Safeguarding your Credit

Online shopping is prevalent, convenient, and it saves consumers both time and money. But while online shopping is generally simple and hassle-free, unfortunately there are unscrupulous individuals always looking to take advantage of its relative ease and increase in popularity. Many thieves now look to online shopping as a way to obtain credit card information for fraudulent purposes.

The sad truth is that consumers are in constant danger of being scammed and ripped off by thieves who find ways to steal the personal information of unsuspecting victims. They use this information to receive loans, open bank accounts or get new credit cards fraudulently. The result is untold damage to the victim’s credit that can take years to repair.

Consumers should know that they risk having credit card information compromised or hacked into virtually any time they shop, check their bank balance or do business online. Because of these risks, the wise and prudent consumer should arm themselves with the knowledge and information needed to avoid fraud in all of its forms.

No matter if it’s online or in more “traditional” ways, thieves will stop at nothing in order to steal your identity. To protect your credit card information as well as your identity and credit score, here are ten noteworthy steps to consider:

  1. Keep records. Make a photocopy of the front and back sides of all of your credit cards and debit cards. Store them in a safe place you can easily access in the event you need to contact the card company regarding a lost or stolen card.
  2. Simplify. When you’re headed out, take along only those credit or debit cards you will be using today. Why risk having all of your cards lost or stolen if the worst happens while you’re out? Consider carrying just one main all-purpose payment card that works at the ATM in addition to functioning as a credit card.
  3. Beware of phishing. Look out for card-skimming or “phishing” scams at gas pumps and ATMs. Scammers may have installed a device (a “skimmer”) that could record your debit card PIN number when you enter it. They do this with a false keypad that sits atop the real one, as well as with spy cameras. If anything looks suspicious, don’t do business there and report it to the owner. When possible, use a credit card instead of a debit card in order to avoid the need to enter your PIN.
  4. Email vigilance. If you receive an email from a financial institution, be careful. Remember that your bank or credit card issuer would never request any personal information via email. If an email from a financial institution asks you to provide personal information like a login, password or Social Security number, do not reply. Look for “typos,” errors or bad grammar in the email, as that is usually a giveaway of fraud. Report any suspicious email directly to the bank they are pretending to represent. Don’t click the email — find the bank’s site in a fresh browser window. There is usually a link on the bank’s website for reporting fraud.
  5. Watch your credit report. Monitor your credit report for any evidence of fraud or identity theft. You’re allowed to order a free credit report once every year from the three big credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion; however it is advisable to check it every 6 months. Look for any transactions you don’t recognize. If needed, ask to have a “freeze” put on your credit if you see any evidence of fraud. Be sure to notify your credit card issuer or bank immediately. (The U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft page can help provide information about enacting a “credit freeze.”)
  6. Shred sensitive documents. Shredding any documents you’re discarding that could compromise your personal information (instead of discarding them whole in the trash or recycle bin) can further safeguard your credit and identity.
  7. Shop secure sites. Stick with reputable, trustworthy companies whenever you shop, but especially when you shop online. Make sure that the company has taken steps with its website to secure the safety and security of all credit card information. Check for an active encryption icon; the encryption icon is at the bottom of the page and looks like a closed padlock. If the lock is open, then the site is not secured. Also, make sure the website address is secured (i.e. it begins with “https” instead of the usual “http.”)
  8. Stay informed. Always read the privacy policy of any website you are visiting with the intent of doing some shopping. Even before you fill out an online data form, you’ll want to know how it will be used. Don’t reveal any more information than required to make the transaction, and be sure to determine exactly where the information will go and how it will be used. It is better to be overly cautious instead of risking the exposure of your personal information to third parties, or worse, to scammers, hackers and thieves.
  9. Know your rights. Knowledge is power, and to be forewarned is to be forearmed. For this reason, you should read and make sure you understand all of the terms and conditions that could apply to you when you use your credit cards. Some cards provide total, 100% protection from fraud, while others only come with limited liability. Be sure to check the billing statement every month and verify that each charge is one you’ve made. If you see anything suspicious, report it immediately.
  10. Consider credit monitoring. A credit monitoring service can take some of the guesswork out of safeguarding your credit. These services are subscription-based and monitor your credit score around the clock. They will alert you immediately if anything suspicious shows up on your credit report. That way you can address it immediately, thereby reducing the chance of long-term damage to your credit.

Following these ten tips will go a long way in helping you to safeguard your credit. Shop safely, be vigilant, use common sense, and you’ll be able to keep your identity and credit rating safe for years to come.

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