In these turbulent economic times, it is more important than ever to keep your credit reports clean and free of errors. Having an error could lead to your credit card limits being reduced. Your credit card rates being increased. Losing a security clearance which could lead to losing your job. Our friend Denise Richards has an excellent post on this subject. Read the entire article (as it also has links that will be helpful) but here are the ten steps she suggests:
Here are the 10 quick tips that can help you avoid fraud -(or errors) that can be costly;
1. Monitor bank, credit card and loan statements. If you are expecting a bill that doesn’t come, contact your account holder immediately. If you see any unexpected spikes in your interest rates, contact your creditor. Unexpected interest rate spikes can be a tip off that erroneous information is contaminating your credit report. Watch for withdrawals or charges you did not make!
2. Beware of people lurking nearby while using ATM, credit cards, checks and your laptop or community computer. Thieves will often hover near you to steal account and PIN numbers; they are trained to memorize credit card and account numbers.
3. Delete any personal information and passwords you may have entered into a shared computer. You never know who is going to be using it next and you never know if the computer is already infected with key-logging spy ware that collects bits of information on you with every stroke you make on the keyboard.
4. Examine all correspondence mailed to you to ensure it has your correct name and address. If there are name variations, contact the sender and ask why you are receiving it. When throwing out documents that contain personal information…SHRED them into small pieces.
5. Safeguard your laptop and Smart Phones. Many of the recent data breaches have involved the theft of laptops. Always make sure that your laptop is password protected, and armed with a firewall and up-to-date virus protection software -at all times. If you password protect your Smart Phone it will buy you some time to close accounts and change passwords if stolen. Also be sure to check that you have activated your firewall.
6. Monitor your credit reports. Look for any name, address or open accounts that are not yours. Dispute all inaccuracies via certified mail. Place fraud alerts on your credit reports. Remember, they fall off every 90 days or so. (Credit freezes are now available but you need to determine if you will be seeking credit in the near future as you will have to pay to freeze it and then pay again to unfreeze it). Determine which safety measure is best for your particular situation. The official toll free automated number to call in order to order your free annual credit reports is 877-322-8228.
7. Recognize that unfortunately profiles and posts are never private. Current and prospective employers often Google your name in order to see what your interests are, what is on your personal page and what others have to say about you.
8. Keep you Social Security number, passwords and PIN’s safeguarded -and never carry them in your wallet. If your wallet was lost or stolen today…would you know who to call and what steps to immediately take?
9. Beware of scams. Never provide any personal information such as your Social Security number, bank account numbers or credit card data to anyone who contacts you via telephone solicitation, email or through social networking sites. Oftentimes, scam emails and phone calls will appear authentic and urgent -but they are not! If you receive a notice from someone instructing you to dial an 800 number (or any number), first check your statement or legitimate documentation for the valid phone number. Fake websites and bogus phone numbers are often included in “phishing” email scams, which are designed to appear urgent -don’t fall for them. They only want information from you that they can sell or trade, to multiple thieves in the thriving underground chat rooms. Remember…legitimate companies will not ask for personal information through email.(see video here)
10. Prevent thieves from cracking passwords. Pick Passwords and profiles carefully. Pet names, birth dates, hometown and interests such as favorite sport team or band, favorite hangouts, hobbies, as well as spouses and children’s names are often compiled in passwords and thieves know this. They use these bits of information to crack your password and then get into your email, bank accounts or other online sites you frequent such as Amazon, Itunes -or anywhere you utilize your private password.
Another resource for you is to join our Facebook Fan Page – Alabama Consumer Protection Attorneys where we share useful information about the same types of issues that we cover in this blog.