You would think that our series on protecting yourself and your finances from crooks, thieves, and fraudsters would have ended by now. But you would be wrong.
Here are some more ways to cautiously protect your credit report, credit and debit cards, and cash accounts.
Monitor your credit report
You should also regularly check your raw credit data for any activity that you didn’t originate, or any errors that may negatively affect your credit score. Note that reviewing your credit data is different from checking your credit score. But much like when you check your own credit score, looking at your raw credit data will not affect your credit score.
To view your credit information for free, go to www.annualcreditreport.com. You get one free look at each of the three major bureau reports on you, once per bureau per 365 days.
A good schedule might be to review one bureau’s report now, and then in four months from now check the next bureau’s report, and then in eight months check the third bureau’s report. In twelve months, you can return to the first bureau’s information, and repeat the cycle.
Pay the right way
When paying with plastic, responsible spenders usually choose debit cards over credit cards. But you may be surprised to find out that credit cards generally offer better protection than the debit versions.
If your credit card is used by a thief, your maximum liability is $50, and most major providers drop that down to zero.
But if someone uses your debit card without your authorization, you could be on the hook for the balance of your account.
Federal law says that if you notify your bank or credit union within two business days of any unauthorized debit card charges occurring, your liability is limited to $50.
Whether you use debit or credit cards to pay for items, try to make sure the card never leaves your sight, and save a receipt for any payments. Once you get your monthly statements or have a safe place to get online access to your accounts, compare the charges incurred against the amounts on the receipts to make sure they match.
Finally, there is one payment method that is anonymous, and limits your potential exposure to loss: cold, hard cash.
But if you do choose to withdraw cash from an automated teller machine (ATM), you still need to err on the side of caution.
Choose ATMs that are in banks or credit unions, versus ones that are in stores or on the street.
Before inserting your card into the ATM (or the door to access an enclosed ATM), look to see if there is any loose or suspicious-looking equipment in the slot. These might be “skimmers”, inserted by thieves to extract your account information.
When you enter your personal identification number (PIN), shield the keypad with your free hand from prying eyes, or remote cameras that crooks might have placed in the vicinity.
And much as you would do with your purchases, save your receipt and use it verify that amounts debited from your account.
Don’t pay what you don’t owe
Monitor your credit and debit card accounts for strange charges, especially if you’ve given your card to someone else for any length of time, such as paying the bill at a restaurant.
Don’t just assume that another family member made charges that you don’t recognize. Crooks will use stolen data to buy items at the same big-box retailers we often frequent, hoping that we won’t notice.
Examine invoices that you receive carefully—especially magazine subscription renewals. Scammers have been known to send official-looking subscription-renewal notices out, hoping that unwary recipients dutifully send a check or credit card information back.
If you think your subscription is due to be renewed, go directly to the publication’s website to verify your term and renew it, or find a number on the site that can used to contact the customer service department.
Be wary of giving credit card information to any unfamiliar company or organization online. They may continue to charge you in the future, and make it difficult-to-impossible to cancel the charges unless you cancel your card.