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This Week in Your Wallet: February 28, 2012

It seems like everywhere I look, I see something reminding me to guard against Internet identity theft. There’s been article after article, and even Google has gotten in on the action with a very effective ad. (They pointed out all the individual keys we use in real life, indicating that we need individual passwords for each of our online accounts. It actually inspired me to create more unique passwords.)

It turns out this is a hot topic for a reason: According to a report released by Javelin Strategy and Research last week, nearly 1 in every 20 Americans were victims of identity fraud in 2011. Thieves were able to obtain an average of $1500 through this fraud, and it took consumers about 50 days to detect any wrongdoing.

What’s more — and this is what scared me the most — smartphone users are 35 percent more likely to experience fraud than the average consumer.  Why is this? Javelin didn’t point to any specific causation, but they did note that 62 percent of smartphone users don’t use any sort of password protection (this includes swipe sequences you can enable on Androids), and 68 percent don’t update their phone’s software on a regular basis.

The good news is that there are many measures you can take to protect yourself. If you know you’re not quite on top of your online security, here are three things I want you to do right now:

  1. Change your passwords. And I’m not talking switching “ABC123” to “123ABC.” When possible (I know some sites have certain rules for creating passwords), try to combine letters, numbers and symbols and make the password as long as possible. When I went to give my computer a yearly checkup at the Apple store, a Genius Bar worker told me that a password that is multiple words long (a phrase, song lyrics, etc.) is the safest way to go.
  2. Try to create as many unique passwords as possible. I know, I know. It’s easier for your memory if “ABC123” is the key to everything: your email, your Facebook, even your bank account. However, it’s really bad for your online security if this is the case. So I want you to create unique passwords for your most important accounts. Use a resource like PasswordSafe or KeePass to keep track of all the information.
  3. Get rid of any compromising data you have displayed on social media. Your birth year, your mother’s maiden name and the name of your favorite pet are three key pieces of information that, if in the hands of the wrong person, can wreak havoc on your online identity.

For more tips and information from the Javelin study, click through to this link. And now, the other headlines of the week:

Avoiding more bank fees

After the Bank of America debit-card-fee fiasco of last fall, the last two words you want to see in the same sentence are “bank” and “fees,” right? Unfortunately, according to a new SmartMoney article, experts expect to see sneakier and sneakier fees popping up (in lieu of the in-your-face debit fees). Visiting a teller or closing a fairly new account may now cost you.  And fees I’ve talked to you about before – for using an out-of-network ATM, overdrawing your account, or getting a cashiers check – seem to be on the rise.

The good news, as the article points out, is that there are ways around these fees, and my favorite tip is this: if you want to avoid maintenance fees at your bank, link all of the accounts you have open at that bank. Banks require an average balance of about $3,600 to avoid maintenance fees; if you have a checking, savings and credit card account all with one bank, those balances (plus available lines of credit) can mostly likely combine to surpass that minimum. Clever, right?

Coupon-crazy states

And just for fun… is your state crazy for coupons? Coupons.com made a list of the most frugal cities in America. According to their research, Atlanta, St. Louis, Tampa, Oklahoma City and Cincinnati are the top five heaviest-couponing cities. This counts as “on the go frugality,” and there is a different list for general frugality. Atlanta topped that list as well.

To see how your city (or favorite city) ranked, check out the full list here.

Cash Call premieres tonight!

Finally, I’m very excited to announce that tonight is the first live broadcast of Cash Call, my new weekly show on RLTV.  The first topic we’re going to tackle is, fittingly, how to make your money last in retirement.  It’s a subject that’s on my mind as I get older, and I know it’s on many of your minds as well.  If you’d like to tune in go to rl.tv for more information. You can also watch a sneak peek I shared with The Huffington Post here.

My guest tonight will be David Kelly, Chief Market Strategist at J.P. Morgan.  In a recent conversation with me, he pointed out that having money until the end is not just about the nuts and bolts of distribution strategies and products – like annuities – that can give you a guaranteed cash flow.  It’s about transitioning from a scared mindset to a balanced mindset.  We are just now, after several years of turmoil, coming out of the bomb shelter.  While you may consider savings accounts and fixed income investments “safe,” the best portfolio is a balanced portfolio, with reasonable portion in equities.  That – coupled with a smart plan for taking distributions – is what will make your money last through retirement.  I’m very excited to hear what else he has to say on the subject, and I hope you’ll tune in to our discussion and call us with your questions!  You can email your questions to jean@jeanchatzky.com, post on my Facebook wall at facebook.com/jeanchatzky, or call the studio’s toll free number, 855-550-7588. We’ll open the phone lines about 30 minutes before the show begins, so feel free to call in starting around 7:30 pm ET.

Have a great week!


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