Q&A: When student debt payoff becomes complicated by identity theft

Dear Liz: I went back to school in 2002 to get my teaching credential. I took out several student loans and set up a repayment plan upon graduating with automatic deduction out of my checking account. Several years ago, the IRS started garnishing my bank account stating that there was a lien but I never received any other type of indication what was going on.

After contacting the IRS, we found that someone took out a fraudulent student loan using my former married name. I also got my credit reports, which showed the loan. I was able to get the signed loan documents from the U.S. Department of Education but now the department does not respond to my certified letters or phone calls.

I’m at a loss at what to do at this point. I filed a police report and notified the credit reporting agencies. I’m out almost $10,000. Is there any other advice you could give me?

Answer: First, follow up with the credit bureaus to make sure the fraudulent loan has been removed from your credit reports. Consider setting up credit freezes at all three bureaus to reduce the chances of being victimized again. The Identity Theft Resource Center at www.idtheftcenter.org has more information to help you protect yourself.

Getting the actual loan dismissed and your money back is a more difficult task. You may be able to have the loan erased under what’s known as a false certification discharge, but qualifying for that isn’t easy, said Jay Fleischman, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in student loan problems.

It’s not enough to have a police report. You’d need to identify and file a lawsuit against the thief. If you can get a court judgment against that person, you would provide the Education Department with that as well as proof of your identity and possibly signature samples from the approximate date of the loan.

Even if you did everything necessary to prove eligibility for discharge, the department could still deny it if you received any benefits from the loan — if it paid any costs of your education instead of someone else’s, Fleishman said.

At this point, you may need to hire an attorney familiar with identity theft issues. You can get referrals from the National Assn. of Consumer Advocates at www.naca.net.

Q&A: Too many cards?

Dear Liz: My husband and I have opened accounts to take advantage of 0% interest financing for special purchases. These accounts are paid in full prior to the end of the promotional period and we don’t use them again. I’ve read to not ever close any accounts, but am nervous about having so many accounts open with such high limits. Is there potential for issuers to stop granting us credit because we have so much available? Are we at greater risk for identity theft with all of these open accounts?

Answer: People used to believe that closing accounts could somehow help their credit scores. Credit scoring companies and experts have done their best to combat that myth, but in doing so have left some people thinking that they can’t ever close unneeded accounts. That’s not true either.

Your credit scores won’t be hurt by having “too many” accounts with high limits. That’s generally a good thing, since multiple lenders have deemed you creditworthy. You get the most credit scoring benefit, though, from accounts you’re actively using.

Leaving unused accounts open can leave you more vulnerable to fraudulent account takeover. At the very least, it adds to the hassles in your life, since you have to keep an eye on all your accounts. And conceivably a lender could balk at seeing a lot of unused credit lines, even if it didn’t hurt your scores.

You don’t want to close accounts if you’re trying to improve your scores or in the market for a major loan, such as a mortgage or auto loan. Otherwise, though, you shouldn’t worry about closing an account now and then if you’re not using it.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Victim of ‘Divorce Season’? Protect Your Finances. Also in the news: Mixing up these student loan terms could cost you, why deductions aren’t the only way to save on real estate taxes, and why you still need to cut up your canceled credit cards.

Victim of ‘Divorce Season’? Protect Your Finances
March and August are bad months for marriage.

Mixing Up These Student Loan Terms Could Cost You
Know your student loan vocabulary.

Deductions Aren’t the Only Way to Save on Real Estate Taxes
Alternative tax incentives.

Do You Still Need to Cut Up Your Canceled Credit Cards?
Get the scissors.

How to help your parents protect their money

Our financial decision-making abilities peak in our 50s and can decline pretty rapidly after age 70, researchers tell us. That’s how otherwise smart older people fall for sweepstakes frauds, Nigerian investment schemes and the grandparent scam, where con artists pretend to be grandchildren in a financial jam.

But few people want to hear that they’re not as sharp as they used to be. Many won’t recognize the rising risk of losing hard-earned life savings as they age, says financial literacy expert Lewis Mandell, author of “What to Do When I Get Stupid: A Radically Safe Approach to a Difficult Financial Era.”

“As our ability to make sound financial decisions decreases with age, our self-confidence in this area actually increases,” Mandell says.

In my latest for the Associated Press, what adult children can do to protect the finances of their parents.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How medical bill advocates can slash your costs. Also in the news: How two-factor authentication protects your online info, how investing apps can foil financial planning, and four credit card trends for 2017.

How Medical Bill Advocates Can Slash Your Costs
An advocate will go to bat to reduce your medical costs.

How Two-Factor Authentication Protects Your Online Info
Taking the important steps to protect your online information.

Investing apps can foil financial planning
Trusting your intuitions.

4 credit card trends for 2017 and what they mean for you
The good news and the bad news.

Your mother’s maiden name is not a secret

Your mother’s maiden name is probably not a secret. Neither, necessarily, is your high school mascot or the size of your car payment. But some banks and brokerages still pretend this is information only you would know, and that could be putting your money at risk.

So-called security questions long ago outlived their usefulness, since they can be hard for the right people to remember and easy for the wrong people to guess or steal.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why security questions are no longer the most secure way to protect your information.

Q&A: Getting help with credit scores after identity theft

Dear Liz: Would you please help readers learn how to fix credit scores after identity theft? I have been a victim at least eight times in the past five years. I have filed three police reports regarding these matters and sent them along with other proof to the big three credit report agencies. Only one quickly answered and deleted the false entries.

Answer: You have a friend in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In the past, complaints about credit bureaus went into a black hole. The Federal Trade Commission collected them but warned consumers that it couldn’t expect any action on their individual cases. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, by contrast, forwards consumer complaints directly to the financial company and works to get problems solved. The bureau says 97% of complaints get a timely response.

Before you make your complaints, though, you should check your credit reports again. One bureau may have been faster in responding, but the other two may have since deleted the bogus accounts.

Q&A: The insecurity of bank security questions

Dear Liz: I recently opened an account at a bank that boasted “multi-factor authentication,” but I looked into the claim and it turns out the bank is using passwords plus answers to security questions, such as the name of your first pet, as the “multi-factor authentication.” I expect you know that the real multi-factors are something you know, like a username and password, something you have, like a code that has been sent to your phone or email, and something uniquely inherent to you, like a fingerprint. Clearly, this bank is misrepresenting its “multi-factor authentication.”

Answer: If there was any doubt about how insecure security questions are, it should have been settled with the hack of the IRS’ Get Transcript service. The criminals gained access to 700,000 taxpayer accounts by correctly answering multiple questions with answers supposedly known only to the affected taxpayers. In reality, the answers to many security questions can be purchased from black market databases or simply found by perusing people’s social media accounts.

If your financial institutions are still using security questions to identify you, you should demand to know why. If the institution doesn’t offer at least two-factor authentication (a password plus a code), you should consider putting your money somewhere else.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

phone-scammerToday’s top story: How to tell if that IRS tax collection call is fake. Also in the news: Strategies to maximize your child’s financial aid eligibility, how to lower your cell phone bill, and how to prevent a divorce from ruining your finances.

7 Ways to Tell If That IRS Tax Collections Call Is Fake
Don’t get duped.

Strategies to Maximize Your Child’s Financial Aid Eligibility
Increasing your odds.

4 Ways to Lower Your Cell Phone Bill
The telecoms are rich enough.

10 Ways to Prevent a Divorce From Ruining Your Finances
Protecting what’s yours.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: 3 options to save for your child’s college education. Also in the news: Yahoo and your credit cards, a personal finance checklist for 40-somethings, and how not to blow your pay raise.

3 Options to Save for Your Child’s College Education
A look at different savings plans.

Will Yahoo Breach Compromise Credit Cards? Probably Not
But you should still check your credit and change your passwords.

The 6-Point Personal Finance Checklist for 40-Somethings
It’s a great time to get your finances in order.

If you got a pay raise, here’s how not to blow it
Making the most of your pay increase.