Credit fraud, typically as a result of identity theft, has been on the rise over the past few years. As a result, there seems to be no end to offers from banks, credit companies, and consumer groups that want to sell you their credit protection services.
But here are some of the steps you can take on your own to help thwart criminals from stealing your identity and abusing your credit.
Stop Mailbox Bandits
Even though the use of online bill payment is growing, many businesses and individuals still pay their bills by mail. When you receive a statement from a creditor or a utility, your name, address and account number can appear on the remittance slip along with your method of payment.
When you pay by check, your bank name, account number, routing number and signature are typically included in that return envelope. If you make a payment using your credit card, your card number, expiration date and three or four digit verification code can sometimes be displayed as well.
If you mail these bills by placing them in your mailbox and raising your mailbox flag, indicating there’s mail to be picked up, thieves can see the mailbox flag, open up your mailbox and steal your bank and credit card information in broad daylight.
To protect against identity theft, drop your bills off at the post office or official mailbox – especially if they contain personal information. Better yet, consider moving all your billing statements and payments online.
Keep your social security number a secret
First of all, you should avoid carrying your social security card in your wallet or purse. You should also avoid writing the number down on anything you carry with you. It goes without saying that it should never be included on your personal checks.
A social security number sequence is easily recognized and is one of the most important numbers identity thieves covet and want to take from you.
Just as important, think twice before providing your social security number to anyone. Most lenders do request social security numbers with loan applications, but make sure that that the lender is legitimate and understands the importance of protecting your personal data.
Buy a shredder and use it
When you clear out old bills, statements or ATM receipts, don’t just throw them away. Buy an inexpensive shredder and shred everything you have that has your name, address and any other personal information.
Watch that old computer
Your old computer probably contains a bounty of personal information, from account numbers and social security ID to passwords and secured logins. Smart identity thieves know this all too well, which is why computer owners need to be careful when disposing or donating old computers.
Remember that there’s a hard drive on that computer that likely contains much, if not all, of your financial profile including banking and investment information, social security numbers and other sensitive data. There are programs that you can buy to delete information from a hard drive. Even if your computer doesn’t work properly, your hard drive still contains all of your recorded information. To clean the hard drive when your computer is malfunctioning, you’ll need to remove the hard drive and then run a strong magnet across it to erase any lingering data.
Review your credit report and credit statements regularly
With credit and debit cards being used with more frequency it’s easy to quickly scan through a bank or credit statement and look at the overall balance and maybe some occasional entries.
Take some time to review your statements line by line and verify that the charges listed you are valid. If something looks suspicious, compare it against your receipts. At the same time, get a free copy of your credit report from Annual Credit Report and review it for errors and odd charges.
Many banks and creditors offer alert services that will send you an email or text message whenever there is suspicious activity or unusually large charge against your account. If your creditor or bank offers such free protection services, don’t hesitate to take advantage of it.
There are many ways to thwart credit fraud and it seems that nearly every day you hear about some company who had its database of customers hacked. But by taking basic steps and simply being aware of your daily financial activity and keeping your private information private, you’ll be prepared to keep the bad guys away from your credit profile.