Category Archives: Business

THE VERY BEST ENCRYPTED MESSAGING APPS

If you’d rather not have the government, hackers, your internet service provider, or anyone else potentially intercepting and reading your private communications, you should make sure you’re using a secure messaging app. Specifically, one that uses encrypted messaging.

As you’ve probably noticed (unless you live under a rock, which is slowly sounding more and more like the way to go) internet privacy has become one of the hottest topics of the decade. In 2017, the United States Congress repealed regulations that would help protect your data from being sold by broadband and wireless companies. In 2016, the UK’s Parliament passed the Investigatory Power Act (also known as the Snooper’s Charter), which expands the surveillance power of the UK Intelligence Community and police. And in 2018, Australia forced famous messaging app WhatsApp to include spyware so they could see what you’re typing. Not to mention what’s going on in the news right now concerning privacy. If you aren’t already worried, now is a pretty good time to start wondering just how safe your online communications actually are, and what the most secure messaging app is.

What makes a messaging app secure?

An encrypted messaging app has something more important than cool widgets and a gigantic library of emojis: it has features that work quietly in the background to make sure the app is secure.

End-to-end encryption

The main thing to check for when choosing a messaging app is whether or not it uses end-to-end encryption. End-to-end encryption means your private chat messages are scrambled, and only the sender and the receiver of the messages have the “keys” to read them. This ensures that no one besides you and the person you’re talking to can decipher the messages.

Ironically, encryption used to be thought of as something only used by the paranoid or those with a compelling need for secrecy, such as political dissidents. It was only after whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked classified documents revealing the U.S. NSA’s global surveillance program that the world began to fully understand the importance of encryption and online privacy. Since then, many companies (including Facebook, Apple, and Google) have ramped up encryption on their software.

Default encryption settings

Just because an app offers end-to-end encryption, doesn’t mean that it’s the default setting. Some messaging apps require you to go into the app’s settings and actually turn on the encryption feature, while others only encrypt messages in certain scenarios (for instance, blue iMessages versus green text messages). Because the importance of encryption is still relatively new, many people may just assume the app is safe without knowing if or when their messages are encrypted — so look for one that has encryption on as the default for you and whomever you’re messaging.

Open source code

While fears of reverse-engineering or code backdoors may make it seem counterintuitive for an app maker to reveal an app’s source code, doing so is now widely regarded as an indicator of the app’s integrity. Open source code opens the app up to outside accountability and auditing by experts, which can be a useful way to bring attention to any weaknesses or vulnerabilities in the code.

Data collection

While many messaging apps today have started using end-to-end encryption, some still collect data information about you, called metadata. Metadata is kind of like your electronic fingerprint, and includes data such as who you talk to (via your contacts list), for how long, and at what time, as well as information about the device you use, your IP address, phone number, and more. Setting up a VPN app on your mobile device is an easy way to block the collection of this kind of personal information. Both AVG Secure VPN for Android and AVG Secure VPN for iOS are available to help you seamlessly protect your online privacy.

Try AVG Secure VPN for Android

What are the most secure messaging apps for Android & iPhone?

1. Signal

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Originally known as TextSecure Private Messenger, Signal has been touted as the gold standard of messaging security by cryptographer Bruce Schneier, Edward Snowden, US congress, and even the European Commission. Available as a free messaging app on iPhone and Android phones, as well as desktops, Signal sends messages across its own data infrastructure.

Signal security features

  • End-to-end encryption
    Messages sent via the Signal app can only be viewed by the sender and receiver. Not even the company behind the app, Open Whisper Systems, can decrypt the messages. In addition to instant messages, you can also make voice calls, group messages, and encrypted video calls.
  • Open Source
    Signal has open source code that can be viewed by anyone. This kind of transparency allows for routine auditing and helps ensure that the app’s security is always up to date.
  • Disappearing messages
    For extra security, Signal allows you to make both sent and received messages “disappear” after a certain amount of time has elapsed.
  • Minimal data storageUnlike many other messaging apps, Signal only stores the metadata required for the app to work, such as your phone number, random keys, and profile information.
  • Password security The app also allows you to set a password to lock it. So even if your phone falls into the wrong hands, your messages will still be protected.

Signal security risks 

The best thing about Signal is that there are virtually no security risks. As long as the app’s developers continue to be diligent about fixing vulnerabilities, Signal will remain at the top of the messaging app food chain.

2. Wickr Me

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Available on both iPhone and Android, Wickr has distinguished itself from the pack by offering secure messaging options for both personal use (Wickr Me) and for businesses and enterprises (Wickr Pro). While Wickr Me is free, Wickr Pro is a paid service that comes with a 30-day free trial.

Wickr Me security features 

  • End-to-end encryption
    In addition to encrypted messaging, in 2018 Wickr announced that its “Me” service will also offer encrypted calling and voice messaging (which are already offered in the Pro version).
  • Screenshot detection
    Wickr recently announced that they will be offering a new feature that allows users to detect screenshots. This means that you will receive a notification if someone takes a screenshot of a message you send.
  • Screen overlay protection
    On Android devices, Wickr has released a new feature that allows users to disable “Screen Overlays”. This prevents users from being able to interact with the app when an overlay is detected, and helps protect the app from TapJacking.
  • Third party keyboards
    On iOS, Wickr lets you block Third Party Keyboards. This helps protect your information by preventing third party keyboards from recording usernames, passwords, and other information that is typed into the app.
  • Secure Shredder
    This feature adds an extra layer of security by making sure your already deleted files can’t be recovered with special tools or technology. While Wickr does this for you periodically, you also have the option to manually erase information from your phone.

Wickr Me security risks 

Like Signal, Wickr is generally considered almost foolproof from a security standpoint. Though it was previously criticized for keeping its code closed source, in 2017 Wickr finally released its cryptographic protocol on Github. If you feel like getting technical about the app’s security, you can check out Wickr’s Customer Security Promises.

3. Dust

Dust

Formerly known as Cyber Dust, Mark Cuban’s brainchild messaging app Dust is available on both iOS and Android. The main purpose of the app is to send private messages (or photos and videos) called “Dusts” to your contacts that “turn to dust” and disappear within 100 seconds of being read. “Blasts” are another type of message that can be sent to a group of people, but are read privately. Finally, you can start group chats, simply known as “Groups.”

Dust security features

  • End-to-end encryption
    Dust uses “heavy encryption,” although the code is not actually available for viewing. You can send encrypted text, photo, or video messages, but the app does not allow for voice or video calls.
  • No permanent storage
    Not only are your messages not permanently saved on your phone or the company’s servers (instead they’re sent to the app’s RAM memory until they are accessed by the receiver), you can also erase your messages off of other people’s devices.
  • Screenshot alerts
    If a screenshot is attempted on an Android phone, the name of the person who sent the message is removed, effectively eliminating context from the conversation. Apple prevents apps from blocking screenshots, so instead, iPhone users receive a notification if someone takes a screenshot of their sent message.
  • Auto “Dust”
    Messages are automatically erased either within 24 hours, or as soon as they’re read. You can choose.

Dust security risks

There are currently no significant security risks associated with Dust, aside from the potential risks and lack of transparency related to the app’s code not being open source.

4. WhatsApp

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With over 300 million daily users, WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging apps being used today. The app’s popularity is definitely one of its strong points, along with the fact that it’s available for free on both iPhone and Android and doesn’t show any ads. You can easily send text messages, photos, as well as short video and voice messages. But are WhatsApp chats private?

WhatsApp security features

  • End-to-end encryption 
    In April 2016, WhatsApp implemented a super secure encryption protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems (the company behind secure messaging app Signal) across all mobile platforms. Thanks to this protocol, only the sender and receiver have the keys to decrypt messages sent via WhatsApp, meaning they can’t be accessed and read by anyone else. Voice and video calls are also encrypted.
  • Verify encryption 
    WhatsApp also has a “Verify Security Code” screen in the contact info screen that allows you to confirm that your calls and messages are end-to-end encrypted. The code is presented as both a QR code and a 60-digit number.
  • Two-step verification 
    An optional feature, two-step verification allows you to add more security to your account by setting a PIN number that is required to verify your phone number on any device.
  • Messages not stored
    The only time your message is kept on a WhatsApp server is the period after you send it and before it is delivered to the receiver. If it can’t be delivered for some reason, then the message is deleted from the server after 30 days.

WhatsApp Security risks

  • Unencrypted backups
    WhatsApp messages can’t be intercepted during transmission, but what about message backups on iCloud or Google Drive? The good news for iPhone users is that WhatsApp added encryption protection to iCloud backups in late 2016. But Android phone messages backed up on Google Drive are not encrypted, leaving them potentially vulnerable to hackers, governments that could legally force Google to turn over your messages, or even Google itself. So how can you protect your privacy on WhatsApp as an Android user? Fortunately, you can disable WhatsApp message backups on Google Drive.
  • Facebook privacy issues
    WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, transferring concerns about the social media conglomerate’s reputation for invasive data collection to the messaging app. While Facebook assures users that there is no possible way for them to view encrypted WhatsApp messages, WhatsApp did announce that they would be sharing user metadata with Facebook, for various purposes such as ad-targeting.

5. Telegram

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Claiming over 200 million users on both iPhone and Android, Telegram has been steadily growing in popularity since its debut in 2013 and is known for its unique group chat feature that can support up to 100,000 members. Earlier in 2018, however, a clash with the Russian government over the app makers’ refusal to hand over the encryption keys resulted in it being banned in Russia entirely. Telegram has also been viewed as controversial because of its status as the preferred messaging app of ISIS. This has further driven the conversation about what responsibility messaging apps have to work with law-enforcement versus keeping user data fully protected.

Telegram security features

  • End-to-end encryption 
    Telegram offers a feature called “Secret Chat” that allows you to protect your messages with end-to-end encryption. However, the feature is not default, so you’ll need to know how to turn it on.
  • Passcode Lock
    You can set a 4-digit code to prevent intruders from accessing your messages, which can be useful if your phone gets lost or stolen.
  • Two-step verification 
    Found in Settings, two-step verification requires you to use both an SMS code and a password (be sure you know what not to do when creating a password) to log in to the app. You can also set up a recovery email address in case you forget your password).
  • Open source code
    Anyone can check Telegram’s source code, protocol, and API to make sure it is up to par.
  • Telegram Cracking Contest
    Telegram challenges “hackers” to attempt to break through their encryption and decipher messages, offering a $300,000 reward for anyone who is able to do so. This helps ensure that any potential vulnerabilities will be found and fixed.
  • Self-destructing messages 
    Like many other messaging apps, Telegram also offers a Self-Destruct Timer (for Secret Chats only) that will delete private text messages and media within a preset time limit.
  • Remote logout 
    Because you can log into Telegram from numerous devices at the same time (web, PC, tablet, smartphone, etc.), the app offers the ability to log out of other sessions from the current device you’re using through the Settings menu. This way, if your device is lost or stolen, you can still make sure your messages are secure.
  • Account self-destruct 
    After your account has been inactive for a certain amount of time (six months being the default), your account will automatically self-destruct, completely wiping clean all of your messages and media.

Telegram security risks

  • End-to-end encryption isn’t default 
    You must manually enable Telegram’s “Secret Chat” feature, otherwise chats are only encrypted between your device and Telegram’s server.
  • Logging chat data
    If you don’t enable the Secret Chat feature, then your chat data is saved on Telegram’s servers. The company claims this is in case you lose your device and want to recover your messages, but from a security standpoint, this is a big no-no.
  • Possibly flawed encryption technology 
    Telegram created its own MTProto protocol, instead of using one that is already proven secure, such as the Signal protocol. Many experts have questioned the reasoning behind this, and have expressed skepticism about the lack of transparency surrounding the protocol.

6. Apple iMessage

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The instant messaging service developed by Apple Inc., iMessage is supported by the Messenger application on iOS version 5.0 and later. Allowing users to send text, documents, videos, photos, contact information, and group messages over the internet, iMessage is very popular among iPhone users (and can only be used between them). We’ve already gone over tips on how to keep your iPhone safe, but is iMessage actually secure?

iMessage security features 

  • End-to-end encryption 
    iMessage end-to-end encryption only protects messages between iPhone users (which appear in blue). If you send a message to an Android user for instance, the message is sent as a normal text message (in green) and is not encrypted. Unlike many of the other apps on this list, it seems like Apple won’t be coming out with iMessage for Android. Though iMessage doesn’t directly allow for video or voice calls, its sister app FaceTime does (with encrypted protection).
  • Self-destructing messages
    Many iMessage users are unaware that the app provides a feature that allows you to control how long each photo, video, or message will appear before it’s gone. You can also choose how many times the viewer can see the message. However, the feature is only available with iOS 10 and later.
  • iMessages deleted from servers
    Your encrypted messages only remain on Apple’s servers for 7 days before they are deleted.

iMessage security risks 

  • Encryption weaknesses
    In 2016, researchers at Johns Hopkins University revealed a flaw with Apple’s encryptionimplementation that could leave iMessages vulnerable to decryption. Later, in 2019, researchers from Project Zero presented 6 high-level exploits that allowed them to use iMessages to take over a user’s device. All these issues were quickly patched, but it does imply the risk of other, unknown vulnerabilities lurking in the code.
  • iCloud backups
    If you back up your iMessages to iCloud, these messages are encrypted on iCloud using a key controlled by the company, not you. This means that, if your iCloud is hacked or subpoenaed by a court, they could be revealed. And while Apple has been firm about not creating “back doors” into their system or weakening encryption, they and other tech companies do have a history of cooperating with authorities when it comes to turning over information stored in the Cloud.

7. Facebook Messenger

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Facebook’s messaging app is available for both iPhone and Android phones, and provides a convenient way to keep up with friends and family thanks to its sheer popularity.

Facebook Messenger security features

  • End-to-end encryption 
    In 2016, Facebook added its Secret Conversations feature to secure messages with the Signal end-to-end encryption protocol (also used by WhatsApp). However, Signal and WhatsApp have end-to-end encryption by default, while Secret Conversations must be activated.
  • Self-destructing messages
    You can set Facebook Messenger messages to self-destruct after a certain period of time (between five seconds and 24 hours).

Facebook Messenger security risks 

  • Encryption not by default
    As mentioned above, end-to-end encryption for messages must be activated by the user. This means that messages sent without this feature are only encrypted when sent to Facebook’s server, and then encrypted again when sent to the recipient (whereas end-to-end is directly between sender and recipient). This means a copy of the message remains on Facebook’s servers.

App to avoid: Google Hangouts

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Despite being available for free on both iOS and Android, Google Hangouts is riddled with privacy and security concerns. Though it does encrypt hangout conversations, it doesn’t use end-to-end encryption — instead, messages are encrypted “in transit”. This means that they are only encrypted between your device and Google’s servers. Once they are on a server, Google has complete access to them. If ordered to do so, Google can tap into private communication sessions and relay that information to government agencies. And with Google’s Transparency Reportrevealing that the company does indeed receive and often fulfill requests for customer information, this is a very real concern.

Additionally, images sent via Hangouts are shared through public URLs, meaning that virtually anyone (who knows a thing or two about URLs) can view your private images. This is definitely not the app you should be using to send…sensitivepics.

How can I stay safe?

We believe everyone has a right to online privacy, and deserves to message their friends and family without worrying about who might be sneaking a peak. In an ideal world, everyone would be using super secure messaging apps like Signal or Wickr to communicate. But with the popularity of less secure or privacy-questionable apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, sometimes the middle ground is more convenient. If you do choose to use a less secure messaging app, pair it with VPN protection. A virtual private network encrypts everything you do online, including messaging as well as other tasks that may expose your sensitive personal info like online shopping and banking. We offer AVG Secure VPN for iOS and AVG Secure VPN for Androidto keep your information safe.

HOW TO READ BODY LANGUAGE – REVEALING SECRETS YOU NEED TO KNOW

By Alex Santiago

Editor & Publisher

INFOGRAPHIC-BODY-LANGUAGE

Whether at the office or out with friends, the body language of the people around you speaks volumes. It has been suggested that body language constitutes more than 60% of what we communicate, so learning to read the nonverbal cues people send is a valuable skill. From eye behavior to the direction in which a person points his or her feet, body language reveals what a person is really thinking. Below are valuable tips to help you learn how to read body language and better understand the people you interact with. Read the full article to learn all 8 common body language cues.

Study the Eyes

Eyes Body LanguageEye behavior can be very telling. When communicating with someone, pay attention to whether he or she makes direct eye contact or looks away. Inability to make direct eye contact can indicate boredom, disinterest, or even deceit – especially when someone looks away and to the side. If a person looks down, on the other hand, it often indicates nervousness or submissiveness. Also, check for dilated pupils to determine if someone is responding favorably toward you. Pupils dilate when cognitive effort increases, so if someone is focused on someone or something they like, their pupils will automatically dilate. Pupil dilation can be difficult to detect, but under the right conditions you should be able to spot it. A person’s blinking rate can also speak volumes about what is going on internally. Blinking rate increases when people are thinking more or are stressed. In some cases, increased blinking rate indicates lying – especially when accompanied by touching the face (particularly the mouth and eyes). Glancing at something can suggest a desire for that thing. For example, if someone glances at the door this may indicate a desire to leave. Glancing at a person can indicate a desire to talk to him or her. When it comes to eye behavior, it is also suggested that looking upwards and to the right during conversation indicates a lie has been told, while looking upwards and to the left indicates the person is telling the truth. The reason for this is that people look up and to the right when when using their imagination to concoct a story, and look up and to the left when they are recalling an actual memory.

Gaze at the Face – Body Language Touching Mouth or Smiling

Face Body LanguageAlthough people are more likely to control their facial expression, you can still pick up on important nonverbal cues if you pay close attention. Pay particular attention to the mouth when trying to decipher nonverbal behavior. A simple smile body language attraction technique can be a powerful gesture. Smiling is an important nonverbal cue to watch for. There are different types of smiles, including genuine smiles and fake smiles. A genuine smile engages the whole face, whereas a fake smile only uses the mouth. A genuine smile suggests that the person is happy and enjoying the company of the people around him or her. A fake smile, on the other hand, is meant to convey pleasure or approval but suggests that the smiler is actually feeling something else. A “half-smile” is another common facial behavior that only engages one side of the mouth and indicates sarcasm or uncertainty. You may also notice a slight grimace that lasts less than a second before someone smiles. This typically suggests that the person is hiding his or her dissatisfaction behind a fake smile. Tight, pursed lips also indicate displeasure, while a relaxed mouth indicates a relaxed attitude and positive mood. Covering the mouth or touching the lips with the hands or fingers when speaking may be an indicator of lying.

Pay attention to proximity

Eyes Body LanguageProximity is the distance between you and the other person. Pay attention to how close someone stands or sits next to you to determine if they view you favorably. Standing or sitting in close proximity to someone is perhaps one of the best indicators of rapport. On the other hand, if someone backs up or moves away when you move in closer, this could be a sign that the connection is not mutual. You can tell a lot about the type of relationship two people have just by observing the proximity between them. Keep in mind that some cultures prefer less or more distance during interaction, so proximity is not always an accurate indicator of affinity with someone.

See if the other person is mirroring you

Mirroring Body LanguageMirroring involves mimicking the other person’s body language. When interacting with someone, check to see if the person mirrors your behavior. For example, if you are sitting at a table with someone and rest an elbow on the table, wait 10 seconds to see if the other person does the same. Another common mirroring gesture involves taking a sip of a drink at the same time. If someone mimics your body language, this is a very good sign that he or she is trying to establish a rapport with you. Try changing your body posture and see if the other person changes theirs similarly.

Eyes Body LanguageThe speed at which a person nods their head when you are speaking indicates their patience – or lack of. Slow nodding indicates that the person is interested in what you are saying and wants you to continue talking. Fast nodding indicates the person has heard enough and wants you to finish speaking or give him or her a turn to speak. Tilting the head sideways during conversation can be a sign of interest in what the other person is saying. Tilting the head backward can be a sign of suspicion or uncertainty. People also point with the head or face at people they are interested in or share an affinity with. In groups and meetings, you can tell who the people with power are based on how often people look at them. On the other hand the less-significant people are looked at less often.

Look at the other person’s feet

Eyes Body LanguageA part of the body where people often “leak” important nonverbal cues is the feet. The reason people unintentionally communicate nonverbal messages through their feet is because they are usually so focused on controlling their facial expressions and upper body positioning that important clues are revealed via the feet. When standing or sitting, a person will generally point their feet in the direction they want to go. So if you notice that someone’s feet are pointed in your direction, this can be a good indication that they have a favorable opinion of you. This applies to one-on-one interaction and group interaction. In fact, you can tell a lot about group dynamics just by studying the body language of people involved, particularly which way their feet are pointing. In addition, if someone appears to be engaged in conversation with you, but their feet are pointing in the direction of someone else, it’s likely he or she would rather talk to that person (regardless if the upper body cues suggest otherwise).

Watch for hand signals

Hands Body LanguageLike the feet, the hands leak important nonverbal cues when looking a body language. This is an important tip when reading body language so pay close attention to this next part. Observe body language hands in pockets when standing. Look for particular hand signals, such as the other person putting their hands in their pockets or hand on head. This can indicate anything from nervousness to outright deception. Unconscious pointing indicated by hand gestures can also speak volumes. When making hand gestures, a person will point in the general direction of the person they share an affinity with (this nonverbal cues is especially important to watch for during meetings and when interacting in groups). Supporting the head with the hand by resting an elbow on the table can indicate that the person is listening and is holding the head still in order to focus. Supporting the head with both elbows on the table, on the other hand can indicate boredom. When a person holds an object between him or her and the person they are interacting with, this serves as a barrier that is meant to block out the other person. For example, if two people are talking and one person holds a pad of paper in front of him or her, this is considered a blocking act in nonverbal communication.

Examine the position of the arms

Hands Body LanguageThink of a person’s arms as the doorway to the body and the self. If a person crosses their arms while interacting with you, it is usually seen as a defensive, blocking gesture. Crossed arms can also indicate anxiety, vulnerability, or a closed mind. If crossed arms are accompanied by a genuine smile and overall relaxed posture, then it can indicate a confident, relaxed attitude. When someone places their hands on their hips it is typically used to exert dominance and is used by men more often than women. The above tips can give you insight into the true motives behind people’s behavior, but it is not foolproof. When analyzing body language, keep in mind that these techniques will not apply to all people 100% of the time. Certain factors such as culture and a person’s general body language habits must be taken into consideration to accurately decode nonverbal cues.Become a confident, articulate, and effective communicator by earning a degree at Fremont College.

RECOVERING FROM IDENTITY THEFT

What is identity theft?

By Alex Santiago

Identity theft is a serious crime. Identity theft happens when someone uses information about you without your permission. They could use your:

  • name and address
  • credit card or bank account numbers
  • Social Security number
  • phone or utility account numbers
  • medical insurance numbers

How will I know if my identity was stolen?

Here are ways you can tell that someone is using your information:

  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you cannot explain.
  • You find credit card charges that you didn’t make.
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says someone used your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job.
  • You do not get your bills or other mail.
  • You get bills for utilities or medical services you did not use.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that are not yours.
  • You find strange accounts or charges on your credit report.

What is IdentityTheft.gov?

IdentityTheft.gov is a website that helps you recover from identity theft. You:

  • answer questions about what happened to you
  • put in your name, address, and other information
  • get your Identity Theft Report
  • get a recovery plan created just for you

You also can create an account. The account helps you through the recovery steps and tracks your progress.

What is an Identity Theft Report?

An Identity Theft Report helps you fix your bills and your credit report. Your Identity Theft Report tells your creditors that you should not have to pay for what the identity thief spent.

You get an Identity Theft Report when you report a problem to IdentityTheft.gov. This is your statement about what happened. It lists what accounts are not yours and what charges you did not make.

What is a credit report?

Your credit report is a summary of your credit history. It lists:

  • your name, address, and Social Security number
  • your credit cards
  • your loans
  • how much money you owe
  • if you pay your bills on time or late

Who creates my credit report?

A credit bureau creates your credit report. The credit bureau gathers information about you and your credit history.

There are three main credit bureaus:

  • Equifax
  • Experian
  • Transunion

What is a fraud alert?

A fraud alert tells businesses that they must contact you before they give someone credit in your name. You put a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert makes it hard for someone else to open new accounts in your name.

There are a few kinds of fraud alerts. They are all free:

  • Initial fraud alert – lasts for one year. Use this if you thinksomeone stole your identity.
  • Extended fraud alert – lasts for seven years. Use this if you knowsomeone stole your identity.
  • Active duty alert – lasts up to one year. Use this if you are in the military and deployed.

What do I do when someone steals my identity?

It is very important to act fast.

First, call the companies where you know fraud happened.

  • Explain that someone stole your identity.
  • Ask them to close or freeze your accounts.
  • Then change your password or personal identification number (PIN).

Then visit IdentityTheft.gov or call 1-877-438-4338.

  • Report the crime and get a recovery plan that’s just for you.
  • You can create an account. The account helps you with the recovery steps and tracks your progress.

For Example

Why is it important to act so fast?

If you wait, the identity thief has more time to cheat you. That means there are more problems to fix. Acting fast means there should be fewer problems to fix.

Why should I use IdentityTheft.gov?

IdentityTheft.gov helps you fix problems related to identity theft, like these:

  • mistakes on your credit report
  • accounts that are not yours
  • mistakes on your bills
  • getting extended fraud alerts

IdentityTheft.gov also gives you a recovery plan just for you.

What comes first in my recovery plan?

The first step of your recovery plan is to call the credit bureaus. Ask the credit bureau for an initial fraud alert. It is free and lasts for 90 days. The fraud alert makes it harder for thieves to open accounts in your name.

The next step is to ask all three credit bureaus for a credit report. If someone stole your identity, your credit report is free. Look at your credit report for things you do not recognize.

How do I fix mistakes on my credit report?

Send a letter to the credit bureau to fix mistakes on your credit report. IdentityTheft.gov gives you letters that are filled out with your information. You can print the letter, sign it, and send it to the credit bureau.

How do I fix mistakes on my bills?

You might find mistakes when you read your bills. There might be charges you do not recognize. You can send a letter to the company that has the mistakes. Ask the company to fix those mistakes.

IdentityTheft.gov gives you letters filled out with your information. You can print the letter, sign it, and send it to the company. Use the address the company gives for disputes.

Then change your password and PIN with the company that has the mistakes on your bills.

How do I close an account that is not mine?

Your credit report might list accounts that you did not open. You can send a letter to the business that has the account. Ask them to close the account.

IdentityTheft.gov gives you letters that are filled out with your information. You can print the letter, sign it, and send it to the business. Send a copy of your Identity Theft Report with the letter.

A business might ask you to use a form to close an account. If they do, send that form.

What happens when my initial fraud alert expires?

You can put an extended fraud alert on your credit report. An extended fraud alert is good for seven years.

IdentityTheft.gov helps you place the alert. Contact each credit bureau to ask for an extended fraud alert. You might have to give them a copy of your Identity Theft Report.

18 WAYS TO GET FREE MONEY FROM THE GOVERNMENT

Editor’s note – You can trust the integrity of our balanced, independent financial advice. We may, however, receive compensation from the issuers of some products mentioned in this article. Opinions are the author’s alone, and this content has not been provided by, reviewed, approved or endorsed by any advertiser.

Normally the government takes our money. In some cases, however, it hands out cash. Here are 18 ways to get free money from the government.

Nothing in life is free, or so they say. But what if I told you that we know of 18 government programs where you really, truly can get free money (or services)? If you’re anything like me, I’ve probably piqued your interest.Below are some of the ways you can get your hands on money that’s rightfully yours. We’ve also included was to find assistance and funds when you need it most.

1. Find Unclaimed Money

Ok, full disclosure: this isn’t really a way to find “free” money. However, it can help you collect on funds you didn’t even know you were missing.

Simply visit unclaimed.org and enter your information to search whether you have money waiting to be returned to you. The National Association of State Treasurers created the site to connect consumers with forgotten funds. These can include insurance reimbursements, apartment deposits, forgotten savings bonds, old utility payment overages or deposits, or paychecks you never cashed.

You can search by specifics like your full name and address. Or you can even just browse the results from your last name alone. (I found a few unclaimed health insurance reimbursements for my mom this way, to the total of $400!)

2. Find Unclaimed Pension Funds

Okay, one more not-really-free-but-yours-already resource. If you’ve left a company due to acquisition, merger, or layoffs, you may have been too preoccupied with your next career move to remember pension funds. Luckily, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) can help you reconnect with this forgotten money.

Visit pbgc.gov to check your name and information against their database. There are currently almost 73,000 names on their unclaimed pensions list. So you may very well find some money you had forgotten all about!

3. Get Help With a Down Payment

One of the biggest hurdles in buying a new home is likely the down payment required. Luckily, the government is willing to provide help if needed.

Each state has its own funded down payment programs with unique requirements and benefits. To see the state-sponsored programs in your area, visit the FHA’s down payment grant page and search your state.

For example, Texas offers a statewide program that can cover down payments and closing costs up to 5% of the total mortgage price. They also offer a Hill Country-specific program for Travis County, if you’re looking to live “deep in the heart of Texas.”

4. Apply for Educational Grants

College is expensive. We all know that. In fact, the 2017-18 school year saw tuition averages of almost $35,000 for private colleges and just under $10,000 for state colleges. Ouch.

If you want to further your education but can’t afford the high costs of tuition, room, board, books, and more, an education grant might be a great option. The best and most broadly-offered funding source is the government’s Federal Pell Grant. This awards as much as $5,920 (2017-18 school year) to students each year that they qualify for need. And it doesn’t need to be repaid (unlike student loans).

In order to qualify, you’ll need to complete a FAFSA. You can view all of the details for the Pell Grant at ed.gov.

Beyond that, though, there are hundreds of excellent grants available to students based on interests, major or career sought, and even local areas. I was surprised to find that some organizations even offer grants to students who are left-handed!

You should, of course, shoot for the government’s Pell Grant first. But then fill out as many grant applications as you can find from other organizations and companies. A great place to find them is the College Grants Database.

5. Get Assistance with Childcare Expenses

Paying for childcare is expensive. For families in the D.C. area, where I live, the average annual cost is $22,658. That’s absurd and, frankly, impossible to cover for many families.

If you are employed and looking for assistance with childcare expenses, the government has a program to help. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers assistance in the form of the Child Care and Development Fund, which has state- and territory-specific allocations to assist with care expenses (typically for children 13 or under).

To find funding options for your area, visit the CCDF’s web page here.

6. Accept Healthcare Credits

Along with all of the confusion and frustration involved with healthcare in this country, we also get to deal with skyrocketing costs. This can make it difficult or even impossible for some folks to pay for much-needed premiums, especially as monthly prices continue to climb.

If you purchase coverage through the Healthcare Marketplace and meet certain income eligibility requirements, you can receive government assistance in the form of a tax credit. You also have options for this credit. You can either take it in equal allocations, allowing you to reduce (or eliminate) monthly premium payments, or you can “save” it for the end of the year. If you choose the latter, you’ll receive the credit in the form of a tax return when you file with the IRS.

Visit Healthcare.gov to learn more, qualify for your tax credit, and enroll in a health plan.

7. Get Free or Reduced Healthcare for Your Kids

If you are having trouble paying for health care for your children and meet low-income requirements, you may be eligible for free or reduced coverage through InsureKidsNow.gov.

Here, you can learn more about services like CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and local Medicaid programs. You can also find health care providers in your area–even dentists!–and apply for your state’s specific programs.

8. Get Assistance With Utilities

The average American spends over $300 a month for basic utilities. It’s easy to see how these bills can be difficult to manage for some–especially in the summer or winter months. The government’s LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) provides funds to those in need across the nation.

These grants are available to assist residents with their heating and cooling expenses. They are managed through state programs (funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). To search for your state’s available programs and aid, visit the LIHEAP website here.

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9. Winterize Your Home

Do you need assistance with updating and improving your home to winterize it? You may be able to get government it as a grant through the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Weatherization Assistance Program Technical Assistance Center (WAPTAC) can connect you with state-specific grant programs for home improvements to reduce energy expenses. If you have children, a family member in the home with a disability, or are over age 60, you’ll get preference for approval. In fact, the DOE estimates that as many as 20-30 million homes are eligible for weatherization grants.

10. Low-Cost or Free Phone Service

If you meet income requirements for eligibility, you may be able to take advantage of the Lifeline Program. This is the FCC’s free and reduced-cost cell phone grant. This allows access to cell phones and service for safety, well-being, and job-related needs.

The amount you’ll get per month varies by need. But you can choose from a number of cell service providers if you qualify. Eligibility requirements are as follows:

To learn more and see if you’re eligible, visit the FCC’s Lifeline website here.

11. Avoid Foreclosure

Since the housing crash of 2008, it seems that we all know someone who has been affected by a foreclosure. If you are at risk of foreclosure yourself, there is a program to help.

Called HOPE (run by the Home Ownership Preservation Foundation), this program offers assistance in setting up plans that allow you to stay in your home. They also offer advice if you’ve been the victim of a mortgage scam or if you are interested in a mortgage modification.

You can call their hotline at 888-995-HOPE or visit 995hope.org to learn more to see how this foundation can help you for free.

12. Get Free Tax Preparation

Tax filing time is just around the corner, but some of us may need a little help with preparing our taxes. Unfortunately, tax pros can be quite pricey.

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If you meet low-income requirements, you may qualify for free tax preparation help through the IRS’s VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) initiative.

Assistance is generally limited to those who make less than $54,000 a year, persons with disabilities, or those with limited English-speaking abilities. However, the program is available and free to all, so it can’t hurt to apply for help.

If you are age 60 or older, you can also take advantage of the TCE (Tax Counseling for the Elderly) program, another IRS initiative. This program offers free assistance for those nearing retirement who have questions about their pensions, retirement, income, and taxes.

To learn more and apply for assistance, visit the IRS’s website here.

13. Replace Damaged Currency

If your dog destroyed your wallet or your toddler took a pair of scissors to your bank withdrawal, you aren’t necessarily out of luck. Don’t throw those shredded bills in the trash just yet!

You can sometimes replace currency too damaged to be spent it at your local bank branch. If it’s so mutilated even they won’t take it, though, you can also send it to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for replacement.

You’ll need to submit a claim online. The process can take between three and 36 months (depending on how bad of shape the money is in). So don’t expect a quick fix. However, this is a great solution for currency you may have thought was just a loss.

14. Apply for Unemployment

If you’ve been laid off or otherwise lost your job, you may be eligible for unemployment assistance while you’re looking for a new position. The Department of Labor offers temporary benefits to workers who find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own, until they are able to find suitable, replacement employment.

To see if you are eligible for one of these Federal-State programs and apply for benefits, visit the DOL’s website here.

15. Pay for Necessary Home Repairs in Urban Areas

If you are 62 years of age or older, live in an urban area, and meet income requirements, you may be eligible for a government grant to complete improvements on your home.

The Rural Housing Repair Loans and Grants program offers both loans (repaid over 20 years at 1% interest) and grants (free money that doesn’t need to be repaid) to homeowners in rural areas. The grants are for up to $7,500/ You can use them to remove or repair health or safety hazards (such as lead paint, collapsing structures, etc.).

To learn more or apply for a grant and/or loan, visit the Rural Housing info page here.

16. Refunds for Past FHA Mortgages

If you had an FHA-insured mortgage in the past, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) may owe you a refund. You can search the HUD database to see if you’re eligible for a refund through their website. You’ll need at least your last name or your FHA case number to search.

17. Food Assistance

The government offers a number of programs that give low-income families nutrition assistance and education on healthy eating.

These programs include WIC (for women, infants, and children), SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), programs for seniors, and various food distribution options. If you are interested in learning more, visit the Nutrition.gov page here.

18. SSI for Elderly or Disabled Individuals

If you are temporarily or permanently disabled, have a child who is disabled, or are over age 65 (with or without a disability), you may be eligible for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits.

These benefits are limited to those that meet certain income requirements. If you have worked long enough to qualify for Social Security benefits, you may be able to collect both Social Security retirement benefits and SSI benefits.

To learn more, visit the Social Security Administration’s page here.

Things to Remember

It’s important to keep a few things in mind when seeking out free money from the government (or anywhere, really).

First off, a Google search for “free money” is almost sure to net you some scam results. You need to ensure that any website you are visiting–especially if you give them your personal information–is a trusted entity. This means searching for .org, .gov, and similar web addresses. You should also make sure that the program is indeed government-sponsored.

If a website is offering you free money, make sure it explains how you’ll get said money. What is the application process? What are the eligibility requirements? Is the site transparent in explaining the process and what’s offered?

Also, make sure it doesn’t ask you for any sort of up-front money or fees in order to apply for free funds. No legitimate government program will ask you for money to receive assistance.

Free money is out there in various forms. Just be careful where you look and who you trust–if it sounds too good to be true, it just might be.

Author Bio

 

Stephanie Colestock is a respected financial writer based in Washington, DC. Her work can be found on sites such as Investopedia, Credit Karma, Quicken, The Balance, Motley Fool, and more, covering a range of topics such as family finances, planning for the future, optimizing credit, and getting out of debt. She is currently working toward her CFP certification. Her full portfolio can be found at stephaniecolestock.com