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Identity Theft Protection, News

9 Ways to Keep from Getting Scammed

hacker with credit card

Even the word scam sounds sneaky. Unfortunately, it’s still incredibly easy for you to become a victim of a fraudster, because there are more ways to get scammed lately, now that so much money changes hands online and people use smartphones for virtually everything. Shopping online can leave you open to phishing sites and theft your online info.

So how can you stay safe and financially sound? Here are some tips:

1. Go straight to the source for gift cards

If you’ve ever browsed a giant display of store gift cards, you may not realize how easy it is for thieves to steal this information, since they can easily write down the cards’ numbers and check them periodically online to see if they’ve been activated. Once you activate the card, boom, your balance is drained. You’re better off getting a gift card directly from a retailer and not from a display rack.

2. Verify charities

Many scam sites come with names that are very similar to legitimate organizations—or they simply sound authentic. Check with sites like Charity Navigator or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to make sure it’s a real thing. (For more on making sure your charity dollars go to the right source, read this piece.)

3. Use your credit cards

Many shoppers still swipe (or input) their debit cards, but credit cards offer better fraud and theft protection, and if someone accesses your credit card info, it will be a pain in the neck, but they won’t be able to drain your bank account. That’s a plus. (For more on the differences between credit and debit card use, check out this piece.)

4. Be skeptical of contests

Have you gotten any calls recently suggesting that you’ve won a cruise or a luxury trip? Don’t give the caller any personal information, and definitely don’t share your bank account or credit card numbers. This is likely a scam.

5. Use proprietary apps

If you’re using your smartphone to shop, use a store’s official app if you can. Apps usually link directly to your store account, where your credit card information may be stored already. The fewer times you have to type your credit card in, the fewer opportunities there are for it to get pilfered.

6. Don’t use public Wi-Fi to shop

If you need to make purchases or log in to your bank or credit card account, do it at home on your password-protected wireless network. When you’re on free public Wi-Fi, you risk someone stealing your information or keystrokes (such as passwords) over the network. While you’re at it, disable any smartphone option that will automatically connect your device to nearby Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth devices.

7. Type in site addresses yourself

See that intriguing link on your Facebook feed? Leave it alone. That nifty product or charitable cause could easily be a phishing site that looks like a legitimate website. Click on it and type your credit card information into the boxes and you could be sharing your financials with the wrong people. Want to donate money to UNICEF? Go directly to unicefusa.org.

8. Check the URL

At the very least, make sure the site you’re shopping from starts with an “https” at the beginning of the web address. The extra “s” means the page uses encryption.

9. Be careful what you click on

At various times of year — the holidays being one — scammers will send you emails that attempt to make you click on a link that delivers a virus or sends you to a phishing site. Much like your Facebook feed, be suspicious of any links sent via email. Either verify that the link is real by checking with the sender, or type the URL directly into your browser instead of clicking through.

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News

I Moved Back in with my Dad – and Paid Off $30,000 in Student Loans

mortar board cash

Sheila Rodriguez is 29 and lives with her father — a fact that has been awkward at times. “It’s so embarrassing to be at family functions, and your cousins have houses, and here I am struggling,” says Rodriguez, who lives in New Rochelle, NY.

It was a necessary move when she went back to graduate school in 2009, because Rodriguez couldn’t afford rent on top of tuition payments. “It was so depressing that my dad came to my room and said, ‘Are you going through a breakup?’” Rodriguez remembers.

But as sad as she was to feel like she was moving backward, Rodriguez wound up using her situation to accomplish something great: She paid off $30,000 in student loans.

Loans on top of loans

When she graduated from college with a degree in Sociology, Rodriguez was earning a low salary as the manager at a movie theater and paying only the interest on her student loans. One day she realized that a coworker — who had been there for 12 years — was earning the same paycheck. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’” Rodriguez says. “This isn’t why I went to college.”

So she went back to graduate school to get a masters in communications, adding more debt to her student loan balance along the way. When she graduated, she had about $60,000 in student loans, split into two $30,000 balances, each with a 6.5% interest rate. “Based on the payment plan they had me on, I would be paying about $500 a month for the next 29 years,” she says. “With interest, I would end up paying a total of $120,000 by the time I was done.”

No luck in the job market

Unfortunately, Rodriguez continued to land low-paying jobs for the next few years, even enduring several months of unemployment. She continued paying only the interest on her student loans and putting as much money away as she could.

Then, at the end of 2014, she finally landed a better job doing digital marketing for a technology firm. She knew she could use her bigger paycheck to move out of her father’s house once and for all, but she had other ideas. “Instead, I made a payment plan to kill one of the loans,” she says. “I thought, ‘If I can just knock out one of those loans, I will save about $40,000 in interest.’”

She threw every spare penny at her loans, which were charging her $10 a day in interest. “I didn’t go on vacations,” she says. “I didn’t do anything. I would pay $20 on the loan every single day, and then on Fridays when I got my paycheck I would pay $200 or $400,” Rodriguez says. “I was dropping $1,500 to $2,000 a month on the one loan.”

By July, she’d saved up enough to pay the first loan off completely, which she did. “I clicked ‘Send’ to authorize the payment and I sat there and stared at the screen,” she says. “I couldn’t believe I actually set my mind to a goal and got it done. It was a great day.”

Making more plans

Although she’s paid off one big student loan, she still has the other $30,000 remaining — but she’s not stressed about it. “I’m not making myself a prisoner to that loan,” she says. “I really want to pay more than I should for the month, but now I have to budget for myself. I want an apartment, I want to travel and live, I don’t want to be tied down with these loans.”

For now, she expects to pay the second loan off — her payment is $200 a month — in 15 years. But she’s happy she had a support system that enabled her to ditch the first loan so quickly — and realizes that not everyone has the same goals that she does. “Just because I did it, it doesn’t mean it’s right for somebody else,” she says. “Some people like buying clothes every other day, some people have a kid or two, some people have pets. You have to assess your situation.”

The next goal on her bucket list? Save up for a place of her own again. “I’m 29 and I need an apartment,” she says. “I need to get out of my father’s basement.”

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Life Events, News

I’m 27 and I Just Moved Back in with My Parents

Senior Couple Talking To Financial Advisor At Home

Sharon Rosenblatt had been living away from her parents for a while. Until recently she was sharing an apartment with two friends in Silver Spring, MD, but then one of her roommates moved in with his fiancée. Rosenblatt and her other friend didn’t want to find a new third roommate, nor did they want to stay in their apartment, which needed some TLC. After researching the prices of shared two-bedroom apartments in the pricey Washington D.C. suburbs, moving back in with her parents started to seem like a good idea.

A Mounting Pile of Debt

Not only was rent uber expensive in the area, but Rosenblatt was saddled with about $2,000 in medical bills from a surgery she’d had over the summer, as well as about $6,000 in credit card debt. “Like most millennials, I spent unwisely in my early 20s, and I’m paying off credit cards and interest now at the wiser and more frustrated age of 27,” she says.

It was another financial kick in the teeth when she aged out of her parents’ health insurance and had to purchase coverage on the Maryland Health Exchange. “I fall just out of the financial range for a federal subsidy,” she said. “I’m lucky that my job includes a stipend for health insurance, though, and that helped a lot.”

So Rosenblatt decided not to sign a new lease with her previous roommate, and instead reclaimed her childhood bedroom in New Haven, CT for the short term. Now she telecommutes to her job as an IT specialist, and when she’s at home she makes space for herself among her high school knick-knacks. “I just finished cleaning out all the old binders I kept,” she said. “I was still keeping physics notes from high school.”

[When to Cut Off Your Boomerang Kid]

Cleaning Up her Finances

Rosenblatt still has a car payment and other expenses, but living rent-free has definitely made it possible for her to make real financial strides. “I have one more payment on the surgery,” she says. “Rent is a huge thing I’m happy I don’t have to factor in.” She’s also nixed about $1,000 of her credit card debt so far.

She pays $150 a month to rent a space in a local co-work facility three blocks from her father’s office, and they carpool. “I like having a place to go,” Rosenblatt says. “I need that structure.”

She considers herself lucky to be able to move back in with her mom and dad. “I’m fortunate that my parents are wonderful people who don’t mind cooking for a third person now,” she added.

Rosenblatt plans to be out of her parents’ house in a year, and perhaps find new roommates. She’s even thought about saving up for a house. “It would be nice to be in a position to own property instead of renting,” she says. “I would love to get back on my own.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.