Now is the best time for credit repair!
The three credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and Trans Union – get overwhelmed during the holidays, specifically between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The reason is credit card companies flood the agencies with holiday “Instant Approval” applications to be processed with credit checks. Then throw in the fact a large number of staff at the bureaus, credit card companies, and collection agencies are using their vacation days during this time. This under staffing and overwhelming workload makes it difficult to get all of the credit reports resolved during this time. The good news for consumers is that more negative accounts are deleted during this time than at any other time of the year.
Staffing at the Credit Bureaus in the Customer Service Areas Handles:
• Taking In and Logging Disputes
• Verifying Information
Taking in Disputes – The Call Center
Apparently, the attrition rate is VERY high in call centers, as is the “call off rate” (people calling in for personal time and sick time.) On an average day the call off rate is about 10-15%. If a customer service pool consists of 200 employees, this means that 20 people are absent. Often, the missing employee workload plus any additional high volume can be transferred to a third party vendor.
During the holidays, many employees want to spend their vacation with their families, and the call off rate is about 25%. All credit bureau call centers are not just under the thumb of the FTC and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Their customer service must also follow federally mandated guidelines, the Average Speed of Answer or ASA. They can’t just let the phones ring off the hook.
Credit Dispute Verification
Like the call centers, the credit dispute investigation department has extremely high turnover and attrition, and they don’t get the best candidates for the positions because they pay so poorly. The people doing the investigative work pay their staff even less than the call center people and can’t hold the ones they have. It’s no wonder credit reports contain so many errors. Part of the problem seems to be training. The credit bureaus must abide by many different kinds of law and most people of the caliber they recruit aren’t up to learning the details and technical information.
If a dispute is sent, and it seems knowledgeable as far as the FCRA, the dispute is sent to Special Handling. The employees in “special handling” are merely people that have been employed for a few years, not necessarily those with better (or any training).
Take Advantage of These Times!
Take the hypothetical situation that a Call Center Manager faces: a ton of investigations sitting in a system waiting for verification, as well as high call volumes and not enough people to handle them. Many times people are pulled from the investigation area to answer the phones, lest they get in trouble with the government for not keeping to the federally mandated ASA.
In the meantime, credit disputes are piling up, and the staff to handle them is diminished. Disputes are sitting there waiting, with very few people to work them. The FCRA states that if a credit bureau cannot verify information in a dispute, the information must be deleted. Many times the information is deleted just so the credit bureaus can stay within federal guidelines.
The bottom line is that from around the end of November until after the 1st of the year, productivity is at an all time low because they have staffing issues. This is the best time of year for Credit Repair.
Effective Credit Report Repair Tips
Credit repair, done right, can do wonders for your credit report and your scores too! Here are a few tricks of the credit repair trade that will really make your scores move fast. Put them to work individually, or all at once, depending on your own needs, and watch the magic happen.
1) Open Accounts Right Now!!!
The FICO scoring model will give you bonus points for opening new accounts after a period of bad credit. It is all in the timing. Those old cards that survived the tough times are still worth something, but when it comes to credit repair FICO wants you to prove that you still have what it takes to get back in the swing of borrowing money. If your credit is crummy, secured credit cards are ideal. Small is good! Open now, pay on time, keep your balances low, and your scores may rise over 100 points in the next six months.
2) The Balance-Limit Connection
This credit repair tip is just as urgent for those opening new accounts today as it is for those managing already well seasoned revolving accounts. A little change in your balances can send your credit scores flying or diving. Have you maxed out a card lately and then checked out your scores? This is a fairly recent FICO tweak which can work for or against you. Try to use less than 30 percent of your limit for the best result.
3) Take a Look!
Have you seen you credit report lately? If not, why not??? There may be errors lurking and a simple dispute or challenge to the credit bureaus may be all it will take to get your scores back on track. Not sure how to check your report or how to dispute? Contact a professional right away. Good luck!
Here is a bit of information I found- By the Numbers
Credit-Savings-Mortgage, By The Numbers
That’s the credit score you need to qualify for the lowest interest rate on a new home or car. It makes a huge difference: On a $300,000 mortgage, someone with a score of 760 or higher could get the best rate of 3.24 percent, which works out to roughly $1,304 a month. But if your score drops 100 points, your payment will shoot up another $100. Ouch. The best ways to raise your number? Pay all your bills on time and pay down your debt–those two things make up 65 percent of your score. To make sure there are no errors dragging you down, get your credit reports annually from each of the major credit-reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) for free at annualcreditreport.com
This is the national average for credit card interest rates. If you’ve got a card in your wallet with a higher rate, pay that balance off first, because you’re getting slammed with major charges. The good news: Interest rates are generally negotiable. If you regularly pay at least the minimum on time, try haggling your way to a better rate, or consider moving the balance to your card with the lowest one–but do that only if you won’t get socked with hefty fees for the transfer.
That’s the maximum percentage of your take-home pay that should go toward housing, including mortgage payments, insurance, and property taxes. Pre-recession, many experts put the figure at 33 percent, but in this unpredictable job market, that’s too high. If you and your spouse make a combined $80,000, keep your new-home budget under $200,000. And if your housing expenses top the 25-percent mark, refinance your mortgage to lower your interest rate. You’ll feel a huge financial lift once you can truly afford the roof over your head.
That’s the amount to sock away each week in a savings account reserved for emergencies. You should have a six- to nine-month reserve in case you lose your job or face some other budget-blowing problem, but that goal can seem overwhelming. So start small with $50 a week. In one year, that’s more than $2,500 saved, which will put you ahead of many households. One recent poll found that roughly one in four Americans wouldn’t be able to come up with $2,000 in 30 days if they needed it. Start saving now.
The number of savings goals you should have. A recent University of Toronto study found that people who limit themselves to three goals under one theme–say, long-term saving–are three times more likely to say they’ll save than those who have myriad competing goals, such as retirement, a super-luxe vacation, a new home, and college funds for your kids. We say: Focus on retirement and an emergency fund, and the last one is up to you–so pick something worth it!
It’s true that many companies assess a job candidate’s report before hiring, and having one that looks terrific rather than awful can work in your favor. But why would an employer pull your report in the first place?
They’d do it because they’re looking for objective insight into your character, financial responsibility and overall level of stability. After all, you may say you’re a perfectionist, but if they see a bunch of unpaid bills on your credit report, those words may not mean much.
Still, your concerns about the impact of your credit reports may be having at this stage may be unfounded, especially if you’ve yet to be invited in for a face-to-face interview.
There are many myths surrounding credit reports and employment.
Employers don’t randomly access credit reports from all job applicants. They only do so for those who are solid candidates. If they are pulling it, congratulations! They are doing a background check, and that is good news, as they are seriously considering you for the position. They won’t run it before you are a finalist. Not all occupations or industries are checking credit reports for new hires either. Most employers are looking at credit reports for people applying for positions that are clearly related to finance or have access to cash or credit. And in general, they don’t access credit reports for people applying for minimum wage jobs.
The only way an employer can pull your report is with your permission.
Do know, though, that a potential employer does not have access to the same type of reports that lenders do. The reports employers can see never include your credit scores or list your date of birth. All they can view is your credit history. In addition, these reports are considered “soft inquiries” and will not show as a “hard inquiry” to anyone else viewing your reports.
As for the real impact of your credit damage, employers are very sensitive to the fact that credit reports are not perfect. And everyone in the world knows there is a recession, and employers take that into consideration. It’s a misconception that people are being blacklisted because of their credit reports. However, if the employer makes an adverse decision based on your report, you have a right to know about it and get a copy of the report they used.
Using a Credit Card Responsibly
Military members are more likely to have a credit card than civilians.
They’re also less likely to pay their balance in full.
Those findings come from a 2010 survey conducted by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. They also suggest that some military members may be struggling to stay afloat financially.
Credit cards come in handy for several types of purchases, but not for everything.
Carrying credit card balances can harm your credit score and make it difficult to secure car loans, home mortgages and other financial tools. And that means it’s important for U.S. service members and veterans to consider what charges, if any, they should put on a credit card.
Here are some major Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to using credit responsibly:
- Use a credit card to buy everyday things like groceries. If it’s a good that doesn’t last long or doesn’t cost three figures, then it probably doesn’t need a credit card to be bought.
- Run your credit card to buy vices, such as alcohol.
- Withdraw cash against your credit card. That’s an easy, quick way to build a large balance.
- Charge your credit card in the case of emergencies for unexpected travel, car, home or medical issues. These include airplane tickets, car rentals, hotel rooms and tradesman services such as plumbers or electricians.
- Use a card that earns you worthwhile rewards. Some of the expenses listed above–airfare, car rentals and hotel reservations–often earn reward points or cash back.
- Swipe your card when it can insure you against poor service. When paying for a service, such as plumbing work, a credit card can protect you against faulty work.
- Use your card for expensive goods, online purchases, concert or sports tickets and gas.
Delivery insurance and protections against damaged or lost products are major benefits of buying with a credit card. Some credit card companies offer rewards for tickets, but find out which events are part of the rewards program. The same goes for gas purchases, which might earn 3 to 5 percent cash back.
Spend wisely and only when you know you’ll be able to pay off the balance without accruing interest or late fees. Know what to buy and what not to buy while keeping your cards’ balances at or below 30 percent of their credit limit.
Posted by Christian Loscial
•Add an authorized user acct
Ask a friend/relative/business partner to add your name to one of their good credit card accts as an authorized user. This enables their good credit acct to reflect on your credit report and you automatically have their years of good paying history. This is an overnight success for your credit score. (Normally takes 30 days to get on the report.) Although it is good for score, lenders know that this is not your account and has no benefit through the lenders’ eyes.
• **Open a secured credit card account like the one above. This card is set up with no credit check. This account will take 4- 6 months to mature, but is a good way to invest in your credit. Try with your local bank to see if they offer one of these. Otherwise, go to credit cards.com click on left side column that says “cards for bad credit”. Open one of these to begin your credit history. Make sure you pick one that has the best deal for you financially, but more importantly, one that reports to all 3 credit bureaus.
• The 3rd option is something our company offers. For a fee of $495, we can have a credit account added to your report with a $5000 limit. This can only be used at an online e-books store and is set up for automatic approval.
• Whenever you add a new account to your credit report, the account needs time to age and add points to your scores. Generally, 4-6 months is that time frame.
8 credit score myths debunked
Misconceptions abound when it comes to the ways credit scores are determined. Here are some of the more egregious falsehoods surrounding the process
Myth No. 1
Every inquiry for credit costs five points
Fact No. 1
There is no fixed set number of points that a credit inquiry will cost. Generally speaking, inquires make a relatively minor contribution to overall scores. (up to 10%)
Myth No. 2
Part of my credit scores is calculated based on where I live.
Fact No. 2
Credit score calculations do not factor in where you live (city or ZIP code, for example). Effectively managing your credit, on the other hand, will result in higher scores — regardless of whether you live in Beverly Hills, Calif., or Zanesville, Ohio.
Myth No. 3
A bankruptcy will haunt my credit scores forever.
Fact No. 3
While most negative information must be removed from your credit report after seven years, the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows bankruptcy to be listed on your credit report for up to 10 years. It’s true a bankruptcy will negatively affect your scores, though the impact on your scores lessens over time as the bankruptcy ages
Myth No. 4
A short sale has less of an impact on a credit score than a foreclosure.
Fact No. 4
The presence of either a foreclosure or short sale information on a credit bureau report is considered negative, as it is predictive of future credit risk. Generally speaking, both will have a similar impact on a credit score. It’s what you had before the default that matters most (Good credit).
Myth No. 5
Making a lot of money results in higher credit scores.
Fact No. 5
Your income does not have a direct impact on credit bureau scores, as your income information is not recorded on your credit report. The scores focus on how you manage your credit, not on how you could manage your credit given your income.
Myth No. 6
Going to a credit counseling agency will hurt my scores
Fact No. 6
Not true. An indication that you are working with a professional credit counselor will not, in and of itself, hurt your credit scores. However, negotiated settlements on balances owed to your creditors may affect your scores if the lenders report them as such.
Myth No. 7
Carrying smaller balances on several credit cards is better than having a large balance on just one card.
Fact No. 7
Not always. A credit score will often consider the number of accounts or credit cards you carry that have a balance, in addition to your overall utilization of available credit. Thus, you may lose points for having a higher number of accounts with balances
Myth No. 8
850 is the perfect credit score.
Fact No. 8
While 850 may be the highest FICO score, it is not a “perfect” score. The “perfect score” is what a lender requires to approve you for the credit and credit terms you are seeking.
By Tom Quinn, for Credit.com
College and Your Credit
Life After High School: Credit Lessons They Won’t Teach You in College
Graduation season is just around the corner— a time when high school seniors across the country will walk down the aisle to accept their diplomas and officially enter the world of adulthood. Many of these smart young adults will spend the next four plus years in college, working hard to earn a degree and all the benefits that a bright and successful future has to offer.
Every year I make it a point to speak with high school seniors heading off to college, and every year my message remains the same. In school, you can screw up on a test and if you study hard and focus, you can make up for it on the next test. If you screw up on a mid-term, you can study harder and make up for it on the final.
But in the financial/credit world if you screw up, it’s not a quick and easy fix and it can end up costing you for years to come. Unfortunately, Credit 101 isn’t a course you’ll find in your college curriculum, which is why my goal here is to empower you with the knowledge and knowhow to avoid these costly mistakes. Without further ado, here’s are a few of the most important credit lessons I think every high school senior should know before heading off to college.
I. Laws in place to protect students from predatory marketing
In the past, college campuses and college students specifically were fair game for credit card companies. Credit card companies were notorious for targeting college students with aggressive marketing tactics, making it nearly impossible to walk around a college campus without being solicited to apply for a credit card in exchange for free “swag.” This swag was usually some type of college themed marketing freebie used to entice students to apply for a new credit card.
To add insult to injury, these credit card offers were insanely easy to qualify for – if you had a pulse and were currently enrolled as a student, there was a pretty good chance you’d qualify. No job? No income? No problem! Predatory credit card marketing practices and college campuses went hand in hand and students were considered fair game.
Credit card companies are smart. They saw the future potential for college students to become lifelong customers — especially if they could convince you to sign up and become the first credit card in your wallet. Afterall, you’re working hard for that bright and successful future – a future with lots of potential, a future with a great job and an even better paycheck, the perfect customer with which to build a lifelong financial relationship.
Thankfully, the rules have changed and with the new Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (informally referred to as the “CARD Act”) now in place, many of these older predatory practices are now illegal or restricted. To protect students and consumers under the age of 21, credit card issuers must now:
- Obtain proof of income before issuing a credit card to consumers under 21 years of age. If you don’t have an income, a credit card co-signer is required in order for the application to be approved.
- Obtain prior consent before sending pre-approved credit card offers to anyone under the age of 21.
- Obtain written permission to increase credit limits on accounts with co-signers for accountholders under the age of 21.
- Cease all predatory lending practices and aggressive marketing tactics on or near college campuses.
II. Avoiding credit card company traps and marketing even with CARD Act regulations
The CARD Act has made great strides in protecting students from predatory credit card practices. Still, young people have to watch out for remaining credit card traps. The most important advice I can give is that you read and fully understand the terms and conditions before you apply for a card. Here are a couple of the most important things to watch out for:
- Introductory teaser rates. Don’t be fooled by the 0% introductory teaser incentives. These offers can be great deals but introductory rates are temporary and you’ll want to pay close attention to the ongoing rate after the intro period expires.
- Annual fees. Many cards, especially those that offer rewards or cash back incentives, also include annual fees. In many cases the annual fee is waived the first year but it’ll kick in every year thereafter so it’s something to pay attention to, especially when there are a number of other credit cards on the market that don’t carry an annual fee. Be aware of all possible credit card fees before you make a selection.
- Prepaid debit cards vs. credit cards. Prepaid cards have grown in popularity, especially with college students. Be aware that prepaid cards of any variety are not credit cards. Often these cards are marketed as a safe way for students to build and establish credit but the truth is that they do no such thing because like debit cards, prepaid cards are not reported to your credit reports.
III. Building credit in college
Another question that almost every student faces is; “How do I get credit when everyone wants to see how I’ve managed?” You actually have a few pretty decent options:
- Start with a secured credit card. A secured card works just like a regular credit card except for the fact that the credit limit is backed or “secured” by a cash deposit that you make with a bank in exchange for the card. For example, if you opened a secured credit card with a $500 cash deposit, the bank would issue a credit card with a $500 credit limit. The drawbacks to secured cards are their low credit limits and fairly high interest rates. Your goal should be to manage the account wisely in order to build and establish credit, and then upgrade and move on to a traditional credit card. And, if possible, always pay your bill in full each month to avoid interest costs.
- Become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card. As an authorized user you get a credit card with your name, granting you full “authorization” to use the card just like the primary cardholder. When someone adds you as an authorized user on their credit card, you essentially get all of the benefits of the primary cardholder but without any of the liability. You’re not responsible for the monthly payment and you have no obligation to pay the bill. Authorized users benefit from the primary cardholder’s credit history because credit card issuers will typically report the account to the authorized user’s credit reports.
If the account is well-established, with a long standing history of on time payments and has a low balance in relation to the credit limit, your credit and credit scores will surely benefit as a result. The opposite is also true. If the primary cardholder misses a payment or maxes out the credit limit, your credit will suffer too. If things go awry with the primary cardholder’s management of the account you can have your name removed from the account and it will then be removed from your credit reports. Being an authorized user on a credit card is like having a credit card with training wheels.
- Get a Co-Signer to vouch for you. A co-signer is someone who signs on a loan with you, accepting equal liability for the loan on your behalf. If you’re unable to make a payment, the co-signer is liable, right along with you. This means that if you miss a payment or default on the loan, both you and the co-signer’s credit will suffer. I’m including this option so that you know it exists but it’s not an option I like and it’s one I’d strongly advise against. Simply put, there are other, smarter options that work just as well — without the drawbacks and unnecessary risk for the co-signer.
IV. How to avoid leaving college with massive credit card debt
This is my final piece of advice and it’s actually quite simple. It’s sticking to it that’s the tricky part. If you want to avoid leaving college with massive amounts of credit card debt all you have to do is watch your credit card spending and only spend what you can comfortably afford to pay off in full at the end of each month when the bill arrives. If you follow this one simple rule, credit card debt is a problem you’ll never have to worry about.
Credit should not be feared and those who demonize credit cards and banks are ignoring the fact that when we get into debt it’s a voluntary act. Further, we need access to competitively priced credit, including credit cards. They provide for portable capacity and offer significant protections against fraud thanks to Federal law.
The golden rule is to always remember to use credit cards wisely. Manage the account responsibly by making every payment on time and never carrying a balance from one month to the next. Your efforts will be rewarded and your credit scores will shine.
Article by John Ulzheimer
Many consumers go beyond getting their free annual credit report from the nationwide credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. These consumers pay for monthly subscriptions to a credit monitoring service with the goal of knowing their credit score at any point in time and receiving alerts when someone uses their personal information or accesses their credit history. It takes many people by surprise when they purchase credit scores just before applying for credit only to find the lender’s credit score disclosure does not match. Why is that the case, and what can you do?
What Credit Scores Tell Consumers and Lenders
Credit monitoring services and nationwide credit reporting agencies make money by selling credit scores to consumers, lenders and other businesses that use credit scores for decision-making. You, as a buyer, borrower or consumer, can buy educational credit scores from a credit monitoring service. Educational credit scores help you prepare to apply for loans, manage your debts and eliminate fraud or identity theft. Mortgage lenders, auto loan companies, credit card providers, insurance companies, landlords and employers buy credit scores from credit reporting agencies. Credit scores help them determine if you will pay your bill on time, in full, every month; predict if and when you might fall delinquent on your accounts; or evaluate if and when you are likely to default on your credit obligations. Whatever they’re being used for, credit scores should be based on the same information for both lender and customer, so why are scores from different sources so different? Two reasons credit scores differ are discrepancies in reporting methods and different scoring models.
Issues with Reporting Methods
Common discrepancies in reporting methods include:
- Consistency – not all data furnishers give information to all credit reporting agencies.
- Timing – data furnishers may provide the same information to all agencies but at different time schedules.
- Accuracy – changing personal information, i.e. names or addresses, has to be matched to the correct credit file.
- Privacy – Credit reporting agencies do not cross-share details on inquiries and information with each other.
Lenders and other creditors can choose what information to report, when to report it and which agencies to report to. Some lenders report monthly to all three agencies. Other creditors, like collection agencies, may report quarterly or only when there is activity on your account. Some agencies only report to a single credit reporting agency. A one-week difference in reporting information to the agencies could make a difference in your score from each one. Since reporting agencies do not cross share information with each other, the report and score you buy may not contain the same information that the lender report and score contains.
Each credit reporting or monitoring agency uses a different method to calculate your score. They base these calculations on complex mathematics, statistical or algorithmic models. Scoring models are proprietary systems and are protected by trademarks, patents and copyrights.
There are three types of credit scores that credit providers purchase:
- Generic scores – predict general payment performance
- Industry scores – predict performance on specific type of credit
- Custom scores – predict performance by company’s customer base
Generic credit scores are used by credit monitoring services to educate you, the consumer. You can use a credit monitoring service to learn how to get your score from what it is today to where you need it to be in the future. You can also use this service find out how late payments, opening new accounts or paying off debts may change your scores over time. Again, these are educational items and there is no guarantee you will achieve a certain score at any time.
Industry credit scores tell, for example, car lenders how you have paid your car loan, but that score may be different from a mortgage or credit card score. If you have had an automobile repossession, your auto industry score may be low in comparison to your mortgage industry score if you have never had mortgage delinquencies. Lenders may have their own in-house system to calculate a custom score based on their specific credit products and customer base. These scores often rank you in comparison to other customers and may work more like a grading curve than a general purpose credit score.
Take an Active Role in Providing Your Own Credit Information
You cannot control what credit scores you or a lender will get at any time, but you can know what information is in your credit file and keep it up to date. Make sure your name, address, birth date, Social Security number and employment information are current and correct. If you have a common name make sure other people’s information is not in your credit report. If you have received collection agency notices, check for reporting with the original creditor. Duplicate items can affect your credit score. When you correct or dispute an item, make sure you do it with all three bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
The Bottom Line
Finally, educate yourself about the different types of credit scores, credit reporting agencies and credit monitoring services in the market. Visit their websites to learn about their scores and services. Here is a list of providers most often used by consumers and industry.
|CreditXpert Score||Affinion||www.privacyguard.com www.identitysecure.com|
|Experian PLUS Score||Experian||www.experian.com www.freecreditscore.com www.freecreditreport.com www.familysecure.com|
|Equifax Credit Score||Equifax||www.equifax.com|
|FICO Score||EquifaxFICO||www.equifax.com www.myfico.com|
|VantageScore||TransUnionVertrue||www.transunion.com www.truecredit.com www.privacymatters.com
Read more @:sfgatedotcom
You can protect yourself against identity thieves by understanding how they work, then taking the appropriate precautions with your credit card accounts.
Identity theft is often in the news, but there are a lot of misconceptions swirling around about how to best protect yourself.
While some identity thieves focus on getting your credit cards and maxing them out before you even realize they’re missing, an increasing number are using one piece of information about you — often a credit card number — to steal your entire identity.
Though many folks worry about keeping their credit card information secure when shopping online, the top methods that identity thieves use to steal personal data are still low-tech, according to Justin Yurek, the president of ID Watchdog, an identity theft-monitoring firm. “Watch your personal documents, be careful to whom you give out your data over the phone, and be careful of mail theft,” he says.
Indeed, a February 2009 study by Javelin Strategy & Research found that of the 9.9 million identity-theft cases reported in 2008 — resulting in a loss of $48 billion — online theft accounted for only 11% of incidents. Stolen wallets, checkbooks and credit and debit cards made up almost half.
No one is immune to identity theft, but armed with a little knowledge about how identity thieves operate — and a little common sense — you can stay one step ahead of them.
1. Thieves don’t need your credit card number to steal it. Conversely, they don’t need your credit card to steal your identity. Identity thieves are crafty; sometimes all they need is one piece of information about you, and they can easily gain access to the rest. As a result, says Heather Wells, a recovery manager at ID Experts, an identity-protection company, it’s crucial to lock up important documents at home. “Secure birth certificates, Social Security cards, passports — in a safe deposit box or in a safe hidden at home,” she says. “And that includes credit cards when not in use.”
2. The nonfinancial personal information you reveal online is often enough for a thief. Beware of seemingly innocent personal facts that a thief could use to steal your identity. For example, never list your full birthdate on Facebook or any other social-networking website. And don’t list your home address or telephone number on any website you use for personal or business reasons, including job-search sites.
3. Be careful with your snail mail. “Follow your billing cycles closely,” says Lucy Duni, a vice president of consumer education at TrueCredit. “If a credit card or other bill hasn’t arrived, it may mean that an identity thief has gotten hold of your account and changed your billing address.” Al Marcella, a professor at Webster University’s School of Business and Technology in St. Louis and an expert on identity theft, suggests that when you order new checks, pick them up at the bank instead of shipping them to your home. “Stolen checks can be altered and cashed by fraudsters,” says Duni. And never place outgoing mail in your mailbox or door slot for a carrier to pick up. Anyone can grab it and get your credit card numbers and other financial information. Bring it to the post office yourself.
4. Review bank and credit card statements monthly — and preferably more often. Watch for charges for less than a dollar or two from unfamiliar companies or individuals. Thieves who are planning to purchase a block of stolen credit card numbers often first test to check that the accounts haven’t been canceled by aware customers. They do so by sending a small charge through, sometimes for only a few pennies. If the first charge succeeds, they’ll buy the stolen data and make a much larger charge or purchase. They’re guessing — often correctly — that most cardholders won’t notice such a tiny charge. In addition, many of the fraud alerts you can set on your accounts aren’t triggered by small dollar amounts. Reviewing your credit report on a regular basis is also a good idea, but usually by the time a fraudulent transaction reaches your credit report, it’s too late.
5. If an ATM or store terminal looks funny, don’t use it. “Make sure there is no device attached to any ATM card slot you use,” says Wells. “As a general rule, the mouth of a card receptacle on an ATM machine should be flush with the machine or have only a very slight lip.” If it looks or feels different when you swipe your card, or has an extra piece of plastic sticking out from the card slot, it may be a skimmer, an electronic device placed there by thieves that captures your credit card information when you swipe it. If you notice it after you’ve already inserted your card, you should alert your bank so it can watch for any fraudulent charges to your account.
6. Identity thieves love travelers and tourists. Scott Stevenson, the founder and CEO of Eliminate ID Theft, an ID theft protection company, said that when traveling, you should be alert to strangers hovering when you use a credit card at an ATM or phone, and to avoid public wireless Internet connections unless you have beefed-up security protection.
7. Identity thieves are sneaky; you need to be sneaky, too. There are a few simple things you can do to protect your credit card in case it falls into the wrong hands. “Sign your credit card with a Sharpie so your signature can’t be erased and written over,” suggests Echo Montgomery Garrett, a writer in Marietta, Ga. Consultant Sarah Browne of Carmel, Calif., had all but one credit card stolen from a hotel room. The card that was spared still had the “please activate” sticker on it. Though Browne had activated the card, she forgot to remove the sticker. “The thieves must have known that you have to activate a new card from the phone number listed with the credit card company, so they didn’t bother with it,” she said. Since then, she leaves the activation stickers on all of her cards. Indeed, when a thief struck a second time at a public function, Browne’s stickered cards were again left untouched.
8. Pay attention at the checkout line. If a cashier or salesperson takes your card and either turns away from you or takes too long to conduct what is usually a normal transaction, she may be scanning your card into a handheld skimming terminal to harvest the information. Thieves don’t need a handheld scanner to capture your information. According to Mark Cravens, the “Anti-Scam Doctor” and author of “The Ten Commandments of Investing,” they can take a picture of the front and back of your card with a cellphone or merely swap out cards. “Look at your card when they hand it back and make sure it’s yours, and not another gold, silver, or blue card that looks like yours,” he says. “You may not notice they swapped your card for days.”
9. Go paperless in as many ways as possible. Sandy Shore, a training manager with Novadebt, a nonprofit, New Jersey-based credit-counseling agency, suggests clients cut back on the mail they receive from banks and financial institutions by discontinuing paper bills and statements. “Access your financial statements at the issuer’s website instead,” she says. This strategy has the added bonus of an environmental benefit. Similarly, Vaclav Vincalek, the president of Pacific Coast Information Systems, an IT security firm, recommends that whatever paper receipts and financial statements you do receive go through the shredder instead of into the wastebasket. “Never throw away a credit card slip,” he says. “Instead, shred anything that has any number, name, address on it.”
10. Identity theft insurance can pay off, but you need to read the fine print. Several companies offer identity theft insurance, which covers the money you shell out to repair your identity. This includes whatever you spend on phone calls, making copies of documents and mailing them, hiring an attorney and, in some cases, lost wages. However, the insurance — which costs about $50 a year — does not reimburse you for funds you lost. Your current homeowners policy may include identity theft insurance in your package, so check first before signing up with an outside company. Also, some companies are starting to offer identity theft insurance as an employee benefit.
This article was reported by Lisa Rogak for CreditCards.com