Smart, New Medical Devices Coming to Market Faster

The FDA tries to keep up with medical device market shift to wearable devices that collect, analyze, transmit data

For June 2016

By Karen Haywood Queen

The medical device industry is evolving to create better tools to help aging patients and their doctors manage chronic conditions outside of a hospital. Many of these devices and apps look like and/or work with smartphones. The goals are to lower costs, deliver value-based results and meet consumer demand.


Other trends that impact manufacturers include an aging population, improved quality inspections and the regulatory process, according to a recent report by EWI (Columbus, OH), a nonprofit engineering and applied R&D company. The Affordable Care Act also plays a role.

While the market for traditional metal parts used in implantable devices for knees and hips will be fairly stable in the year ahead, changes are coming, said Bryan Hughes, director of medical technology at P&M Corporate Finance in Chicago. Some parts used in medical devices that have historically been made of metal are being replaced by plastic components

In some cases, the volume needed has finally increased to the point it made sense to transition from metal to plastic, he said.

“Volumes have gotten to a scale, creating a situation where it makes sense financially to invest in a mold to manufacture with molded plastic,” Hughes said.

Another driver in the trend has been concern over hospital-acquired infections. “Metal instruments have historically been a reusable item,” Hughes said. “They use the instrument, send it to central sterilization in the hospital, and then use it again. But the challenges and costs associated with instrument sterilizing have moved any number of products to single-use plastic.”

Meanwhile, a whole new wave of medical devices is also coming to market.

“There’s been a recognition that many medical devices were not designed with the consumer in mind,” said Brian Williams, director, strategy, Global Healthcare at PwC.

“We buy consumer devices driven partly by price but also by form, features and the software that powers those devices. We use smartphones to do our shopping, banking, read a book, bank, take photos. We are bringing those expectations of design, ease of use and convenience to healthcare. New medical devices won’t look as much like medical devices.”

Features and technology from consumer devices are making their way into medical devices in what Dale Robinson, business development director at EWI, calls technology fusion. Manufacturing technologies, such as printed flexible electronics will enable the next generation of health monitoring devices. Electronic circuitry is already being printed onto fabrics, he said.

An aging global population will help power growth of just under 6% per year in medical device revenue.

Other technologies that will enable these trends include noninvasive sensors, onboard data analysis algorithms and wireless data transmission, Robinson said. The biggest areas for growth include patient monitoring through clothing or jewelry that seamlessly collects and transmits data to providers, family caretakers of the elderly and parents of newborns, Robinson said. The next generation of battery technology will be smaller, flexible and have a higher energy density.

The winners in the device market will design products that have a measurable value, provide a clear health outcome and integrate with devices consumers already use, Williams said. Stand-alone devices won’t likely be as common.

“Innovation has become more important in healthcare today, given changes that have occurred in the market driven by the Affordable Care Act,” Williams said. “One component of that is reimbursement models that are value based as opposed to fee based. That puts additional pressure on manufacturers of devices to show the value of their product and tie that value to an outcome achieved by the patient.”

Pressure to lower costs plays a role. “The aging global population is huge in terms of overall medical device market growth,” Hughes of P&M said. “As you get above 70, the cost of treating chronic conditions such as COPD and congestive heart failure increases dramatically. To care for a patient per day in a hospital is $3000, in a skilled nursing facility is $450, at home is $50.”

From 2010-2014, medical device revenue growth increased nearly 7 %.

With home care in mind, companies that have in the past developed devices for use in hospitals are shifting their focus to the home health market, Hughes said.

Innovations that will make home care possible include improved and miniaturized implantable devices. Interventional cardiac defibrillators are now implanted and leadless—a great improvement over older technology, Robinson said. The devices are implanted into the heart and use much smaller batteries and electronic circuitry. The data processing chips will have higher density processing capabilities to enable better performance without increasing size. To assemble such devices, manufacturing technology has improved to create hermetic seals to prevent fluids from leaking into the device and micro-joining processes to connect the battery tabs and microprocessor to the electronic circuitry, he said.

Growth in Smart Medical Devices

More devices will be worn, both on the wrist and as part of clothing using technology that prints circuitry onto fabric, said Jeffrey C. Rasmussen, market research manager at the Industrial Fabric Association International (Roseville, MN).

“In the past, sensors and circuitry embedded into fabric were too big and too clunky,” Rasmussen said. “Manufacturers have been able to make them miniaturized, more stretchable and comfortable. It’s exploded in the last year. Some of the big apparel players in the market are Adidas, Nike and Ralph Lauren.” Such clothing is improving in terms of washability, he said, although research continues in that area.

Sensors are becoming better and more sophisticated. Devices now entering the market have sensors that measure more physiological parameters such as 2-lead EKG and pulse oximetry, Robinson said. Circuitry and biosensors imprinted into fabric and worn close to the heart and lungs for monitoring a person’s pulse and/or respiration rate tend to be more reliable than those worn on the wrist.

Other technology in this sector includes smart socks that send an alert if a baby stops breathing, a vest defibrillator, and smart blankets that can send alerts if a patient is developing bedsores.

Smart fabrics manufacturer Eeonyx has developed a patented formulation that allows it to apply conductive polymer coatings to textiles, fibers, and yarns—making them piezo-resistive, which means they are sensitive to and react to touch, Rasmussen said. This creates a custom pressure touch sensor in the fabric. In 2014, Eeonyx partnered with BeBop Sensors, which now uses co-designed proprietary Eeonyx smart fabric to create flexible electronics/circuits that can be incorporated into a single piece of fabric. Using DuPont designed conductive inks, BeBop Sensors’ stretchable circuits can be printed onto fabric, such as a shirt or jacket for a variety purposes including wearable controllers.

“Instead of wearing sensors in the shirt, the shirt is the sensor,” Rasmussen said.


With these devices in hand, consumers will monitor their own health, perhaps consulting with a medical provider by video or a smart device. “I can use my smartphone to gain access to a clinician in real time through video consulting,” Williams said. “In that distributed-care environment, innovation needs to advance to support convenient care.”

These new devices will be easier to use at home and easier on the eyes. For example, ResMed and other companies focused on oxygen treatment are developing better devices to effectively provide patients with oxygen at home—instead of in a hospital on a ventilator, Hughes said. “People don’t want a huge oxygen concentrator that takes up a lot of room and is loud,” he said. “We’re working with a company that has a pretty big, ugly device. They want us to make it look cooler.”

Some aren’t technically medical devices as defined by the Food and Drug Administration because they simply collect data. These wearable devices to monitor health information include products such as the Fitbit or Apple Watch, Robinson said.

Technology fusion will come into play again as tech companies such as Google, Fitbit and Verizon are moving into medical device territory, said Chris Schorre, vice president of global marketing at medical device consultancy Emergo in Austin, TX. “You are also going to see more companies that are making traditional medical devices looking for ways to add a wireless monitoring component to their products so they can connect to a smartphone or tablet. Consumers want their devices to do more than simply count steps or measure their heart rate, and doctors increasingly appreciate the benefits of remote patient monitoring.”

For example, Verily, formerly Google Life Sciences, has gone aggressively into life sciences, he said, citing the company’s research and development with Swiss manufacturer Novartis of a contact lens with a chip embedded in it to measure blood glucose (BG) levels.

“There are definitely going to be winners and losers,” Schorre said. “A lot of this technology will connect via a smartphone, tablet or other system. If Verily succeeds in getting its contact lens with an embedded glucose sensor cleared by the FDA, and users can constantly monitor their glucose levels with alerts on their smartphones, it’s going to have an impact on companies making traditional meters … at least among the 10—15% of people wearing contacts.”

As companies such as Google move into medical device territory, medical device companies will have to return the favor, Schorre said. “You are going to see more companies that are traditional medical device companies developing wireless technology to connect their products to a smartphone.”

When devices are designed to collect and transmit data to healthcare providers for diagnostic analysis and therapeutic advice from a physician, they turn a corner to become FDA-regulated medical devices, Robinson said.

One leader in that space is Glooko Inc. (Palo Alto, CA). Glooko was founded in 2011 by a mobile app developer, a technologist, and a then-Facebook senior executive. Its diabetes management platform, Glooko MeterSync, downloads readings from more than 40 of the most popular blood glucose meters, insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring systems to Android and iOS mobile devices.

Other companies are moving into that sector. Late last year, the FDA granted 510(k) clearance for LabStyle Innovations Corp.’s Dario Blood Glucose Monitoring System. The system includes a device housing that includes a blood glucose meter, lancing device, test strips, lancets, control solutions and a mobile application. The mobile app allows the user to look at glucose test results using Apple’s iOS 6.1 or above smart mobile device technology. It helps manage the disease by recording the BG results and other user-entered information such as carbohydrates, activity, and insulin use.

Medical Device Market Speeds Up

“There have been big changes in the speed of innovation,” Williams said. “We are seeing more new products, new apps, new solutions that meet consumers where they are than we saw even a few years ago. It’s driven by an innovation cycle associated with technology. It doesn’t take long to develop a new piece of software that does something novel.”

That innovation cycle is moving much faster than the regulatory environment for traditional healthcare infrastructure is accustomed to, Williams said. The FDA has continued to tweak the process in an effort to keep up with changes while maintaining safety.

Producing or launching an innovative product in the US has been challenging compared to releasing the same product in Europe because the FDA’s system of approval and clearance depends on predictive devices—comparing a new device to one that has already been cleared or approved by the agency, Schorre said.

The FDA classifies medical devices as Class I, II and III. Class I devices, such as dental floss, are deemed to be low risk. Class II devices, such as condoms, are higher risk than Class I and are subject to more controls to reasonably assure the device is safe and effective. Class III devices are the highest risk—“anything where failure of the device would injure or kill a patient or user,” Schorre said—and require the greatest regulatory controls. Active implantable devices, such as pacemakers, are Class III.

Some Class I devices, nearly all Class II devices and a few Class III devices must be cleared by the FDA via a 510(k) process, also known as Pre-Market Notification. Most Class III devices are subject to the far more stringent PreMarket Approval (PMA) requirements, which involve clinical trials.

Launching an innovative product in the US market is sometimes challenging compared to releasing the same product in the European market. That’s because the FDA has a predicate-based regulatory system, which relies on comparing a new device to one that has already been cleared for sale by the agency. “The problem with that system is, if your device is new, innovative and quite a bit different from one already cleared by the FDA, then the FDA is going to treat it as a new device,” Schorre said. “They will initially default to classifying it as ‘high risk.’ You may have to [clear] significant hurdles so it can be a Class II product—to convince the FDA that it’s not high risk and doesn’t require clinical trials. But obviously, just because a device is innovative and new doesn’t mean it’s high risk.”

US Regulators Try to Catch Up

Because of the different European approval system, “We sometimes advise clients to seek approval for their innovative products in Europe first,” he said. “The regulatory system in Europe is rules-based and is therefore more flexible …. [G]oing to Europe first can be faster and cheaper because the manufacturer might avoid having to jump through unexpected hoops that would be required for FDA clearance of an innovative but lower risk device,” Schorre said. “Getting approval in Europe first will not necessarily make getting approval in the United States easier. The primary benefit is that companies making new technology can generate sales more quickly and be generating post market clinical use data that might eventually support a FDA submission.”

In the future, clearance for mobile medical apps might be more well-defined in the United States. “The FDA is leading the charge in developing standards for mobile medical apps, but some want the FDA to take the next step in being more specific about what is allowed and what is not,” Schorre said. “That has not been happening in the rest of the world. Other countries will look at how the United States is regulating apps and issuing guidance and most likely will emulate what the FDA has been doing. To their credit, the FDA understands they will always be a step behind in regulating mobile medical technology and do not want to be the ones to hinder its development.”

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Debt collectors prey on soldiers and veterans

For Updated: March 22, 2016

By Karen Haywood Queen

Unscrupulous debt collectors have a special affinity for military personnel.

Enlisted service members earn steady paychecks, move regularly and can lose a security clearance if they have excessive debt. They may be overwhelmed with paperwork and stress during and after a deployment. Those issues make them more likely to miss paying a bill, more vulnerable to unlawful debt collection tactics and easy targets for fraudsters trying to collect on nonexistent debts.

“We receive complaints from service members about debt collection issues at nearly twice the rate of their civilian counterparts,” says Holly Petraeus, assistant director of Servicemember Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “We’ve heard that when National Guard units deploy, debt collectors will call family members and try to pressure them to pay without giving them a chance to call the service member. The worst one I heard about was a debt collector pressuring a recent combat widow to pay them immediately from the death gratuity.”

In a report released March 22, 2016, debt collection complaints accounted for nearly 50 percent of the more than 19,000 complaints the CFPB received from military members. Complaints are up 13 percent from 2014 to 2015. See chart below, “Service member complaints.”

Credit card debt was the most likely cause of those complaints, underlying 30 percent of the debt collection complaints.

“The complaints highlighted in today’s report show that members of the military continue to have serious problems when it comes to debt collection,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in a news release. “The bureau will continue to closely monitor complaints from servicemembers to ensure our brave men and women are getting the protection they deserve.”

The debt could be a real bill that slipped between the cracks during a military move. “When you move, you think you’ve paid a final bill,” Petraeus says. “The company says they will tell you if you owe more money — but sometimes they don’t. Then a late charge comes in and they send it directly to collection. In my case, it was a cable company. I went to talk about my current account and they showed me this unpaid debt that had been sent to collection. It was less than $5. Obviously you’re willing to pay it if you know about it.

Phantom debt
Sometimes the supposed debt is one that’s simply not owed. It may have been paid already, discharged in bankruptcy, the result of ID theft, or never owed in the first place. This is a problem that affects not just the military but also civilian consumers.

Or, you may indeed owe the debt, but not to the entity trying to collect it — because a debt broker sold the same portfolio to more than one buyer, says Christopher Koegel, the assistant director, division of financial practices, at the Federal Trade Commission.

We receive complaints from service members about debt collection issues at nearly twice the rate of their civilian counterparts.
— Holly Petraeus
Servicemember Affairs, CFPB

Attempts to collect debt that was never incurred — “phantom debt” — represent 70-80 percent of the debt collection complaints that come into the FTC, Koegel says. Amounts of the bogus debt range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Sometimes, the scammers inflate the amount of money owed, he says.

Those attempts often appear legitimate because the collector has identifying information about the consumer. “They have a fair amount of personal information about the consumer to help overcome the consumer’s personal skepticism,” Koegel says. “Often consumers who have taken out payday loans may have taken out several. The consumer gets confused and thinks, ‘Maybe I did take out a payday loan a few years ago.'”

In two cases, (FTC versus Cornerstone and Co., and FTC versus Bayview Solutions), debt brokers listed consumer debt for sale on a website that was free, open to the public and contained borrowers’ identifying information including consumer names, addresses, birthdates, contact information, employer names, credit card numbers, bank account numbers and bank routing numbers.

“Anybody, including our investigators, could go on the spreadsheet and see all the information you would need to collect from consumers and ‘create’ a debt,” he says.

“The FTC sued to have that information pulled off the website and make sure consumers were notified of the breach.”

Pay up or else
Even if the debt is real, the debt collector’s tactics could be violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Making false threats of litigation or any threats of arrest, false claims to be an attorney or law enforcement agency — even spoofing phone numbers on caller ID — are all Illegal intimidation tactics. Debt collectors also sometimes threaten to disclose or do illegally disclose the debts without permission to third parties including family members, employers and — especially tough for service members — military commanding officers, says Christopher Koegel, the FTC’s assistant director, division of financial practices.

You may be going through PTSD. I was really struggling. Companies do prey on us.
— Sgt. Bryan Noyes
Victim of illegal collection practices

“Debt collectors may contact the service member’s chain of command to disclose the debt — something they’re not supposed to do under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act,” Petraeus says. “They know if the commanding officer gets a lot of calls, he or she is apt to go to the service member and say, ‘I’m getting a bunch of calls about this, fix it.’ Even if they don’t owe it, the service member will pay the debt so it will go away.”

Unethical debt collectors also directly threaten to get the service member’s security clearance revoked, she says. A security clearance is not automatically revoked because of unpaid debt, Petraeus says. “But debt collectors know even the threat is effective,” she says. “Many jobs you cannot do without a clearance. For example, everyone on a nuclear submarine has to have a secret or higher clearance.”

In many cases, the name of the supposed creditor is not recognizable to the consumer. That’s because the original debt holder has concluded the debt is uncollectable, written it off, taken a tax deduction and then sold the debt to a third-party debt collector for pennies on the dollar.

“We’ve had service members says to us, ‘I’d be happy to pay the debt if I could find out who I One veteran’s story
Sgt. Bryan Noyes survived an Iraq deployment from 2003 to 2007 as a forward observer, one of the 10 most dangerous jobs in the Army. “I was usually on top of buildings or right across the street from where the enemy was,” says Noyes, now a district service officer with the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Portland, Maine. “I coordinated movement on the ground, if they needed backup with artillery. We’re an extremely valuable target if the enemy gets us.”

Once he left the Army, he became a valuable target for debt collectors. “When you come out of the military, you’re easily vulnerable to scams,” he says. “You may be going through PTSD. I was really struggling. Companies do prey on us.”

Noyes paid the bills he knew he owed. “I knew I owed those bills because the credit cards were in my wallet,” he says. Other bills were to creditors he’d never heard of and for large amounts he knew he never would have been approved to borrow.

The harassment calls were constant. “I put an app on my phone to count and one day I had 15 messages from the same debt collector,” Noyes says. Debt collectors called as early as 3 a.m. and as late as 1 a.m.

Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Maine helped him resolve the issue, getting three cases totaling $5,000-$7,000 dismissed, Noyes says. “What I tell veterans nowadays is, ‘If you need money, go to your bank or credit union. They know you.'”

How to protect yourself
Petraeus urges service members to take advantage of education and protections they have:

  • The CFPB and Military One Source — a support resource for service members — offer financial planning, counseling and education geared toward soldiers and veterans. The CFPB offers financial coaching for transitioning veterans and other economically vulnerable consumers.
  • Service members who deploy can place an active duty alert on their credit reports to require businesses to take extra steps before issuing credit in their names.
  • Service members also are protected from high interest rates and other predatory practices under the Military Lending Act.
  • The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects service members on active duty from certain financial civil actions.
  • Veterans Affairs benefits that are directly deposited into the veteran’s account or issued onto a card are protected from garnishment to collect on debts. The bank must protect two months’ worth of benefits and allow the veteran to use that money. Payments issued on paper checks are not protected; veterans are urged to take advantage of direct deposit to get that protection.
  • The FDCPA protects all consumers, requiring, among other things, that third-party debt collectors send a validation notice within five days of first contacting a consumer about a debt. That information must include the name of the creditor, the amount owed and how the consumer can dispute or the debt.

Federal law says consumers who feel they don’t owe the debt can request a debt verification letter within 30 days of receiving the debt validation notice. At that point, the collector must stop contacting the consumer until written verification is provided.

The third-party debt collector may not even have that information. One study by the FTC showed that only 12 percent of accounts sold to third-party debt collectors came with any underlying documentation, says Lisa Stifler, a senior policy counsel who leads the Center for Responsible Lending’s work on debt collections.

Often, accounts lack key information needed for verification. For instance, 89 percent don’t list the original principal amount; 65 percent lack the date of first default; and 54 percent omit the name of the original creditor, Stifler says. “All of the above are critical pieces of information for debt collection,” Stifler says.

The debt collector, however, may claim the information is sufficient.

“Unfortunately, it’s not always black and white,” she says. “If you cannot get verification, you should not be obligated to pay. Often, though, it takes a complaint to the FTC, the CFPB or an attorney’s intervention.”


Product 2014 complaint volume 2015 complaint volume % changer from 2014-2015 % of all complaints
Debt collection 8,700 8,900 2% 46%
Mortgage 2,500 2,800 10% 15%
Credit reporting 1,600 2,200 35% 11%
Consumer loan 900 1,400 59% 7%
Bank account and services 1,100 1,100 2%* 6%
Credit card 800 1,100 29% 6%
Payday loan 600 500 -2% 3%
Student loan 400 400 7% 2%
Prepaid 100 300 226% 1%
Other financial services 100 200 179% 1%
Money transfer 100 200 73% 0.8%
Total* 17,000 19,200 13% N/A
* Complaints are rounded to the nearest hundred, so percentages (based on nonrounded values) may appear inconsistent with complaint volume
Source: Servicememebers 2015: A Year in Review, released March 22, 2016


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10 warning signs of ID theft and what to do if you suspect you’re a victim of fraud

 For May 24, 2016

By Karen Haywood Queen

You clicked on a spam link without thinking, you left your laptop for a few minutes at a coffee shop, you use the same password for every account, and you even turned off your pesky firewall protection. You know you’re playing with fire. How will you know when an identity thief has stolen your personal or card info?

Be on the lookout for these 10 warning signs of identity theft, and know what to do if any of these things happens to you:

  1. Missing money from bank accounts.
    You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain. “Someone else has access to your account,” says John Krebs, the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft program manager.

What to do: Call your bank, explain the situation and change passwords for the account. You may have to wait to get your money restored to your account while your bank investigates the problem.

  1. You stop getting mail.
    “If you’re not getting your mail, that’s a definite red flag,” says Christine Arevalo, director of fraud solutions at ID Experts in Portland, Oregon. A fraudster has likely redirected your bills and other mail to his or her address.

    Post offices are working to prevent this theft by contacting people by text messages, email and U.S. mail to confirm a change of address, Arevalo says. “I just put in a change of address, and all three were utilized,” she says.

What to do: Contact your post office, your credit card company and other billers before payments are past due.

  1. Collectors calling about debts that aren’t yours.
    If debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours, someone likely has used your name to borrow money and then not paid it back. If this happens to you, don’t stop at telling the bill collectors to leave you alone, Arevalo says. “That’s a bad idea,” she says.

The FTC’s Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires third-party debt collectors to send – within five days of contacting a consumer about a debt – a validation notice with the name of the creditor, how much is owed and how to dispute the debt.

What to do: If you think you don’t owe any money, you can send the a verification letter asking for proof, such as a copy of a bill for the amount you owe. You must send the letter within 30 days of the initial contact from the collector. Collection calls and letters must stop until the debt is verified.

Still think the collector has it wrong? You should dispute the debt and file an identity theft report. Also, check your credit reports with the three credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, or via to make sure there are no fraudulent accounts.

  1. Suspicious charges on your credit cards.
    You notice unfamiliar charges on your credit card bill. A fraudster is likely charging in your name — either with a fake card or online with your credit card number.

What to do: Contact your credit card issuer, tell your creditor about the bogus charges, and ask to get them removed. Then check your credit reports to make sure there are no accounts you didn’t open.

  1. Bogus accounts in your credit history.
    You notice unfamiliar accounts on your credit report. You likely are a victim of account takeover or identity theft.

What to do: Contact each credit bureau, and tell them which accounts on your credit report are fraudulent. You can find a sample letter from the FTC here. Report the ID theft to the FTC. You can also place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your accounts.

  1. A bill from an unfamiliar doctor.
    You received a bill from a medical provider you never heard of for a procedure you never had. That’s a strong sign of medical ID theft. Other warning signs: Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claims because records show you’ve reached your benefits limit. Or, a health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
If you’re not getting your mail, that’s a definite red flag.
— Christine Arevalo
ID Experts

What to do: Contact each doctor, pharmacy, laboratory and health plan where the thief may have used your information and tell them about the issue. Contact your employer in case the fraudster is being treated for conditions that would cause you to lose your job

  1. Your government benefits are maxed out.
    If you get a notice that government benefits such as unemployment, food assistance or other services are maxed out or denied and it doesn’t add up, someone may have assumed your identity to collect benefits, Arevalo says.

What to do: Report the crime to the relevant government agency and to the police. Check your credit reports to make sure there are no bogus accounts in your name.

  1. Arrest warrants for crimes you didn’t commit.
    You get stopped for a minor traffic offense and the officer tells you there are outstanding warrants against you for crimes you didn’t commit. Or you are unable to renew your driver’s license because of traffic offenses that aren’t yours. Or you may get a notice for a parking ticket in a city you weren’t in at the time. You may have been hacked by a fraudster who is committing crimes, traffic offenses and/or parking violations in your name.

What to do: Contact the police and the district attorney to report this crime, says Steven Weisman, author of the blog. You’ll have to confirm your identity via photographs and fingerprints. Get a letter from the district attorney’s office explaining that you are a victim of criminal identity theft and that you did not commit the crimes done in your name, Weisman says.

  1. You receive a data breach notice.
    If you get a notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a retailer, health insurer or other entity, your identity theft risk level just went up.

What to do: Check your credit and sign up for whatever free credit monitoring service is offered in response to the data breach. Most of these services take additional steps that are difficult for the average consumer. “Most will also search the dark Web to see if your information is being sold,” Krebs says.

  1. Tax refund check arrives before you file.
    If a tax refund check arrives before you file your return, that’s an obvious sign that someone has filed a fraudulent return in your name, says Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian. This actually happened to Griffin. Other signs of tax fraud: You receive an IRS notice that someone used your Social Security number to get a tax refund, or the IRS notifies you that more than one return was filed in your name.

What to do: Contact the IRS and complete Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit, notify law enforcement and file an identity theft report with the FTC. If the notice also says you were paid by an employer you didn’t work for, contact that employer and explain that a fraudster stole your identity.

What did Griffin do? “I used Experian’s website to add an initial security alert to my credit reports, filed a police report and notified the IRS of the fraud,” he says. “They then issued a fraud protection number that I had to use when filing my tax return.

Identity theft can happen to anyone. Griffin’s incident had a humorous moment.

“The funny thing is that when I was at the police department I asked the officer if I could have just cashed the check and used it to pay my legitimate taxes. He said, ‘Probably,’” Griffin says. “I, of course, did the responsible, law abiding thing and did not cash the check.”


Four easy ways to increase online security

  1. Don’t automatically click on links in email. Make a rule that you must stand up and stretch first.
  2. Guard your computer the same way you’d protect $10,000 in cash. The data on your device could be worth more than that in the hands of a fraudster.
  3. Change your passwords regularly. Don’t use 1234, your name or birthday.
  4. Turn that firewall back on. The minor hassles aren’t worth the huge blaze you’ll have to put out if you become a victim of identity theft.


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Summer spending: Plan, set budget for more fun, less debt

 For May 16, 2016

By Karen Haywood Queen


Summer means lounging by the pool, enjoying a vacation getaway and, for kids, the fun of being out of school. But then there are the bills to pay: pool memberships, vacation costs, wedding gifts and camps or day care for kids. If you’re not careful, you could find yourself racking up credit card debt to pay for all those expenses.

Ideally, you’ve saved all year to be ready for summer. If not, check out these tips on how to better position yourself for next summer and find last-minute savings now.

Pool memberships
Joining a pool, whether it’s a country club or a private pool, can sink your budget if you’re not prepared. “Pool memberships can be quite expensive,” says Dara Duguay, executive director of Credit Builders Alliance, who lives in Washington, D.C.

If you have all year to plan, see if your favorite pool will let you spread out the cost over 12 months. If not, make your own plan by setting aside money in a special pool account.

As for this summer, if a private pool membership isn’t in your budget, consider a free or a less expensive city or county pool. “For us, the other alternative is the public pools, which are free for district residents,” Duguay says. “They are super crowded. You usually have to sit on the cement because all the chairs are broken. There definitely are trade-offs – but it’s free.”

Day care and camps
For parents of school-age kids who can’t be left alone, summer means scrambling to find reliable, safe, affordable day care or camps. Plan ahead for next year by seeing if you can get discounts by signing up and paying well in advance.

If you’re looking for good day care or camps for this summer, there are alternatives to pricy summer camps and nannies. “There’s a brand new YMCA right down the street from me,” Duguay says. “I enrolled my 7-year-old daughter for a couple of weeks at a fraction of what I would pay for a baby sitter.”

Vacation travelMany churches also offer summer kids’ programs for free or low cost during the mornings or evenings or even all day.

Still need to choose a vacation destination? If you have a travel rewards credit card and have accumulated a fair amount of points or frequent flier miles, you may want to narrow down your choices by seeing choosing a destination that maximizes your frequent flier miles.

Whether you’re paying with cash or points, consider off-season locations such as the Caribbean islands that are popular in the winter, but hurricane-prone in the summer, says Rod Griffin, director of public education for credit reporting agency Experian. To hedge your risk, check to see if you have travel insurance through a credit card that covers weather-related trip delays or cancellations.

Also check for what other kinds travel-related perks and safeguards your credit cards may offer.

If your destination is high-end, compare the price of checking a bag on the plane with the cost of buying liquid toiletries and other items at your luxury destination, Ingram says. “If it costs you $25 to check a bag versus purchasing what is going to go in that bag that would cost you four times that much at your destination, then check that bag and fill it with stuff you buy at home.”

Holiday rental homes
When booking a vacation rental home, you may be able to get a discount by booking next year’s stay as you leave this year. Even if you don’t get a discount, paying part of the rental fee early spreads out the cost.

But if you haven’t booked this year’s beach house yet, you can save money by paying attention to school schedules, says Leah Ingram, author of “Suddenly Frugal.” For example, if your kids get out of school at the end of May, book a rental in an area where school remains in session until mid-June, Ingram says. If your children don’t start back to school until after Labor Day, consider traveling in late August to a state where the school year begins in August.

You may even be able to redeem credit card rewards for vacation home rentals through services such as Airbnb, though the industry has been slow to offer easy rewards programs.

Vacation meals and souvenirs
Many families want to take a vacation from cooking too, Ingram acknowledges. But if you book accommodations with a kitchen, you can save money by eating breakfast at home before heading out for the day and packing a picnic lunch, she says.

When looking for souvenirs, skip the stores on the boardwalk or any place that spells shop “shoppe.” Instead, check out the local Walgreens or other national chain, Ingram says. “They’re likely to have the same touristy tchotchkes at a lower price,” she says.

If your vacation destination is money-saving home sweet home, check Groupon and similar sites for discounts on amusement parks and other local attractions, Griffin says. Don’t overlook free concerts and other events in your area.

Thinking about getting a new outfit to that summer wedding you were invited to? Think twice – everyone will be looking at the bride anyway. If you must have a new outfit and can’t bear to wear the same thing to more than one major event, check out Rent The Runway to rent a dress and/or Poshmark to buy or resell high-end clothing, Ingram says.

Cashing in credit card rewards for wedding gifts may also save you money.

Summer happens. Being prepared for expenses means you can pay those extra bills easily as opposed to wasting your pool time worrying or worse, getting a second job to cover extra bills.

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Account takeover fraud rising

 For April 22, 2016

By Karen Haywood Queen

Instead of merely stealing your credit card number, today’s fraudsters are moving to full-blown account takeover, partly to thwart EMV chip-card technology but mainly to maximize their return on investment.

Account takeover is a type of identity theft where a fraudster uses parts of the victim’s identity such as an email address to gain access to financial accounts, says Patrick Reemts, vice president of credit risk solutions at ID Analytics in San Diego. The perpetrator often reroutes communication about the account, keeping the victim in the dark so the thievery can continue longer. Affected accounts can include credit cards, checking and savings accounts, brokerage accounts and store loyalty rewards accounts, Reemts says.

This type of fraud has overtaken simpler types of credit card fraud, according to a data analysis released in August 2015 by NuData Security. An earlier NuData report revealed that incidents of account takeover jumped 112 percent in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same time period in 2014.

“If you steal a credit card, you’ve stolen one relationship,” Reemts says. “With account takeover, you have the potential to access several relationships they have. You have a lot more data to use. The payoff is typically greater.”

Part of the reason for the increase in account takeover is the increasing adoption of EMV technology, which makes it more difficult for fraudsters to clone physical credit cards. As the United States catches up to the rest of the world in implementing EMV, criminals will turn to new techniques such as card-not-present theft and account takeover, Reemts says.

Bigger returns for thieves
A bigger reason, though, is simple economics. Compared to a one-off theft, account takeover offers a better and longer return on investment. It’s the fraud that keeps on taking.

“Fraudsters are realizing how to optimize their operations,” says Ryan Wilk, director of customer success at NuData. “Having a pile of stolen credit cards can get you only so far. On day one, those card numbers are extremely valuable on the Dark Web. But people realize they’ve been breached and cancel the card. Within two weeks, the value of that card goes down from $5 a card to pennies a card.”

By comparison, stolen account information – including usernames, passwords, email and snail mail addresses, bank account information, Social Security numbers and more – can sell for much more in shady online markets and hold its dollar value for well over a month, Wilk says.

“That’s the beauty of account takeover for criminals,” says Don Bush, vice president of marketing at online security company Kount Inc., in Boise, Idaho. “They have time to act.”

Instead of just using a stolen credit card or card number, fraudsters can use the victim’s history to change the addresses for email and/or snail mail statements so that those statements now go to the fraudster’s address instead of the legitimate consumer. And they can request additional credit cards be sent to that new address.

“If you don’t get your statement for a month or two, you might not notice,” Reemts says.

For a bank account, a fraudster who has taken over an account might then clean out all the funds or pose as the true consumer and borrow money. The impact on the consumer is much more significant than when their credit card number is stolen.

“Credit card fraud is not solved, but credit card fraud is contained,” Reemts says. “With account takeover, [a fraudster] can clean out all kinds of accounts – checking accounts, investment accounts, savings accounts.”

Easy, reused passwords multiply consumer risk
Once a fraudster hacks one account, the next account often is easier to crack because consumers frequently use the same username and password combination on many different Web properties including email accounts, Wilk says. It’s easier for consumers to remember, but also easier to hack.

With access to an email account, the fraudster can reset site passwords on commercial websites using the victim’s trusted email address. “NuData sees the same credentials being tested across its various clients showing that the bad actors are testing the authentication credentials they acquire across multiple web properties,” Wilk says.

Compared to a one-off theft, account takeover offers a better and longer return on investment. It’s the fraud that keeps on taking.

Once a fraudster accesses a victim’s e-commerce account, they now have access to all of the payment methods linked to that account. “You may have a stored account where you have linked a few of your credit cards and PayPal account to easily use when you check out,” Wilk says. “Gaining access to this account is far more lucrative to a bad actor as they now have access to your multiple stored payment methods versus trying to use a list of one-off stolen credit card numbers, which may or may not be valid.”

Rewards accounts are targets, too
Another goldmine for fraudsters is rewards points stored online in retail store accounts such as Kohl’s, which pays users store credits called “Kohl’s Cash” as a reward for spending money in the store, Wilk says. Thieves who get access to those accounts can use the stored information to buy expensive, bulky items – say, a coffee table. The thieves have no interest in the coffee table, so they have it sent to the legitimate account holder’s address – using the slowest shipping method possible.

In the meantime, the store credit for that coffee table accrues and the thieves use it to buy more items at Kohl’s. Then, they either resell or return the items for gift cards before the customer is even aware of the fraud.

The scheme works because that coffee table may take two weeks to show up on the consumer’s doorstep. When it does, the customer may delay taking it to the store and clearing up the fraud because it’s a hassle, Wilk says.

More hassle, more potential loss
Compared to a credit card hack, the consequences and hassles for consumers are higher with account takeover. Federal laws and most issuers’ zero-liability policies mean you usually don’t have to pay fraudulent charges.

But if a fraudster cleans out your bank account or takes out a loan in your name, “Your money is gone,” Kount’s Bush says. “The bank isn’t putting it back while they do their investigation.  They may say that you don’t need to pay back the loan while they do their investigation, but if their investigation finds no evidence of fraud, they may charge you for interest and penalties if you didn’t pay.”  How does this all start? You may click on a link that downloads keystroke logging malware onto your computer, Bush says. That tracker will note that every time you click on your bank’s website, you type a certain set of characters and then hit enter, he says.

“It’s easy to figure out that’s your email and password,” he says. “The malware sends it to the fraudster’s network. The malware works in the background. It’s very difficult to detect.”

To fight back
Although the incidence of account takeover fraud is on the rise, you’re not helpless. Here are some steps to protect yourself.

  • Use different usernames and passwords for different accounts.
  • Change your password every four to six weeks.
  • Use a password manager such as LastPass to help generate difficult usernames and passwords and store them securely without the need to remember them.
  • Reconcile or balance your bank account every month.
  • Give all of your account statements more than a passing glance.

“Often, consumers are lazy,” Bush says. “We get our account statement or bill and say, ‘It looks good to me.’ We pay the minimum charge and don’t look at it in depth. Criminals take advantage of that laxity.”

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How you type, move your mouse may help catch fraudsters

 For March 3, 2016

By Karen Haywood Queen

You type fast and hard on your computer keyboard while your boss uses a two-fingered, hunt-and-peck style. You hold your mobile phone in your left hand and text with your right, but your left-handed sister does the opposite. You always log into your bank account lying in bed and holding your phone above your face.

Increasingly, security companies are tracking these distinct behaviors to protect you, financial institutions and e-commerce sites against fraud. The technology also reduces irritating false positives — when you have to prove you’re really you before making a financial transaction.

Fraudsters can hack your credit card number, name, password, PIN, bank account number and more. But they can’t steal the way you hold your mouse or tap your keys.

“The way you move your mouse is different for each person,” says Natia Golan, senior product manager at BioCatch, in Tel Aviv. “We’re looking not just at typing speed, but at what kind of keys you are using. Are you using tabs? How hard do you swipe? Are you holding your mobile in a certain way? Every time you type do you put your tablet on a table or desk?”

Information about exactly who is using the new typing-based algorithms and how many consumers are affected is hard to come by. But the companies supplying the technology can give some hints:

• BioCatch has been offering its technology for two years, during which the company says it has protected 33 million users with 1 billion transactions, including customers of e-commerce sites, the top five banks in the U.K., as well as banks in France, Spain, Italy and Brazil.

BioCatch also is part of the Early Warning partnership owned by seven major banks in the U.S., which provides risk management solutions to 2,300 financial institutions, government entities and payment companies, Golan says.

• BehavioSec, which began working on its technology in 2006, now has more than 15 million users and logged more than 1.5 billion transactions in 2015, according to the company website. Clients include banks in Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and the U.K., Costigan says.

• NuData Security was founded in 2008 and its customers include Fortune 50 financial services and e-commerce companies, including some of the largest financial and e-commerce companies in the world, a company spokeswoman says.


These behavior-based technology algorithms are offered by at least three security/behavior biometrics firms and used by financial institutions, e-commerce sites and others worldwide. The technology can flag attempted account takeover, card-not-present fraud and other online fraud in real time, even if the fraudster steals or hacks a verified device such as your mobile phone, tablet or computer.

These algorithms can also verify that you are who you say you are if you forget to give your credit card issuer a heads up before, say, taking your first trip to Argentina.

“We’re looking to really understand what that person looks like in the digital world,” says Ryan Wilk, director of customer success at NuData Security in Vancouver, British Columbia. “By knowing how you type, how you hold your mobile device, how much of your finger is actually landing on the machine, we can determine if it’s truly the correct human interacting with that device.”

High stakes
A lot of money is at stake — both in terms of theft and loss of customer business. “For corporate accounts, we’re talking about a lot of money, accounts that have millions of dollars that can be stolen,” Golan says.

As for false positives, consumer irritation sometimes evolves into a lost customer. Someone who can’t get a legitimate transaction to go through is likely to move on to another e-commerce site or credit card and may never return — cutting into a lifetime of potential profit, Wilk says.

“A $20 buy can turn into thousands and thousands of dollars over a lifetime of spending” he says. “You’re building up that level of trust and consumer relationship.”

How it works
The technology doesn’t replace other anti-fraud technology, but adds another important layer. “Institutions are going with the assumption that data is compromised,” says Julie Conroy, research director at research firm Aite Group. “They’re building their defenses to be multi-pronged, multi-layerered. I’ve spoken with a number of banks who either have this technology in pilots or have rolled it out on their mobile/online channels.”

The hundreds of behaviors tracked include typing speed, typing strength, how much of your finger hits a key, whether you’re right- or left-handed, how you move your mouse, how and if you use the tab key, whether you use other keyboard shortcuts, and the angle you hold your mobile device. More behaviors can be tracked for mobile devices because these are often used in three dimensions, compared to two dimensions for a computer.

Major banks contacted by (including Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo) declined to comment on their anti-fraud technology.

But technology vendors say, depending on how involved the consumer’s transactions are, the technology needs three to 10 sessions — sometimes more — to develop a user profile. That profile yields fraud detection rates of 83 to 99 percent (often higher for mobile devices) with false positive rates of only 1 to 2 percent.

Some people quickly move to a button, rest there and then click it. Some people zoom in.
— Neil Costigan
CEO, BehavioSec

Each company’s simple JavaScript is embedded in the clients’ online banking or e-commerce applications and captures information such as where the consumer’s — or fraudster’s — mouse is, pressure on touch screens, area under each finger as well as typing speed and style on a computer keyboard or mobile device. For mobile phones and tablets, the gyroscope and accelerometer assist to provide information, says Neil Costigan, CEO of the behavioral biometrics firm BehavioSec in Lulea, Sweden.

“We find people have small nuances,” he says. “Some people quickly move to a button, rest there and then click it. Some people zoom in.”

Compared to legitimate users, fraudsters quickly navigate online financial and e-commerce sites because they have practice from previous fraud forays, BioCatch’s Golan says.

Another tell is that fraudsters are often speedy, more efficient typists than typical consumers, Golan says. Fraudsters know more keyboard shortcuts — for example, they know that “shift tab” is the opposite of tab. “The fraudster knows the shortcuts,” she says. “He knows every time he presses ‘tab,’ the cursor lands on the address. Most people, every time they press the tab key, will need to look again at the window to see where the cursor is before they start typing. The fraudster types really fast and it looks different when you analyze his interaction.”

On the other hand, fraudsters are not as familiar with some of the data they’re inputting — that would be the names, addresses and other info of the consumers they impersonate, Golan says.

“When you have to fill in information about yourself, you’re very confident about your name, phone number and address,” she says. “If the fraudster needs to copy the information from another window, he will type it very slowly.”

Stopping suspected fraud
Each entity using the technology can set its own risk parameters. For example an e-commerce site selling low-value goods might opt to let more risk through to reduce false positives and the potential customer loss, NuData’s Wilk says. But an online retailer selling jewelry at $10,000 or more might set the bar lower because the stakes are higher if a fraudster succeeds. An entity also might react to a deviation depending on what you — or the person posing as you — is trying to do, he says.

The fraudster types really fast and it looks different when you analyze his interaction.
— Natia Golan
Sr. product manager, BioCatch

“Suppose it’s the same device, the same connection, but something has changed,” Wilk says. “The typing is not the way you normally do. It could be that you’re typing only with your right hand because you’re holding coffee or a briefcase in your left hand. Even though the log-in looks risky, the system could let the user continue through. But now the first thing the user wants to do is change the email account. The typing style was the first risky event. Now the user wants to do something risky within the account.”

At that point, the e-commerce site or financial institution could push for a second-factor verification such as a text message or voice call, Wilk says.

Or, you may be tested without even realizing it — with what’s called an invisible challenge such as making your cursor disappear, Golan says. “Imagine you are working on your computer and the mouse cursor disappears,” she says. “You do a swipe with your mouse to see where it went. Each person does that swipe in a different way. That’s another way we can differentiate between users.”

Improvement rates fuzzy
In one pilot with a top five retail bank in the UK, BioCatch showed a fraud detection rate of 83 percent with false positives of just 1 percent, according to a case study. NuData helped one of its e-commerce clients reduce by 20 percent the number of good customers whose transactions had to be reviewed before they could proceed — a situation the financial institutions call  “customer insult,” Wilk says.

Financial institutions are reluctant to reveal just how much this technology improves their rate of catching fraud, says BehavioSec’s Costigan.

“It’s very commercially sensitive and banks just won’t share it with us,” Costigan says. “That would be the million dollar question if I could get our customers to say what the return on investment was.” But BioCatch works with its clients on annual contracts and, he says, “We don’t have anybody not renewing.”

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One Credit Card? Or Many? How to decide

Your credit history, appetite for rewards will help you choose solitaire or full deck

 For February 22, 2016

By Karen Haywood Queen

Visa? MasterCard? American Express? All of the above and more? When it comes to credit cards, there are pros and cons to owning just one card or playing with a full deck. Depending on your fiscal self-control and other factors, there’s a winning hand for you.

Playing solitaire: Using just one credit card
Having just one credit card means less temptation to get into trouble by overspending, says Rod Griffin, director of public education at credit reporting agency Experian. Getting out of trouble is easier, too. “If you do become over-indebted, you can stop using the card, start paying it down and get out of trouble more quickly.”

For most people, managing one card is easier than keeping track of multiple cards — and bills. “You have only one bill to worry about paying on time,” says Can Arkali, principal scientist at the credit scoring company FICO.

If you’re the type of person who tends to have your credit card charged to the max, then the more cards you have, the more debt you’ll have.
— Dara Duguay
Credit Builders Alliance

On the other hand, having only one credit card restricts your access to some services and merchants, Griffin says. If the store or other provider doesn’t accept your card, then you can’t charge the item or service.

Also, if you max out that one card and then have a legitimate emergency — not a fabulous sale on your favorite shoes, of course — you’re out of luck, says Dara Duguay, executive director of Credit Builders Alliance.

As for building a credit history, it’s possible to do so with only one credit card, but it takes longer. “If you use one credit card well, keep the balance low, make a small purchase every month and then pay the balance in full, it will help you build a strong credit history and build good credit scores,” Griffin says. “It may take longer than it would having two or three credit cards. But you can have very good credit scores with just one credit card.”

Credit Builders Alliance recommends three credit lines to build a credit history — a mortgage, car loan and a credit card. A young person who doesn’t have a mortgage or car loan might want to consider a second credit card to help build that credit history, Duguay says.

Full deck: Using multiple credit cards
Having multiple credit cards can give you plenty of options in case one is lost, stolen or not accepted. But a wallet bulging with credit cards can trick you into thinking you’re flush with cash.

If you have good self-control, having a number of cards with little or no balance may help your credit utilization ratio, which is simply your total balances divided by your total credit limits, Griffin says. The more available credit you have, the lower your utilization ratio will be, assuming you don’t spend more — and that helps your credit score.

Disciplined rewards chasers also can boost their rewards points through the sign-up bonuses that come with new accounts, and by using different cards for different categories of spend. For example, you may have one card that gives you 3 percent cash back for gas spending and another that gives you extra points for travel purchases.

On the other hand, those benefits can be quickly wiped out if you don’t pay off your balance every month. “If you’re the type of person who tends to have your credit card charged to the max, then the more cards you have, the more debt you’ll have,” Duguay says.

You’ll also have more hassles if your credit card-stuffed wallet is stolen. You’ll need to contact each card issuer to report the theft. And if you autopay bills on different cards, you’ll have to sort out which card matches each account as opposed to calling only one or two companies. “The more cards you have, the more unraveling you have to do,” Duguay says.

Know when to hold ’em
What counts as too many cards for one consumer might be just enough for another cardholder. To learn whether you’ve dealt yourself a good hand, get a copy of your credit score and look at the risk factors, Griffin says.

If the risk factors say you have too few revolving accounts, then consider opening another account. If the risk factors say you have too many revolving accounts, then you should probably consider closing an account or three, Griffin says.

Finally, if the risk factors say your utilization rate is too high, then it’s time, or even past time, to get your balances under control. “If your risk factors indicate your utilization rate is too high, you need to pay down the balances on one or more of your credit cards,” Griffin says. “High utilization is a sign that you overspend with credit and are taking on debt you may not be able to manage. Rather than opening new cards, which simply increases temptation and results in greater debt, you should stop using your credit cards and pay down your current balances.”

Consider financial goals before you act
Before you start opening or closing accounts, look ahead. If you’re planning to apply for a mortgage, car loan or other major loan in the next three to six months, don’t rush to close accounts, Griffin says. Closing an account affects your credit utilization ratio and will cause your credit score to fluctuate.

“If you go from using 30 percent of your available credit to 100 percent of your available credit because you simply have less available credit, this could negatively impact your score,” FICO’s Arkali says.

You don’t need a lot of credit cards. One, two or three is sufficient from a credit reporting standpoint.
— Rod Griffin

For example, consider you spent $1,000 on a vacation spread out over three credit cards with a $1,000 limit each. You have used 33 percent of your available credit. But if you close two of the accounts, that same $1,000 suddenly is 100 percent of your available credit.

Keep in mind, however, that closing accounts does not immediately harm your credit history, another component of your credit score. “When you close a long-standing account, it does not suddenly disappear from your credit report,” Arkali says. “The FICO score will continue to consider a closed account when it determines the length of your credit history, a category which makes up 15 percent of the score’s calculation.”

Experian retains the history linked to an account 10 years after the date it’s closed, Griffin says. “You don’t have to worry about losing the history, just the utilization” and credit line, he says.

Both experts also advise caution when opening new accounts. “It’s best not to apply for new credit either,” Arkali says, when you think you might be in the market for a new home or car loan. “That creates instability in the credit history, which can cause fluctuations in the credit score.” Any new accounts lower your average account age, which will have a larger impact on your FICO score if you don’t have a lot of other credit information.

Although you might think that those new accounts would improve your credit utilization rate, that strategy can backfire, Griffin says. “Opening a bunch of accounts in a short time is a sign of credit risk and can offset the benefit of increased credit limits,” he says.

In addition, new credit requests, called “hard inquiries,” can also temporarily ding your FICO score a few points, Arkali says. “Rapid account buildup can look risky if you are a new credit user,” he says.

The sweet spot
For most people, one to three credit cards is probably the winning hand — with two being the sweet spot. “My advice always was, ‘You don’t need more than two,'” says Duguay, who worked as a credit counselor in the 1990s. “It’s good if you can limit yourself to two or no more than three.”

Says Griffin: “You don’t need a lot of credit cards. One, two or three is sufficient from a credit reporting standpoint.”

But it’s not the cards you have. It’s how you play (manage) them.

“I actually know somebody who collects affinity credit cards with pictures on them,” Griffin says. An affinity card is affiliated with an organization, such as a school or charity or sports team. “He has 100. He has perfectly fine credit scores. What matters is how you use those accounts. Credit scoring is less about how many cards you have than how you manage those cards.”

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7 Ways to Make Communities More Livable for People With Vision or Hearing Impairments

Inclusive design and smart solutions prevent isolation and enable independence

 For AARP Livable Communities/Published June 2016

By Karen Haywood Queen

For a person with diminished or no vision or hearing, the first steps to a livable community are literally safe steps. Being able to securely navigate sidewalks, cross streets and ride public transportation are keys to independence and mobility. Public spaces that take the varied needs of visitors into account empower and encourage all sorts of people to get out and about.

Following are some tools and technologies communities can use to help meet the needs of people of all ages and abilities. (When you’re done checking out the helpful solutions, below, learn about some of the Old and New Challenges for People with Vision and Hearing Impairments.)

For a person with diminished or no vision or hearing, the first steps to a livable community are literally safe steps. Being able to securely navigate sidewalks, cross streets and ride public transportation are keys to independence and mobility. Public spaces that take the varied needs of visitors into account empower and encourage all sorts of people to get out and about.

Following are some tools and technologies communities can use to help meet the needs of people of all ages and abilities. (When you’re done checking out the helpful solutions, below, learn about some of the Old and New Challenges for People with Vision and Hearing Impairments.)


Whether someone is vision-impaired, signing as they talk, pushing a stroller or running, it’s tough to weave through an obstacle course of trash cans and sidewalk debris.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, a humorous ad campaign launched in 2013 educated residents about the hazards of leaving trash cans in the sidewalk, says Terry Bradley, Charlotte’s communications manager and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator. The city works with utilities to make sure new poles aren’t placed in the middle of the sidewalk. In addition, the city known for its tree-lined streets has moved away from planting trees in the sidewalk, says Bradley: “We took a unified approach, showing how when you assist any one group, it helps everyone.”

The city of Charlotte, N.C., used humor in an ad campaign telling residents to remove obstructions from the sidewalk so pedestrians can safely navigate the city.


Pedestrian crosswalk signals that talk and vibrate take the guesswork out of crossing the street and are a big step up from the signals that rely on chirps and cuckoos to indicate when a street is safe to cross.An accessible pedestrian signal (APS) provides information in audible tones, verbal messages and/or vibrating surfaces so a pedestrian with vision loss can not only know that the “Walk” signal is on for crossing an intersection, but exactly which direction is safe.

For instance, when a pedestrian pushes the “Walk” button, a voice will come on and, for example, say in New York City, “Now waiting to cross Broadway at West 23rd Street.” When the “Walk” sign illuminates, the button vibrates and a directional arrow lines up with the crosswalk so a visually impaired person can safely step forward. Charlotte, San Antonio and Kansas City, Missouri, are among the many cities installing these types of crosswalk signals.

“It makes such a difference in so many people’s lives,” says Neva Fairchild, an independent living and employment specialist for the American Foundation for the Blind.


Kansas City, Missouri, debuted its new streetcar system in May. Before the official opening kindergarteners from the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired got a preview test ride to see how easy the system is to navigate.

The KC Streetcar offers level boarding at all of its stops, so it’s friendly for wheelchairs, bicycles, baby strollers and anything with wheels. Kiosks at stops are within ADA reach ranges and have push buttons for contacting a live customer service person. A headphone jack next to the button enables users to have a quieter, more private conversation. Touchscreens on the kiosks scroll with the light brush of a finger.



The quarter-mile Braille Trail in Watertown, Massachusetts, enables people with impaired vision to walk along the Charles River without any help. (That means no companion, guide dog or cane needed.) Instead, a guide wire with different kinds of beads distributed along it indicates the presence nearby of features such as signage and benches.

The guided walk has 10 interpretative displays that are written in both visual words and Braille. A sensory garden contains stone walls that people can climb on and two boats where people can sit. A musical marimba-style bench allows visitors to strike wooden slats to play music. An overlook provides an opportunity to experience the Charles River by fishing or listening to the water flow.

The trail, which is located just two blocks from the Perkins School for the Blind, is part of the Watertown Riverfront Park and involved planning with Perkins, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and local groups.

“It’s really liberating for someone who is blind to have the opportunity, without holding a dog or a cane, to be in nature one-on-one,” says Kim Charlson, director of the Braille and Talking Books Library at Perkins. To further inclusion and counter the marginalization of people who are blind, the Perkins School hosts a website for the sighted called BlindNewWorld.



For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, the ideal sidewalk is nine or 10 feet wide, which is three times wider than the three-foot sidewalks built 50 years ago, says Hansel Bauman, architect and executive director of campus design and construction at the Washington, D.C.-based Gallaudet University, which is the world’s only university designed to be barrier-free for students who are deaf.

That extra width, which exceeds the guidelines in the Americans with Disabilities Act, gives people more room to speak in sign language and watch one another as they walk together, Bauman says.


Detectable warnings, also called “truncated domes” or “tactile paving,” are tiled, bumpy squares that are placed before the edge of the sidewalk to signal that the next steps will be into the street.

Detectable warnings are a standard under Public Rights of Way Guidelines and will likely become the ADA standard in the future, says Meg Conger, ADA compliance manager in Kansas City, Missouri.

“It’s important for someone with sight impairment to know when they’re leaving the sidewalk or right of way and are about to step into traffic,” Conger says.

The bumpy pavement warning is also helpful to people who are speaking in sign language as they walk, says Gallaudet’s Hansel Bauman: “People can sense they’re getting close to the edge of the sidewalk without having to look away from their conversation.”



Theatre Access NYC is breaking through the sound and sight barrier to enable people with vision and hearing loss or impairments to enjoy shows on Broadway, says David LeShay, director of marketing and public relations at Theatre Development Fund.

The group’s website ( helps theatergoers find venues and shows that regularly provide assistive technologies including I-Caption units (handheld closed caption devices), assistive listening devices (headphone units that amplify the sound onstage), open-captioned performances, sign language interpreted performances and D-scriptive audio devices that provide a detailed account of all onstage activity.

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