Your financial health directly impacts your overall health and is one of the leading causes of stress in America. There are steps you need to take on a regular basis to protect yourself from financial exploitation to stay healthy both financially and physically.
- If you have access to your banking or credit card information online, check your account transactions frequently. One way that thieves check to see if a credit card or banking account number works is to make small insignificant charges of just a few cents. So if you see a 46 cent charge from someplace in Florida when you’ve been enjoying the cold and the rain in Seattle, question the charge immediately.
- Know your payment due dates. If a bill doesn’t show up, look into it. Most statements include a lot of personal information you don’t want in the wrong hands.
- When you are ready to discard a document, shred any items with personal and/or financial information. Criminals use credit card information to create counterfeit cards or to make charges over the phone or the internet. Credit card fraud can be tricky as the original card is usually still in the legitimate users possession and the fraudulent cards are dumped before the victim becomes aware and can report the misuse. While victims of identity theft are not held responsible for the fraudulent charges, it takes time to clean up all the financial and credit problems created by it and that time may mean years not days or months.
- Record all your account numbers and company contact information in a list that you keep in a safe place (not your wallet or purse).
- Don’t respond to e-mail or phone requests for information that claim to be from your bank or other financial institutions, no matter how authentic the request looks. Those forms of communication are not secure and those institutions won’t use them.
There are three credit report companies that must provide you with a free credit report once a year. They are: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion and you can access any of them by either going to AnnualCreditReport.com, or calling 1-877-322-8228. While you can get all three at any time, one suggestion is to space your requests for a free report from a different company every four months. For additional suggestions and more tools go to ftc.gov/idtheft.