Credit allows you to purchase goods, services and other items before you pay for them with your own money. It’s understood that you’ll gradually pay it off in small amounts over time. It’s hard to purchase a house, car or obtain a credit card with poor credit history, which means it’s important to keep an eye on your credit and use it responsibly.
However, if someone gets ahold of your personal information, they could use that to negatively impact your credit score.
For instance, someone who obtains your personal information could open credit cards and take out loans in your name, and then fail to pay them off. This can reflect negatively on your credit history, and it can be difficult to file a claim to remove false charges on your record.
The best way to protect your history is to avoid becoming the victim of credit fraud in the first place. The sections below provide helpful tips on how to keep your information safe and protect your history from criminals.
Keeping Credit Cards Safe
Maintaining security on your credit and identity is more important than ever in today’s technology-driven society. To avoid credit fraud, follow these steps and tips to keep your credit cards safe:
- Sign the back of your card. If you lose your card, this helps protect you if someone else tries to use it. Typically, a cashier checks the signature on the back of the card to see if it matches.
- Do not share your account number. Hide your card number when you use it in public. Do not autosave your banking information to your computer in case it gets hacked. Do not share your credit card number with anyone over the phone unless you are talking to someone trustworthy. Never respond to an email inquiry asking for your bank or card information.
- Keep a copy of your receipt. On some receipts, there is an additional line to include a tip or an extra amount of money. If you aren’t providing a tip, make sure to cross through that space so no one can go behind you and add in funds. Keep a copy for your own records.
- Use a secure network. In your browser bar, make sure that the letters “https” appear before any web link. The “s” stands for secure and means that the connection is safe. Only use your credit card for online payments when the “s” is present.
- Use RFID technology when traveling. Retailers sell wallets built with radio-frequency identification (RFID). This blocks hackers from stealing your credit card information right out of your wallet, without you knowing.
Reviewing Monthly Bills
Like many households, you probably have several recurring monthly bills. These are also susceptible to credit fraud. Here is how to protect yourself:
- Read each statement closely. Check that there are no unusual charges to your account. Go through the bill line by line to scan for anything out of the ordinary. It is important to keep in mind that not all changes in charge indicate fraud. In certain circumstances, taxes and fees may fluctuate from month to month. However, contact your utility company, cable company or other service providers right away if something looks amiss.
- Set up autopay. Autopay eliminates the number of times you are sharing your credit card information. Therefore, this reduces the risk that your credit card number is obtained and used by an outside source.
- Use one credit card for monthly bills. This way, you aren’t using the same card at a gas station, restaurant or other places of service. This specific card is only for monthly bills and should not be in use by anyone other than you. It also makes your monthly credit card statement easier to review and catch anything suspicious.
Maintaining Secure Passwords
In the same way, you don’t want to lose the keys to your car or your home, you also don’t want to leave your password somewhere others can find it. Passwords protect your financial assets from hackers and thieves looking to steal your identity and rack up charges to your credit card accounts. The tips below can help you learn how to protect your accounts from hackers and thieves.
- Do not share your passwords with anyone. Your password should be kept a secret. Sharing your password with others increases the chance that someone else will access your accounts.
- Change your password. If you have reason to believe someone is accessing your account, change your password. Change your password if it is weak, was shared with someone else, used on a public and unsecured server or if your gut is telling you to.
- Create a strong password. Your password should be made up of a sequence of intricate letters and numbers. Avoid choosing a password that can easily be guessed, such as your name or birthdate. The longer your password, the better.
- Do not use the same password on each account. Passwords for your bank accounts and online retail accounts should not be the same. If anyone is able to get a hold of your password, they will try it in multiple places. Using the same password across multiple sites makes it easier for a hacker or identity thief to gain access to your accounts.
Phishing and Skimming
From the gas station pump to an email that says you’ve inherited a large sum of money, scams seem to be everywhere these days. Your credit card number could be skimmed, or you could fall for a phishing attack.
Skimmers are card readers that take your personal credit card information. The skimmer reads the magnetic stripe on the back of your card and stores it. A scam artist may then make a copy of your exact card and use it without your knowledge.
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Con artists are less likely to install skimmers in high-traffic areas or in areas that are easily visible, such as the gas pumps facing the gas station clerk. Look for signs of tampering such as stickers that are out of place or don’t align correctly, or cracks in an ATM machine.
Along with avoiding skimmers, you also want to avoid falling for phishing schemes. Phishing typically takes place via email or over the phone. Generally, scam artists trick you into providing your credit card details and then use them fraudulently. Email phishing scams are typically disguised to look like they are from an official company like your bank.
It is important to keep in mind that companies never ask for your credit card number, Social Security Number or other personal details in an email. Do not reply to emails or click links from emails. Voice phishing is not much different.
For example, fraudsters may call and say they are from your bank. Then, they try to lure you into providing your credit card details to gain access to your account. If you get a phone call like this, hang up and call your bank to report it.
Reporting Fraudulent Activity
The most important step to take is to report all fraudulent activity. This helps to protect your credit. You can do the following things to report fraudulent activity:
- Contact your credit card company. As soon as you notice any suspicious activity, call your credit card provider. The company can place a freeze on your account and help you dispute the charges.
- Reach out to credit bureaus. There are three national credit bureaus. Call one of them to place a fraud alert on your report. This goes into effect within 24 hours. It helps prevent a thief from using your details to open other credit card account
- Contact the police. Filing a police report is crucial in case the identity and credit card theft extends beyond your fraudulent card charges. It helps to already have this information on file in the event legal action needs to be taken. It also helps the police department identify scam and fraud trends within a community.
- Report it to the government. Phishing email scams can be directly sent to the United States government for further review. You should forward any unusual emails to email@example.com. You should also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. This organization works with identity theft victims and local law enforcement agencies to put a stop to whoever is behind the fraud.
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