by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA
The FTC says that the average victim of identity theft is unaware of the problem for 12 months. You don't want to let 12 months go by before finding that you're a victim. Follow these top tips to protect yourself from credit fraud.
- Reduce the number of cards you carry in your wallet; just one or two are sufficient for everyday use. Keep your others at home. This practice minimizes the amount of information a thief can steal.
- Make sure you keep as little personal information in your wallet as possible. Don't carry your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport with you on a routine basis.
- Install a lockable mailbox at your residence to reduce mail theft.
- Make photocopies of all of your credit cards, including account numbers, expiration dates, and issuer phone numbers, so that you can notify creditors quickly in case of theft or loss.
- Sign any new cards as soon as you receive them. Don’t give a thief the possibility of putting their John Hancock on your card.
- If a credit card bill is late, call the card issuer's customer service number immediately. This is one of the first signs that your credit card number has been stolen.
- Review your statements carefully each month to make sure all charges are accurate.
- Never leave your purse or wallet unattended at work or in church, restaurants, health fitness clubs, parties, or shopping carts. Never leave your purse or wallet in open view in your car, even when your car is locked.
- Never give anyone a card number or other personal information over the telephone even if you made the call, unless you can positively verify that the call is legitimate.
- Memorize your passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs) so you do not have to write them down. Be aware of your surroundings to make sure no one is watching you input your PIN.
- Buy a shredder. For only $30 you can have the piece of mind that your credit card information will not get in the wrong hands. Shred pre-approved credit card offers, credit card receipts, copies of airline tickets, travel itineraries, and anything else that displays your credit card information before putting them in the trash.
- Check your credit report at least once a year. Request your free credit report online or by calling 1-877-322-8228. You can also contact any of the following “big three” credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion.