What to Do if Your Identity Is Stolen? Start Here!

Looking for information on what to do if your identity is stolen? We know it can be a frightening time, but luckily it’s very possible to effectively mitigate and recover from the damages done–if you know how. It is the goal of today’s article to serve as a starting point for getting your life back on track after identity theft.

Now, how common is identity theft? A 2016 survey showed 41 million Americans have been a victim of identity theft. While it’s no guarantee you’ll ever suffer a stolen identity, these numbers are on the rise. It pays to educate yourself on what to do when your identity is stolen.

After all, identity theft isn’t really just about your identity. Anyone who has your personal data – like your address, phone number, Social Security Number, and more – can do all kinds of things by pretending to be you. This includes opening lines of credit in your name and exposing you to criminal charges. To make sure you’re safe from scenarios like these even after your identity has been stolen, keep reading all the way through.

What to do if my identity has been stolen?

So you’ve just found out or strongly suspect that you’ve been victimized by ID fraud. What now? Follow the process below to get the ball rolling:

Do your research/hire a professional ID service

First thing’s first: you need to minimize your direct financial risks by making sure nobody can access your money accounts nor take out a credit line in your name. The order in which you do these two things depends on your bank situation. If you have a small daily limit for withdrawing cash and making payments, or a small balance in any accounts that can be accessed immediately, you can contact one of the big 3 credit companies first. Once you contact Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion and let them know your identity has been stolen, they will immediately inform the other two agencies, preventing credit being taken out in your name illegally.

Conversely, if you stand to lose a large amount of money directly from your bank accounts and cards, reach out to account services at your financial establishment. Ask to close or limit access to accounts, and block or close credit and debit cards, and/or restrict iphone access to your accounts. Once you’ve gone through the above steps, consider using an identity theft protection service to check all the nooks and crannies of your identity (including how your SSN, name, DOB, address, email, telephone, and other credentials may be being used), or hire a private investigator. Among the worst things these measures can uncover are, abuse of your financial accounts, or opening a new line of credit in your name.

Beyond the above, much of what you need to do is going to be subjective and varies from case to case. One thing you should always do is file a police report. One reason is that a police report placed sooner rather than later is the best way to catch criminals and reverse the damage they do. Another reason is that a report offers proof of the fact that a crime happened. It will come in handy when you need to remove fraudulent charges and activities from your credit report and bank accounts when prompted to do so later down the line.

Should you hire a Private Investigator for a deep dive?

Put simple, hiring a PI is expensive, so you want to gain a general assessment of the damage done before shelling out. For reference, PI’s can run basic checks to help you uncover vulnerabilities in your identity network that run between $500 and $1,000. More comprehensive dives can easily soar to $2,500+. That’s why it’s always important to gather as much preliminary information if you’re not immediately aware of the severity of the leak.

When is it worth hiring a P.I.? The first scenario is when you definitely know your ID has been stolen. If this is your situation, an investigator can actually do a lot for you. They can help you figure out how your information was accessed and how you can prevent future leaks. They can help you track down the person responsible for the crime and help reverse some of the damage – or at least bring the offender to justice. Perhaps most importantly, a PI can confirm – beyond the shadow of a doubt – whether your ID really has been stolen if an ID protection  or background checking service has left you in doubt.

What are the risks of someone else using your identity?

Below, we list some of the main types of problems that can happen if someone else gets access to your identity information.

  • Account takeovers. This is the single most common type of fraud because it’s fast, profitable, and relatively safe for criminals. What happens is that someone else gets access to a phone number, bank account, or online account using your information. They then use this access to siphon money away from you, e.g. by using your number to gain access to your online bank.
  • New account creation. Another popular type of identity fraud is creating new accounts, especially credit card accounts in your name. If this happens, you’ll be on the hook for a potentially vast sum of money. To prevent this, make sure that any background checking service you use to secure yourself and your money features credit rating reports.
  • Employment and medical services identity theft. It may seem too bizarre to be true, but a person who couldn’t otherwise get a job or healthcare can use your information to get them on your behalf. With medical services, this can lead to problems with your insurer and a medical record that doesn’t reflect what actually happened to you. With jobs, it can be a problem because the IRS will likely come to you to get the tax money the fraudster owes them.
  • Criminal identity theft. In this scenario, a criminal gives your information instead of their own when in trouble with the law. This can result in fines, penalties, and potentially even travel restrictions and time spent in court. This is arguably the most difficult consequence of identity theft because it can even make you unable to leave your state or country.
  • Synthetic identity theft. This kind of theft is the hardest to spot and often calls for the help of a private investigator. Synthetic identities are also known as composite identities, and they’re made up of different people’s real-life data. For example, a synthetic identity might feature your Social Security number but someone else’s name, making it harder for you to find out you’ve been defrauded.

In closing

Identity theft is no laughing matter. It can easily result in money lost, a criminal record, and more. Now that you know how to protect yourself, what are you going to do next? Leave a note below and let us know!

Read What to Do if Your Identity Is Stolen? Start Here! by George P.H. on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

How to Stop Email Tracking with a VPN

Looking for answers on how to stop email tracking? You’ve come to the right place! There are no tinfoil hats here; email servers are owned and operated by private companies, and your personal communications and data are at their mercy. Read on to learn how to take control of your email privacy.

Imagine you have a mailbox outside your home. Inside it, there’s a micro-camera tracking your every action, whether you read the letter, throw it out, or glance at it for a second. Suddenly, you start getting more and more letters like the one you were caught reading. While this scenario more closely resembles an episode of Black Mirror than real life, it happens every day on the Internet.

Advertisers and spammers use emails as a way to place ad trackers on users’ computers. This way, they know when you open the email, your location, and even keep tags on your browsing history using cookies. This means that if you open one wrong email, your information can later be used in order to target ads to you or, even worse, hack your online data. In order to avoid this from happening, you’ll need a VPN. A quality VPN will ensure that no one, from your ISP to the government, will get their hands on your data. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most secure services on the market, explain how email tracking works, and discuss benefits of using a VPN.

Best VPN providers for complete online security

In order to stop email tracking immediately, you need a solid, secure VPN service. Below, we have listed our top 5 recommended VPN providers for secure email:

1. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is the best service if you want to disguise yourself online. With military-grade 256-bit AES encryption, it would take the world’s strongest supercomputer millions of years to crack into your data. ExpressVPN also offers a range of encryption protocols, including OpenVPN’s UDP and TCP. With these modern protocols, you will barely notice the speed difference between an encrypted and unencrypted connection, meaning that at no point will you experience delays or slowdowns. Furthermore, thanks to a solid no-logging policy, the provider doesn’t store any of your data for third parties to find. This includes DNS requests, IP addresses, browsing history, and even timestamps. So, if a cybercriminal or creator of spam emails gets access to ExpressVPN’s database, they won’t be able to find your online data there. In a nutshell, ExpressVPN offers the range of security features that will ensure your emails are never used to track your online activity.

In addition to ExpressVPN’s top-of-the-line privacy features, the provider, true to its name, offers one of the fastest services on the market. With a massive server network of 3,000+ proxy servers in 94 countries, you will always be able to find a node that will provide you with a fast, low latency connection. Moreover, there are no limitations on bandwidth, server switching, or speed, which means you can enjoy secure browsing for as long as you want. Heck, there’s even a built-in speed test to help you dial in the connection.

Whether you want to stay on top of your emails, stream Netflix content, or simply surf the web, you can do so without any lag or artificially imposed restrictions. ExpressVPN’s service is available on a wide range of devices and operating systems, and allows you to have three simultaneous connections.

Read our full ExpressVPN review.

Pros

  • SPECIAL OFFER: 3 months free (49% off – link below)
  • Super fast servers (minimal speed loss)
  • Torrenting/P2P allowed
  • No logs for personal data
  • 24/7 Live Chat.
Cons

  • Max 3 simultaneous connections
  • High cost for month-to-month users.
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2. NordVPN

NordVPN‘s service prioritizes beating censorship and providing users with the toughest online security. For starters, the provider uses 256-bit AES encryption that generates more key combinations than there are atoms in the known universe. Specific encryption protocols include OpenVPN’s UDP and TCP, which blends speed and security, as well as the flexible L2TP/IPSec. NordVPN doesn’t store any data logs, ranging from IP address, bandwidth, traffic, and browsing history. This adds a massive layer of security to your browsing experience since no one will be able to get their hands on your data, and, in turn, use it to track you online.

NordVPN offers more security features for ultimate online protection, including an automatic kill switch and a CyberSec module. The former shuts down your internet should you ever get disconnected, so at no point will your connection be unsafe without you noticing. The CyberSec module features toggles for ad blocking and anti-malware protection, both of which will protect you from online tracking.

While NordVPN has some of the most advanced privacy features on the market, the provider doesn’t fall short on speed or usability. First, NordVPN has one of the biggest server networks in the industry consisting of 5,100+ nodes in 60 countries at the time of writing and growing. There are also specialty servers you can select for extra security, including double VPN nodes, which route your data through two layers of encryption, and obfuscated servers, which hide the fact that you are using a VPN. With no limitations on bandwidth, speed, or server switching, you’ll be able to use the service any time, keeping your connection secure on the regular. NordVPN is available on all major devices and operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and more.

Read more in our full review of NordVPN.

Pros

  • Very affordable plans
  • No bandwidth caps
  • No IP/DNS leaks found
  • “Double” data protection
  • 30-day money back guarantee.
Cons

  • Sometimes slow in procesing refunds (but always do).
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3. CyberGhost

CyberGhost is one of our top recommended services due to its combination of ease of use and security. With this provider, you don’t need any complicated setting up in order to protect your identity online – the intuitive user interface will do it for you. Upon launch, you’ll be able to choose from six simple configuration profiles. These include “surf anonymously” and “protect my WiFi connection”, both of which are well suited for stopping email tracking. Additionally, these profiles can be further customized with simple toggles, such as “block ads” or “block malicious websites”.

With CyberGhost, you don’t need to worry about understanding any complicated technical terms in order to stay anonymous online; the service has you covered. Of course, if you want a little more control over your server connection, you can pick from one of CyberGhost’s 3,600+ nodes strewn over 59 countries worldwide. Whether you want to use the software at home, work, or on-the-go, CyberGhost is available on all major operating systems, including macOS, Windows, iPhone and Android.

In addition to its usability, CyberGhost has one of the most secure services in the industry. For starters, the powerful 256-bit AES encryption keeps your data safe at all times. Encryption protocols include OpenVPN’s UDP and TCP, as well as L2TP/IPSec, all of which will ensure that your connection is private, fast, and flexible at the same time. Moreover, CyberGhost employs one of the most complete logging policies in the industry. It ensures that no logs are stored on anything, not even your email address. So, even if your ISP or the government try to get their hands on your data logs, they won’t be able to find any. Finally, CyberGhost offers additional security features for ultimate online anonymity on desktop, including a connection guard, a kill switch, an ad blocker, and an online tracking blocker.

See the full review of CyberGhost.

Pros

  • Works with Netflix
  • Affordable plans
  • Located in Romania (out of 14 eyes)
  • No log files
  • Live chat support (24/7).
Cons

  • Doesn’t unblock all streaming services.
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4. PrivateVPN

PrivateVPN, as the name suggests, ensures that your privacy always comes first. Firstly, it uses incredibly powerful AES-256 encryption–no one, from cybercriminals to the world’s strongest supercomputer, could conceivably crack your data. PrivateVPN offers a wide selection of encryption protocols, from UDP and TCP, which combine speed and security, to the modern IKEv2 protocol. The company’s no-logging policy covers virtually all data, all of which makes PrivateVPN one of the more secure VPN services to date.

While PrivateVPN’s server network is more modest than others, consisting of 80 nodes in 59 countries, don’t let these numbers fool you. The company aims to ensure as much Internet capacity is purchased directly from the IP transit provider, rather than from crowded shared hosting platforms. In our testing, this network was plenty robust for heavy-duty tasks like P2P file sharing as well as everyday tasks like sending email and streaming.

Speaking of streaming, there are specially optimized servers for unblocking Netflix regardless of where you are located in the world. Even better, PrivateVPN offers all users unlimited bandwidth, traffic, and server switches, which makes it an ideal choice for always-on Internet privacy. The service has dedicated apps for all major operating systems, including Windows, Linux, and iOs, as well as routers and gaming consoles.

Check out our full PrivateVPN review for more details.

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5. PureVPN

PureVPN is an excellent choice of VPN if you want a secure connection as well as the ability to bypass even the toughest regional blocks. The provider has a server network of 2,000 servers in a whopping 140 countries, which means that you can get an IP address from virtually any location in the world. So, whether you want to unlock international Netflix libraries or spoof an IP from a different location, you can do so within minutes with PureVPN. In addition to this impressive server distribution, PureVPN goes beyond traditional features with things like NAT firewalls, anti-spam filtering, DDoS protection, and even antivirus software. In addition, you can use split tunneling technology in order to route some of your data through your VPN rather than your ISP. This means that no one will be able to see that you are using a proxy service rather than your regular Internet connection.

In addition to the server network and advanced technologies, PureVPN has some of the toughest security features that come with every available plan. First, the 256-bit AES military-level encryption will allow you to stop any online tracking and ensure that your data is always protected. There’s also a generous no-logging policy which pledges to obliviate any and all logs on connection and usage metadata. There’s even a set of server connections that come equipped with the Ozone feature suite, which automatically enables URL filters, anti-malware, IDS/IPS, content filters, and app blockers. PureVPN has been on the market longer than most, and they’ve spent their time wisely assembling some of the most comprehensive cybersecurity software anywhere.

EXCLUSIVE OFFER: PureVPN will block out email snoopers, or your money back. Sign up with our 74% discount on the 2-year plan.

Who is tracking my emails?

Email tracking is most commonly used by marketers as a promotional tool to raise awareness of a product or service and get users to make a purchase or a download. However, no company or marketing specialist wants to be shooting in the dark. For example, why would they spend time and money sending emails to people who cannot afford their product, or aren’t in the right location to use their service?

This is where email tracking comes in. Trackers allow marketers to know how many readers are opening their email, how long they read it for, where they are located, and even the devices they use. This sort of data allows companies to then narrow down their target audience to specific age groups, income brackets, and interests. By narrowing down the mailing list to users who are more likely to purchase or subscribe, marketers directly increase their email conversion rate and, in turn, profit.

Another problem is that advertising networks don’t merely use this information for their own marketing strategy. Many companies gather this information to then sell it to advertisers for a lot of money. So, if you were starting to get uncomfortable with the idea of your emails being tracked for marketing purposes, think of the cycle your data goes through once you open an email.

RELATED READING: How to Pretend to Be in a Different Country

How does email tracking work?

Emailing is no longer a simple text-based letter you can send to family and friends online. Today, with the help of images, styling options, and even videos, the humble email has evolved into full-featured communication suite powerful enough to transmit all types of media, including embedded videos and highly customized .css sheets. Unfortunately, with this sort of technological advancement comes a range of consequences.

Email tracking is typically done with the use of an invisible pixel tracker within a message or attachment. Now that so many emails come with an image or attachment, this tracker isn’t hard to place, and impossible for you to find. As soon as you open an email, this pixel sends information about your location, device, and more, to the sender.

You may be thinking that it’s no big deal if it’s for market researcher, but here’s the thing. This sort of pixel tracker can be placed into an email by pretty much anyone. OMC, a New-York based company that focuses on technology behind email intelligence, found that 1.5 billion emails received by their clients since 2015 contained a tracker. In fact, they found that the number of tracked personal conversation emails doubled between 2015 and 2017. So, what about all those times you’ve attached sensitive information, such as your bank details, to an email?

RELATED READING: How to stop Facebook from tracking you?

How does a VPN help?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways to protect yourself from email tracking without a VPN. But here’s the good news – we’ve carefully selected the best VPN providers out there that will protect your online privacy at all times. Below, we explain what these services will do for you.

Increase your security

Many people are unaware of just how much sensitive data they leave exposed online. From account information to credit card details, anyone from your ISP to cybercriminals can easily get their hands on your information and use it against you. Luckily, a quality VPN uses bank-level encryption in order to keep your data protected regardless of where you are browsing from. So, whether you are using a public WiFi network or are traveling abroad, the service masks your location and your data is encrypted against potential intruders. This is especially useful when entering sensitive information like your Social Security Number, payment details, passwords, and more.

Grant you anonymity

A VPN always allows you to remain anonymous online by masking your IP address. So, you can open emails, download content, and surf the web, without worrying about revealing your true location. VPN providers with large server networks also protect you from running out of IP addresses to connect to. So, for example, if your new IP is blocked out from Netflix, you will have a wide range of others to choose from. Since our recommended providers work on all devices and allow you to establish several simultaneous connections, you can browse and stream anonymously even on the go.

Enable you to beat geoblocking

A major added benefit to using a VPN is that it allows to overcome all geo-based restrictions and access content that would otherwise be blocked in your country. For example, if you are located in India but want access to U.S. Netflix, one of these VPN services will be your go-to tool. Additionally, a VPN will also expose you to the best online shopping deals. If a sale or special offers are available in Europe but not in Asia, you can simply choose to connect to any country in Europe and take advantage of the low prices.

Conclusion

Now you know how to stop third parties from tracking your email and, in turn, protect your data and identity. By choosing one of our recommended VPN providers, you’ll be able to stay anonymous online, and even bypass regional blocks, which will allow you to access the free and open Internet. Want to get started? Just pick a service that suits your needs best.

We’d love to hear what you have to say about your VPN experience. Leave us your comments and suggestions down below!

Read How to Stop Email Tracking with a VPN by George P.H. on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

How to Set up Fraud Alerts to Prevent Identity Theft

In this guide, we’ll explain how to set up fraud alerts for free with any of the Big 3 credit bureaus in the US. We’ll also cover why fraud alerts may not be enough and tell you about credit freezes, important fraud alert facts, and more.

A fraud alert is a way to alert third parties that your identity has been compromised – or that you’ve been a victim of fraud. There are a few types of fraud alerts, and knowing how to use them correctly can protect your finances, help you recover from crimes committed against you, and otherwise make your life better and easier. But before we start getting in-depth, we’ll open by going over the basic definition of a fraud alert.

What is a fraud alert?

A fraud alert is a short byline in your credit report that indicates that you may be a victim of credit fraud or identity theft. It’s of interest to yourself because it can protect you from financial losses. It’s also of interest to banks, insurers, medical care providers, and other third parties because it minimizes their risk of facilitating crime and fraud. There are several main types of fraud alerts. We’ll explain how you can set them up in a minute – but for now, just remember that this is how they work.

  • Initial fraud alerts. The idea behind an initial fraud alert is to keep you safe for a few months after your identity may have been compromised. They work for 90 days and can be extended or repeated once for about 6 months (180 days) of fraud protection.
  • Extended fraud alerts. These can last 7 years – but unlike initial fraud alerts, you can’t place these over a mere suspicion. You can only apply them if your identity has been stolen and after filing an identity theft report with the FTC.
  • Active duty alerts. These are available to US military members on active duty. It requires lenders and other third parties to verify your identity before granting you credit. It can include a phone number where you can be reached for various verifications. In most cases, a credit bureau will also opt you out of pre-approved offers while you’re on active duty.

Depending on your state and the credit bureau you go through, you may be required to provide extra information – for example, by filing a report with the police or by leaving clear instructions on how your approval should be sought out while you’re on alert.

Fraud alerts vs. credit freezes

A fraud alert is a note placed on your credit file for 90 days, 1 year, or up to 7 years – depending on the fraud alert type you choose. This note lets third parties know to take extra steps when approving you for credit. It’s available from all three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and Transunion – and is universally free. It’s an excellent way to minimize the likelihood of crime and fraud while retaining access to credit. One thing that fraud alerts don’t do is stop companies from giving you credit. If you’re concerned that someone may have enough information to take credit our in your name despite a fraud alert, there’s a second option: the credit freeze, also known as a security freeze.

A security freeze stops all future access to your credit report. It makes it completely impossible for any third party to receive it from credit bureaus. This is very convenient if you know with a high degree of certainty that someone might defraud you. It’s also a prudent step if you’re in the process of being defrauded and want to cut your losses immediately. However, a security freeze does stop you from taking money out, as well as getting insurance services – so if you’re about to apply for insurance, a mortgage, etc, you may want to opt for a fraud alert instead. As a compromise, consider asking for a PIN-protected security freeze wherein you can give temporary access using a special code.

5 things to know about fraud alerts

Here are a few things most people don’t know about fraud alerts.

  1. It doesn’t matter which credit bureau you contact. Experian, Equifax, and Transunion are obligated (by law) to tell each other about fraud alerts. This means you only need to contact one of them for all 3 to place you on fraud alert. This is helpful to remember because time is always of the essence when your security and identity have been compromised.
  2. A fraud alert requires third parties to take extra steps to verify who you are before giving you credit. The bad news is that this means that if you already have an open line of credit that’s been compromised, you won’t be protected by a fraud alert–you’ll have to call your bank or lender instead. The good news is that this means that banks, insurers, and others will work hard to make sure they don’t give out credit in your name to a criminal.
  3. Extended fraud alerts require paperwork; regular ones don’t. If you want to apply for a regular 90-day fraud alert, you can do so at any moment. If you want an extended fraud alert, you’ll have to prove that you’ve been a victim of fraud or identity theft. This means getting a police report or an FTC identity theft report that verifies what happened is critical for extended alerts.
  4. It doesn’t matter whether you use phone or mail. All 3 credit bureaus make it easy to create, update, and remove fraud alerts by phone or by mail. You don’t have to wait for physical letters to reach their offices; you can use the phone to verify your identity beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt and put yourself on fraud alert that way.
  5. You can delegate your fraud alert management to someone else. You can assign a personal representative to manage your fraud alert on your behalf. This usually means using a court appointed document or giving someone Power of Attorney. Your personal representative can do most of what you can – add and update fraud alerts, amend your contact information, etc – so make sure you only use this feature with someone you trust.

Why are fraud alerts necessary?

People assume that they’ll immediately find out if someone tries to use their identity without their knowledge. After all, how could someone get a loan, get hired, or face a crime using your identity otherwise? The very idea can seem absurd. Unfortunately, the reality is a lot different than our expectations. To understand why here’s an example of how identity theft works. Let’s say someone gets a hold of your name, Social Security Number, and address. This is enough to take out credit in someone’s name in many states – especially if the perpetrator has a fake ID that looks real enough to discourage questions. Now here’s what happens next. Having taken credit out in the victim’s name, the criminal uses a different address, e-mail address, and phone number.

This means that the identity fraud victim has no way of knowing about what happened since all the communications now go to the criminal. Many people only realize what’s going on when a federal agency, bank, or private company calls on them to – for example – pay back an overdue loan or report taxes on income that one hasn’t earned. By this point it’s, unfortunately, almost always too late to catch the offender and reverse the damage they’ve done.

This is why fraud alerts are necessary. They let you completely shut down a criminal’s ability to get new credit in your name by creating extra steps that make it hard for anyone other than yourself to do so. In other words, they help you proactively protect yourself and your money rather than react to crimes after they happen. This is what makes them so valuable. Fraud alerts are especially useful if you anticipate being out of reach, e.g. traveling abroad or on active duty, since they make it difficult for a fraudster to leverage your absence to their own benefit.

How to set up a fraud alert

First thing’s first: you don’t have to set up a fraud alert with each of the big 3 credit agencies. It’s enough that you use a phone call or website to let one agency know what happened. Doing so is simple. Just visit Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion and follow the on-screen prompts to go to their fraud alert section. Once there, keep following instructions to choose the exact kind of fraud alert you need – and activate it. After that, you’ll get further instructions that tell you what to do next, how you can cancel a fraud alert, etc. The process is as simple as going to these websites and following instructions; nothing complicated for you to worry about.

In closing

Now you know how to set up fraud alerts and complement them using identity checking services. What are you going to do with what you learned from this article? Leave a note below and let us know now!

Read How to Set up Fraud Alerts to Prevent Identity Theft by George P.H. on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

How to Get a Free Credit Report

This article will explain how to get a free credit report from one of the big 3 credit bureaus. We’ll also explain the limitations of these free reports, both qualitative and quantitative, and explain why credit reports are necessary, plus what you can learn from them.

There are many reasons to want to check your credit report. First of all, it’s a good way to know if you’ve been a victim of identity fraud. If someone else has been using your identity to get credit illegally, a credit report will let you know. In addition to this, a credit report reveals a lot of information that can be helpful and interesting for other reasons. For example, it can show you who else has been getting your credit reports – for example, your bank or an employer. In this post, we’ll tell you all about that and more, but first, we’ll explain what actually goes into a credit report.

What’s a credit report?

A credit bureau is a company that collects, manages, and compiles information about lenders and the credits they give out to consumers and organizations. In the United States, the three main bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The work the companies do is standardized and similar. Ultimately, everything comes down to delivering credit reports to consumers and interested stakeholders (like potential and current employers).

Now, credit reports start with basic, straightforward information like current and past addresses, employment histories, and (sometimes) Social Security Numbers. They summarize whether someone has a solid credit history or not, and cover credit scores, credit inquiries, and negative actions like liens, repossessions, and wage garnishments. Some negative data points – like bankruptcies – stay on the report for as long as a decade, but the average negative action doesn’t stick to an individual for longer than 7 years.

Here’s a more complete list of what’s inside an average credit report:

  • Personal details. These include names, addresses, SSNs, current and past numbers.
  • Credit details. These include current account balances, payment histories, credits taken out and their amounts, credit details (including type), creditor names, etc.
  • Public information. This might include liens, repossessions, foreclosures, bankruptcies, and anything else that affects your credit score.

Who can see your credit report?

A credit report has four main sections that can be accessed through various means. The first concerns your identity. The second section is also the biggest, and it’s all about your recent history. It includes your open lines of credit, also called trade lines, and is of interest to banks considering you for credit, insurers, landlords, insurers, creditors, and third parties. All these entities are legally required to access your credit report under specific circumstances. The only thing they need is your permission – which can often come in the form of a ticked box.

In other words, so long as someone stands to lose or gain through lending money to you or otherwise having a financial stake in your creditworthiness, they can likely see your credit report having satisfied a few conditions.

Now back to the credit reports themselves. The third section concerns public records. Although most people can’t access your credit report, they can essentially compile a third section of their own at will. Seeing this kind of information just isn’t very hard. Last but not least, there’s a fourth section that lists all your report queries. As with the above, this data is available to anyone who has a stake in you being a quality borrower and/or earner. Outside of people and organizations that fit that description, nobody can freely access your credit report.

When can you get a free credit report?

There are two situations in which its standard to get a free credit report. First, each US resident has the right to get one free credit report annually. It doesn’t matter which credit bureau you do this through; all three have a legal obligation to serve consumers in this fashion under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. What’s good is that you can use this to get multiple credit reports by using different agencies. This way, you can stay up to date with your credit rating and history every few months which is not great – but not too shabby by any measure.

Outside of the annual reports all Americans are entitled to, you can get a free report in several other situations. First, you can get a free report if anyone has taken negative action against you. This includes “passive” actions like denying you credit, denying you employment, any court judgments against you, and calls from debt collectors. If credit has affected you adversely in absolutely any way, you have 60 days to apply for a free report.

Moreover, if you are unemployed and about to look for a job, a victim of identity theft, or on welfare, you are also entitled to a free report at the time of your choosing – no strings attached.

What information do I need to provide to get a free report?

You don’t need much to get an accurate free credit report. In fact, simply your name and date of birth will suffice if you’re using one of the online services we recommend on this page. If you’re using a bureau, you may also have to provide your SSN – and any recent addresses (if you moved in the past 24 months). A bureau may ask you for additional information based on your history and recent events, but by and large, it really is this simple. Once you provide the necessary details, you will get information about your creditworthiness in minutes (if you’re online) or within 2 weeks (if you’re mailing a bureau).

One thing to note here. It is absolutely not legal to get someone else’s report without their approval. You may know someone’s name, address, and SSN, but none of this makes it okay for you to check their credit history via a bureau. If you do want to know someone’s credit history informally – not as an employer, landlord, etc – you can do so using a background checking service. Just make sure to check your state laws, as well as federal laws. If you abuse the ability to get a free report on someone else’s credit score, you may face penalties, fines, and even criminal charges.

In closing

Now you know how to use the big 3 credit bureaus to get credit reports. Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions, comments, or insights to share.

Read How to Get a Free Credit Report by George P.H. on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

Best Free VPNs for Torrenting in 2019

If you’re wondering what is the best free VPN for torrenting we’ve done the research and came up with a list of VPNs that not just hide your IP address but also protect your online privacy from prying eyes. Today we’ll help you get to the bottom of your query.

Torrenting has long been one of the most popular ways to share and download files. However, despite the fact that the technology itself is fully legal in most countries, it is commonly associated with piracy. This is because quite often, torrents are used for downloading copyrighted content which, legally, must be purchased or licensed for consumption. As a result, many countries and internet service providers restrict or block access to torrenting websites.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of free VPNs are not up to the task of helping you torrent anonymously and safely. Nevertheless, the allure of getting something for nothing is strong–and, technically, there are a few providers on the market that fit the bill. Today, we’ll look the best free VPNs available, plus cover the importance of masking your IP address while torrenting.

Use these free VPNs to torrent safely

Torrenting on an unencrypted connection is risky behavior, as overzealous copyright holders and ISPs have been known to levy harsh penalties on users caught in the act of uploading restricted material. Remember, when you torrent, you aren’t just downloading–you’re simultaneously hosting the pieces of the file that you have on your computer for other torrenters to download. Authorities take a very dim view of this activity, for obvious reasons.

While we don’t condone piracy in any form, we are staunch advocates for your privacy. Often, torrent traffic gets indiscriminately labeled as malicious activity, causing ISPs to throttle or even cut off your Internet connection even if you were downloading open-source software. A VPN can help you assume the privacy you need to stay safe and hidden from prying eyes. But if you’re looking to save a buck on a single torrent, a free provider can also be a viable option.

Below, we have listed our most trusted VPN services for torrenting and downloading, as well as ways to try out their top tier service free of charge.

1. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is a top tier VPN service and our number-one choice when it comes to torrenting. True to its namesake, ExpressVPN delivers one of the fastest networks in the industry, consisting of well over 3,000 servers in 94 countries worldwide. This ensures you’ll virtually always have the ability to pick a faster server whenever you experience slowdown. There’s even a handy speed test built into the software to help you compare your options at a glance. In addition, ExpressVPN places absolutely no limitations on bandwidth, speed, or server switching. This makes it ideal for tasks like torrenting, where performance matters, especially when downloading larger files. Most importantly, the provider has no restrictions on P2P networks or torrents, meaning it’s perfect for regular use and you can enjoy fast downloads without worrying about running out of bandwidth.

In terms of usability, ExpressVPN offers single-click configuration so easy, anyone can use it right out of the box. You have the option to connect up to three devices at the same time, so you can torrent files on the go, too. Furthermore, the service has dedicated apps available for all major operating systems and devices, including Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and even PlayStation and Xbox.

While it places major emphasis on speed, ExpressVPN excels just as much in security. The provider uses 256-bit AES encryption in order to protect your data the entire time you are downloading. And since you never know who else on the torrent network might this military-grade encryption is crucial for maintaining online privacy.

Furthermore, ExpressVPN employs a tough no-logging policy, which covers IP addresses, traffic, and even browsing history. This means that you never have to worry about your activity logs getting into the wrong hands or, even worse, being traced back to your identity.

Learn more in our full ExpressVPN review.

Pros

  • Unblocks US Netflix, BBC iPlayer and other streaming services
  • Superfast servers (minimal speed loss)
  • Supports ALL devices
  • No personal information logs kept
  • Live chat support available.
Cons

  • Power-users configuration options.
BEST FOR TORRENTING: ExpressVPN is our top recommendation for torrenting. You can get it FREE for a month by using the 30-day “NO QUESTIONS ASKED” money back guarantee, which is standard on all plans.

2. NordVPN

NordVPN is dedicated to delivering the best possible VPN service on the market, and it shows. For starters, there’s a massive network spanning of 5,400+ nodes across 62 countries, with a range of speciality servers optimized for P2P file sharing and torrenting. NordVPN does not cap your data or place limitations on bandwidth, speed, or server switching, so you can download even the biggest files quickly and securely.

NordVPN has wide software availability, including apps for Windows (10, 8, 7, Vista, XP), Mac OS, Linux, Android, and iOS. Furthermore, you have the option to connect up to 6 devices simultaneously, which is much more than most other services offer.

NordVPN uses military-grade 256-bit AES encryption, which has no known exploits and is far too strong to be cracked by brute force. Furthermore, the provider’s no-logging policy is considered to be one of the most complete in the industry. It covers everything that could be used to keep track of you online, including IP addresses, timestamps, bandwidth, and browsing history. For extra security, you can choose the “double VPN” specialty server that will encrypt your data twice, or “obfuscated servers”, which hides the fact that you are using a VPN at all.

Additional security features include an automatic kill switch and a DNS leak test, both of which will protect you and your data should you ever get disconnected.

Check out our full NordVPN review for more information.

Pros

  • Unblocks American Netflix
  • No bandwidth caps
  • Allows up to 6 devices to be connected at once
  • Strict zero logs policy on both traffic and metadata
  • Money back guarantee policy.
Cons

  • Can’t specify City or Province in App.
MOST SERVERS: NordVPN has the biggest server network on the market and military-grade security features at a low price point. Get it FREE for a month by taking advantage of the 30-day money back guarantee, no matter what plan you choose when signing up.

3. Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield is our top recommendation when it comes to a quality, free VPN service. In addition to that, if you’re willing to pay a few bucks every month for top-of-the-line VPN features, this is a solid choice. For starters, the premium subscription comes with military-grade encryption, which ensures that your online data is always protected. Specific encryption protocols include UDP and TCP, both of which are great for fast, secure streaming, browsing, and downloading. In addition, Hotspot Shield offers double VPN servers that take your data through two layers of encryption, making the service even more risk-free. Some other security features include DNS leak protection, which ensures that your data is never exposed to interested third parties such as your ISP, as well as an automatic kill switch, which protects your connection from being interrupted without warning.

While these features are all a part of the paid plan, almost none of them are available with the free subscription. Firstly, the amount of bandwidth you can use is 500MB daily, which means that gaming or streaming will be difficult. Furthermore, you don’t have the 2,500+ servers that are available in premium; instead, you have a small variety across 3 different locations. Having said that, Hotspot Shield offers strong encryption even with the free plan, which is quite rare for a free service.

4. TunnelBear

TunnelBear is a solid choice for all users who are easing themselves in to the world of VPNs. First, the service comes with a simple user interface, which means you won’t need to deal with any bells and whistles when setting up your VPN. In addition, you get 500 MB of data every month, so if you only need a VPN once in a while, this is a great choice for you. If, however, you’re looking to use a VPN service regularly, this amount of available data will be very limiting. The main disadvantage is that there is no torrenting, streaming, or Netflix support.

Despite these limitations, TunnelBear’s prioritizes user security and privacy, which is crucial for downloads. AES 256-bit encryption means that your data is virtually uncrackable, so you don’t need to worry about third parties accessing your activity logs. Additionally, the no-logging policy ensures that no data is logged with the provider for others to find, use or share. TunnelBear’s server network consists of servers across 22+ countries, and each one offers a high connection and low latencies. Unfortunately, however, if you’re looking to torrent, this VPN is not suitable for you.

5. Windscribe

Windscribe offers users one of the most generous data packages on the free VPN market. Not only do users get 10GB of bandwidth per month, but another 5GB for tweeting about the company. Furthermore, you can get an additional 1GB for every user you refer to the service. This means that if you’re looking to torrent with a VPN for free, this provider will allow you to do so regularly without delays or slowdowns. As a bonus, Windscribe offers support for UK and US Netflix with a specially-developed Windflix feature. Furthermore, for torrenters specifically, the provider ensures that all servers support torrenting.

Windscribe is a solid choice in terms of security, too. This is particularly important if you’re looking to keep your connection private when downloading files. For starters, the service employs a strict logging policy that specifies which information is logged. This is useful because you’ll know exactly what information is stored online when you’re using the VPN, allowing you to decide whether the service is safe enough for you or not. In addition, Windscribe offers ad and malware protection. Free VPNs typically use ads not only to make money, but potentially place trackers on your data. These blockers will ensure that your security is not jeopardized by ads.

Free trial vs. free VPN

You now know the most important details about some of the most reliable VPN providers in the industry. But, what is the difference between choosing an entirely free VPN service and trying out one of these industry leaders for free? Below, we have outlined some of the most important risks that come with using a free VPN service compared to trying out a quality service for a shorter period of time.

Risks of using free VPNs

Firstly, free VPNs offer limited server networks, and equally limited numbers of IP addresses. So, if you’re looking to unblock torrenting sites or streaming services that consistently blacklist IP addresses, free VPN providers will not be able to supply you with enough options to overcome sophisticated blockers. Additionally, free VPNs limit your speed and bandwidth in general. This means that torrenting larger files will be a problem, considering the fact that some free providers limit bandwidth as low as 500 MB per month.

Another major disadvantage of a free VPN is the lack of strong security. Torrenting is a P2P-based process, which means that all the people you are downloading or sharing files with will be able to see your real IP address. With the number of trained cybercriminals on the internet, this can be a massive privacy issue. Not only will your location be easy to find, but it’ll be pretty easy to then track your online activities. A quality VPN, on the other hand, ensures that all your data is encrypted and no logs are stored for hackers or even your ISP to find, sell, or use.

Last but not least, free VPN services tend to bombard you with unnecessary ads. Not only do they ruin your entire online experience by slowing down your connection, but they are often used to lead users to malicious websites. Providers may even use these ads to track your activities and share your data with third parties, putting your entire online security at risk.

Why should I hide my IP address when torrenting?

In a nutshell, torrenting is commonly associated with piracy, which in online terms means ‘theft’. While torrenting on its own is not illegal, copyright owners whose content you are downloading can accuse you of illegal online activities if you don’t pay for the file. Once the copyright holders identify your unique IP address and the ISP it is associated with, they can send a settlement letter or copyright violation their way, demanding payment or threatening with legal action. This can be dangerous since copyright violations are taken very seriously in most countries.

So, as you can imagine, masking your real IP address when torrenting only makes sense and is vital for those who frequently share and download files. Unfortunately, with free VPN providers, you are unlikely to get full leak protection. This means that if you are torrenting and get disconnected, without proper cybersecurity features, you will be completely unaware of it. With our recommended providers, however, you have full DNS leak protection as well as an automatic kill switch, features specifically designed to keep your identity protected at all times.

Finally, it is crucial to choose a VPN provider that doesn’t store your logs in their database. While many providers claim to have no-logging policies, most of these are flawed and don’t cover data as basic as IP addresses, which is a crucial detail for torrenters. All of our recommended VPN services have strict zero-logging policies that, as a fundamental, ensure that your real IP address will always remain private.

Conclusion

Torrenting can be quite tricky, especially because many countries block most torrenting sites due to copyright laws. However, this is still one of the most popular ways to share and download files without having to deal with a complicated process. In order to maintain complete online anonymity, download torrents quickly, and establish low latency connections, all you need to do is try out one of our trusted VPN providers. With all of the services above, you have a free trial period, backed with a reliable money-back guarantee. So, what are you waiting for? It only takes a few moments to get started!

Give us your tips and tricks for fast, secure torrenting down below!

Read Best Free VPNs for Torrenting in 2019 by George P.H. on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter