you might want to consider using cash or a credit card. Of all the cards in your wallet, a debit card is one you need to monitor extra carefully.

Keep an eye on your accounts to look for unauthorized expenses. It’s also helpful to check your credit reports and credit scores regularly — if someone were to, say, max out a credit card without your knowledge — it could negatively impact your credit score. You can keep an eye on your credit by seeing your free credit report summary, which is updated every month on Credit.com. (Remember: Do all of this from a secure Internet connection.) With a little planning, you can minimize the risk that your vacation memories will be tainted by having to clean up a mess made by identity thieves.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Gerri Detweiler was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.