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Protecting your Money

Learn about ways you can protect yourself and your money with practical tips and information about your financial rights and responsibilities.

When you’re an empowered consumer, you understand your rights and responsibilities. T

here are many laws that protect you when it comes to financial products and services. It’s the Bureau’s job to enforce these laws and handle consumers’ complaints about financial products and services.

Knowing what your rights are can help prevent you from being taken advantage of during financial negotiations and transactions.

And understanding your obligations can help you avoid late fees or problems with an account.

You are also the first line of defense when it comes to protecting your financial information from fraud or theft.

There are things you can do to be proactive about keeping your information safe.

Ask questions

Shopping for financial products and services is no different than shopping for other things.

You want to fully understand what you’re buying and that it’s the right product for your own needs.

Just like with any other product, you want to know if there’s a hidden “catch.” Here are some tips for taking charge:

• Don’t be intimidated. You’re the customer.

If you don’t understand something, ask the bank or other financial services company to explain it again until it makes sense.

• If you want to work with a financial counselor or adviser, interview a few before choosing one.

Pick someone who is interested in helping you, not just in selling you something.

• Before you sign anything or give personal or financial information about yourself to an adviser, ask questions:

• What are your qualifications?

• How do you get paid?

• Ask yourself — Will this advisor work in my best interest?

• If your friends or family members give you advice or information, ask them questions like:

• Where did you get the information?

• Are you making any money on this?

 

Avoiding scams

Most of us have seen or heard something like this—offers to receive millions of dollars from a foreign prince or a lottery you didn’t enter or jobs that say you can earn $80/hour while working from home.

Unfortunately, if the “opportunity” appears too good to be true, it probably is.If you run across an amazing-sounding opportunity, job, or product, do your research with a critical eye, especially if you’re receiving the “opportunity” from someone you don’t know by email, mail, telephone, or in-person.

If you have a debt with the IRS that’s more than two years old, you might be getting a letter from the IRS about your account being transferred to a private debt collector.

Here’s how you can tell you’re dealing with the actual debt collector, not a scammer:

• The private debt collectors working with the IRS will never ask you to pay them directly.

Instead, they’ll tell you to pay the IRS electronically, or send a check, made out to the US Treasury, directly to the IRS.

Anyone who says they’re collecting for the IRS and asks you to make a payment over the phone is a scammer.

Whether they’re asking you to pay by credit or debit card, electronic check, wiring money, or a prepaid or gift card–don’t do it.

• These debt collectors will never use robocalls or pre-recorded messages.

You’ll always speak with a live operator.

• They’ll always use the authentication number that was in your letters.

 

 

Con artists and scammers use creative and innovative schemes and appeals to get you to part with your money.

Follow these principles to detect con artists and scammers:

• Check the paperwork or electronic documents you are asked to sign carefully.

If the promises made to you are not in the paperwork, that is a warning sign that something is wrong with the deal.

• Don’t assume a company is legitimate based on the “appearance” of the website.

Check reviews on multiple websites to look for patterns of customer satisfaction.

Are more people happy or not overall with the service they received?

• Beware of promises to make fast profits and investments that claim to offer high returns with little or no risk.

• Contact state and local consumer agencies or state and federal licensing or regulatory agencies to see if there’s a complaint against the company.

Don’t invest in anything unless you fully understand the deal.

Consider running the opportunity by others that you trust to make sure that they share your understanding and agree it’s a good investment.

• Beware of requests for money from people you don’t know.

Ask around and research the people involved and the nature of the deal or job.

If you don’t know how to do this, ask someone that you trust to help you or don’t get involved in the deal at all.

• Watch out for job offers where you have to put up a lot of money up front for inventory or sales supplies.

If the job doesn’t work as promised, you probably won’t get back the money you spent on inventory or supplies.

 

 

You can say no

Scammers and con artists target polite people because they have a harder time saying no. If you feel pressured to make a decision, chances are you are being scammed. It may be hard, especially if it’s a friend or relative, but just saying “No, I’m not interested,” may save you from a financial loss. If people are pressuring you on the phone, you don’t have to continue the call. This is especially true if they’re trying to verbally coerce you into buying, donating to, or investing in something.

Tell them to take you off their list and then hang up.

Guard your information

Just as you have to protect your money, you also have to protect your personal information.

Never give out personal information (such as account numbers, passwords, or answers to security questions) over the phone, through email, or social media.

Banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions will never email you asking you to verify personal information.

Only provide the information if you initiated the call to a number that you know is from the company.

For example, if it’s printed on your statement or the back of your credit card.

Scammers can use fake email to try to get personal information from you (called “phishing”) or that installs a virus on your computer or device to steal sensitive personal data from you.

 

To avoid phishing:

Don’t open email spam.

Don’t read it, delete it. And never reply to spam or click on links inside the message.

• Don’t open email attachments from people you don’t know or attachments that you didn’t expect to receive.

• Spammers can make an email appear as if it’s coming from someone in your contacts list, so be careful not to respond to strange emails asking for help, even if it appears it’s coming from someone you know.

You can always start a new email message to that person and ask them if they really need help or alert them that their email address may have been hacked.

Don’t reply to the email, because then you could be replying to a scammer.

Also be careful about clicking on links inside emails that take you to websites that ask for personal information. Scammers can send you to fake websites to get this information from you.

If you visit a website for a financial institution or site that asks for your personal or financial information, type the website directly into the browser and look for signs that the site is secure.

A secure website has:

A URL that begins with “https:”—the “s” at the end indicates it’s secure

• A lock symbol next to the URL 

• Security authentications and certificates

Seeing the “s” at the end of “http” and the lock symbol are not guarantees that the site is legitimate.

You should still be on guard for phishing or other scams.

You can help prevent identity theft by guarding your identifying information carefully and only sharing it with a person you trust because you have a reason to share it.

If you think it may be a scam, you can also search for information online.

Consider checking consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts to see if anyone else has reported a similar scam.

Often scams happen on a large scale and people will be talking about them online to help warn others.

Protecting your identity.

Help keep your identity safe by practicing online security and limiting access to your personal information.

Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information or identity to commit fraud.

This could be things like your name, Social Security number, credit card number, or bank account information.

Thieves can use this kind of information to rent apartments, take out loans, open accounts in your name, or put charges on your existing accounts without your permission.

Identity theft, fraud, and data breaches affect tens of millions of people in the U.S. each year.

This is why it’s important to be cautious with your identifying information—both online and in the real world.

CHECK YOUR CREDIT REPORT

Check your credit report at all three nationwide credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) each year using the free website annualcreditreport.com.

If you see anything in your report that’s incorrect or suspicious, contact the credit reporting company and the company that furnished the information immediately.

If you’re concerned about past or future identity theft, you can also freeze or put a fraud alert on your credit.

You can also opt out of receiving offers for credit or insurance, known as prescreened offers.

This can help prevent credit or insurance offers that are meant for you from falling into other people’s hands—these offers can then be used to take out fraudulent loans in your name.

Remove your name from mailed pre-screened offers by opting out at (888) 567-8688 or online at optoutprescreen.com.

Choose the “5-year” removal option to stop prescreened offers for five years—or make a request by mail if you want to opt out permanently.

Choose the “forever” removal option. Even if you opt out of these offers, you can still apply for credit when you want it by contacting the lender directly or applying online.

LIMIT ACCESS TO YOUR INFORMATION

Don’t carry your Social Security card or number in your wallet or purse.

Keep it somewhere safe at home.

Remove your name from many direct mail marketers’ lists by registering with the Direct Marketing Association using the online form at dmachoice.thedma.org. This will create fewer opportunities for thieves to steal your information.

Remove yourself permanently from most telemarketers’ lists by registering your cell phone or landline number with the Do Not Call Registry at (888) 382-1222 or at donotcall.gov.

Never give your personal information to someone who calls you and asks for it, even if they say they’re from your financial institution.

If you want to confirm if the call was legitimate, hang up and call that financial institution back using a phone number you trust, like the one on your bank statement or the back of your credit card.

Use a shredder, scissors, or your hands to tear all papers with identifying information or account numbers into tiny pieces before throwing them out.

Also cut up any old or cancelled credit cards or debit cards.

Only give out your Social Security number when it’s absolutely necessary.

Often when someone asks for it, you are not required to give it to them.

Protect information like your mother’s maiden name, which is often used as a way to verify identity with financial institutions.

Be cautious of where this might appear online, so don’t put it on your social media account.

PRACTICE ONLINE SECURITY

There are many things you can do to safeguard your personal information online. Commit all passwords to memory.

Never write them down (not even on a post-it by your computer!) or carry them with you.

Make sure passwords are long and include upper- and lower-case letters and numbers.

Don’t include any words that can be found in a dictionary or names and dates that can be associated with you (your children’s names or birthdates, for example).

The best practice is to have a different password for each account.

If you find it too hard to keep track of so many different passwords, have separate, longer, harder-toguess passwords for your financial accounts.

Don’t give out your financial or personal information over the Internet, unless you have initiated the contact or know for certain with whom you are dealing.

Never share identity information online unless the site is secure with an encryption program, so no one can intercept your information.

If secure, the website address will start with https, not http.

There will also be a lock symbol near the web address (). A secure website is not necessarily a legitimate one. Don’t let your guard down just because you see the “https” and lock symbol.

Don’t use public WiFi when sending financial or personal information.

And if you’re using a public computer, like at your local library, never give the browser permission to save your password, always log off any website you signed into, and close the browser before you leave the computer.

Passcode protect your phone and tablet.

Many people use apps on their mobile devices that save their passwords and log them in automatically, giving thieves easier access to personal information.

Using a passcode helps ensure that someone else can’t get into sensitive information stored on your device.

Don’t reply to emails asking for personal banking information, even if they have a company logo!

Financial institutions will never ask for personal information via email.

How to handle identity theft.

Here’s what you can do if you suspect you’re the victim of identity theft or fraud.

ORDER YOUR CREDIT REPORTS FROM ALL THREE NATIONWIDE CREDIT REPORTING COMPANIES

Each company’s credit report about you is slightly different, so order a report from each company.

When you order, you must answer some questions to prove your identity. Read your reports carefully to see if the information is correct.

If you see mistakes or signs of fraud, contact the credit reporting company to take further action. 

REPORT IDENTITY THEFT

Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at identitytheft.gov or (877) 438-4338.

You’ll answer some questions about what happened and they’ll use your information to:

• Create a personal recovery plan

• Pre-fill letters to send to merchants, banks, and others affected by the identity theft

• Complete an “Identity Theft Report,” which is your official statement about the crime

In most cases, you can use your Identity Theft Report in place of a police report to clear your account and credit history of transactions that resulted from the identity theft.

Contact the police to report identity theft if:

• You know who did it or have information that could help a police investigation

• An identity thief used your name in a traffic stop or any encounter with police

• If you’re asked to produce a police report

CONSIDER A CREDIT PROTECTION TOOL

There are three types of credit protection tools that you can request from credit reporting companies: a security freeze, an initial fraud alert, or an extended fraud alert.

SECURITY FREEZE

A freeze on your credit report generally helps prevent new credit accounts from being opened in your name.

Usually, thirdparty-access to your credit file is completely blocked from new users without your express authorization.

A freeze helps prevent identity thieves from opening fraudulent accounts in your name.

This also means you won’t be able to apply for credit as easily if you were planning to open a new account or apply for a loan.

You must contact each of the credit reporting companies to freeze your credit report.

You will have to contact them to lift the freeze before a third-party can access your credit report. 

YOUR MONEY, YOUR GOALS TOOLKIT INITIAL FRAUD ALERT

An initial fraud alert requires creditors to verify your identity before opening a new account, issuing an additional card, or increasing the credit limit on an existing account.

This is a good first step if you’re worried that your identity may be stolen, like after a data breach.

The alert lasts for one year and can be renewed after it expires.

EXTENDED FRAUD ALERT

An extended fraud alert requires creditors to contact you before approving credit and lasts for seven years.

It also requires credit reporting companies to remove you from lists prepared for pre-screen offers of credit or insurance for five years.

This is available if you’ve filed an identity theft report with one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies.

Spotting red flags

If you spot one of these sales tactics or red flags when you’re shopping for financial products or services, think twice before you sign anything. It’s always okay to walk away from a purchase if something doesn’t feel right or you see a red flag.

Submit a complaint

Having an issue with a financial product or service?

If so, you can submit a complaint to the Bureau and we’ll work to get you a response from the company.

The Bureau has handled over 1 million complaints, helping consumers connect with financial companies to get direct responses about problems with mortgages, student loans, debt collection, credit reports, and other financial products and services.

Every complaint we receive gives us insights into problems that people are experiencing in the marketplace and helps us to identify and prioritize problems for potential action.

THE COMPLAINT PROCESS

After you submit a complaint, it goes through several steps.

1. Complaint submitted

You submit a complaint about an issue you have with a company about a consumer financial product or service.

You’ll receive email updates and can log in at cfpb.gov/ complaint to track the status of your complaint.

2. Review and route

We’ll forward your complaint and any documents you provide to the company and work to get a response from them.

If we find that another government agency would be better able to assist, we’ll forward your complaint to them and let you know.

3. Company response

The company reviews your complaint, communicates with you as needed, and reports back about the steps taken or that will be taken on the issue you identify in your complaint.

4. Complaint published

We publish information about your complaint—such as the subject and date of the complaint—on our public Consumer Complaint Database (consumerfinance.gov/ data-research/consumer-complaints).

If you consent, we also publish your description of what happened, after taking steps to remove personal information.

5. Consumer review

We’ll let you know when the company responds.

You’ll be able to review the company’s response and will have 60 days to give us feedback about the complaint process.

HOW TO SUBMIT A COMPLAINT

 Online consumerfinance.gov/complaint

 By phone (180+ languages) M-F, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. ET (855) 411-2372 (855) 729-2372 TTY/TDD

 By mail Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection P.O. Box 2900 Clinton, IA 52733-2900

 By fax (855) 237-2392

DISCLAIMER

The Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (Bureau) prepared the tools included in the Your Money, Your Goals: A financial empowerment toolkit as a resource for the public.

This material is provided for educational and information purposes only.

It is not a replacement for the guidance or advice of an accountant, certified financial advisor, or otherwise qualified professional.

The Bureau is not responsible for the advice or actions of the individuals or entities from which you received the Bureau educational materials.

The Bureau’s educational efforts are limited to the materials that the Bureau has prepared.

The tools may ask you to provide sensitive information.

The Bureau does not collect this information and is not responsible for how your information may be used if you provide it to others.

The Bureau recommends that you do not include names, account numbers, or other sensitive information and that users follow their organization’s policies regarding personal information.

This toolkit includes links or references to third-party resources or content that consumers may find helpful.

The Bureau does not control or guarantee the accuracy of this outside information.

The inclusion of links or references to third-party sites does not necessarily reflect the Bureau’s endorsement of the third-party, the views expressed on the outside site, or products or services offered on the outside site.

The Bureau has not vetted these third-parties, their content, or any products or services they may offer.

There may be other possible entities or resources that are not listed that may also serve your needs.