credit cards

Identity Theft – It happened to me

I was almost a victim of identity theft.

I did not apply for this card:

Credit Fraud Letter

For those of you not familiar with Bergdorf Goodman – it is a high-end luxury department store in NYC – think Gucci, Prada, Chanel. Unfortunately, not a place I will be shopping at anytime soon.

I checked on Credit Karma and there it was – a hard inquiry on Equifax dated around the same time of the above letter from this department store. I also found another hard inquiry that I did not initiate. I took this opportunity to thoroughly review what accounts are open and make sure they were actually mine. Phew – all good. But I did find 3 old store cards that I haven't used in years. I went ahead and closed them.

I then froze my credit at all 3 agencies – Equifax, Transunion, and Experian.

What does freezing credit do? It prevents unauthorized use of your credit to open credit cards, mortgages, etc. unless you/they have your pin. This pin is issued when you freeze your credit. When you need to open a new card or mortgage you simply unfreeze or thaw your credit. Best if you call the bank or institution and find out which agency they will use first so you only need to thaw one agency. There may be a fee to thaw – but negligible compared to the headache and time needed to undo fraudulent activity.

So, even if someone does get your information they will not be able to open any lines of credit without this pin. Guard this pin! You will not be able to do anything without it. Make copies, upload to a secure cloud etc.

Freezing your credit has no impact on your credit score. Freezing and thawing credit is also state specific in terms of how long it will stay frozen and fees to freeze or thaw.

Check out this excellent freeze/thaw guide for links and info on how to easily freeze your credit. Please note that freezing credit does not affect a theft's ability to steal and use your actual credit card. Thankfully, this is much easier to deal with.

And, don't forget to freeze your children's credit! Yes the thieves are even going after them.

If you're eligible, you can take things further and obtain a pin from the IRS so that no one else can file in your name. Yes it happens, and I can assure you this is a much bigger PITA to deal with. Unfortunately, at this time, you need to be eligible to obtain one:

I am not eligible at this time. Hopefully the IRS will soon let anyone obtain a pin to protect themselves.

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"Travel hacking"

Simple and absolutely delicious – rigatoni with fresh tomato sauce and eggplant – @ Planeta Winery, Sicily.[/caption] Do you like to travel? We love to travel. Our “splurge” is travel and food – best if we combine the too. We budget for two big trips a year. We consider it pivotal to our happiness. We are not into budget travel anymore – too old for penny pinching like staying in hostels and such. Last year we went to Sicily and Los Angeles + OC + Santa Maria wine country. I went to Toronto and Paris + Reims with girlfriends. I traveled to Washington, DC twice for CME conferences. You may have heard about the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. It came out last fall and instantly became the hot new travel card. I already had the Chase Sapphire Preferred and had racked up over 50,000 points. The Sapphire Reserve offered 100,000 bonus points so I opened one last September. Now, they offer 50,000 points, which is still a great deal. I'm not a credit card churner, but for folks who travel, a travel credit card is definitely worth having. This is assuming you won't go into credit debt. I pay the cards in full every month and leverage the credit to accumulate points. I rarely use cash. You may balk at the $450 annual fee. The fee is really $150. You get $300 in travel credit (taxis, flights, hotels). You also get a credit for global entry. So the first year, the fee is essentially $0. I already have global entry which includes TSA Pre-Check. Dining and travel spending accumulate triple points. You also get Priority Pass Select membership. This is not that useful but better than no lounge access. Centurion lounge access with the Amex Platinum (M's travel card) rounds things out nicely. [caption id="attachment_1009" align="aligncenter" width="268"] On the never ending journey for the perfect croissant – @ Du Pain et Des Idées, Paris, France[/caption] One of the ways we are able to budget two big trips a year is by using one trip combined with CME. Many doctors have a CME fund with their job. It isn't quite enough to fully fund a pricey CME trip since the funds are also for my licensing and society fees. Back in January, we went to Hawaii (Big Island and Kauai). I attended a conference on the Big Island. I used points for my round trip flight. M used his Amex Platinum points for his flight. The CME fund paid for hotel, rental car and most of our meals during the conference. We paid for the Kauai part on our own. I have since accumulated > 150,000 points on the Sapphire Reserve card. We prefer to visit Europe during shoulder season if possible (less crowded). Last year, we went to Sicily in April. Weather was great and we barely ran into any tourists, let alone any Americans. Lodging was definitely cheaper since it was off-season and thankfully, food is quite reasonable (and delicious!) there. I managed to have a cannoli every day. Flights and hotels are often cheaper too during shoulder season. Not quite shoulder season but we just booked a trip to Paris in May. I booked 2 round-trip direct flights and 4 nights hotel for $94. The rest were paid with points. Our only expense will be food and local transportation. We won't be as frugal food-wise as Physician on Fire was on his recent trip there. How do you make travel more affordable? Comment below.]]>

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