In 2017, rampant news broke out that the Equifax data breach compromised sensitive information for nearly 143 million Americans.
While there is no absolute guarantee for ultimate credit protection, the rise of data breaches and identity theft certainly has everyone wondering: what can I do to safeguard myself?
We’ve got the top tips for you. Let’s get into it!
Monitor Your Credit and Accounts Regularly
Just like you know the importance of saving money, you need to know the importance of taking care of your money.
In today’s day and age, it’s more important than ever to stay on top of everything happening within your financial institutions.
This will help you stay aware of any suspicious activity happens (such as someone trying to open a loan in your name).
The best credit protection is the one that you can consistently do, so you may want to enroll in a free credit monitoring service like Credit Karma.
It’s also important to stay conscious of activity happening within your checkings and savings accounts. After all, criminals can hack into your sensitive information and steal your money.
The best way to continuously monitor? Sign up for a free money management app, like Mint or Personal Capital. This will allow you to screen your daily transactions and withdrawals to determine any suspicious behavior.
The sooner you can catch criminal activity, the sooner you can report it and recover.
Agree to Purchase Notifications
Today, many banks and credit card companies offer instant push notifications or emails that will alert you any time your credit card is used to make a purchase.
While it may seem annoying or excessive, it’s an instant way to screen if you made the purchase.
If you notice suspicious activity, it’s instantaneous, and you can take the appropriate steps to shut down the card. Most credit card companies will not hold you liable for any losses due to fraudulent activity, but you are responsible for reporting them.
The sooner you can do that, the better!
Furthermore, many credit card companies have rolled out locking features that allow you to “freeze” your credit card via their mobile apps. If you have misplaced your card, you can lock it instantly.
Be aware that you have better credit protection when you pay for online purchases with a credit card (as opposed to a debit card or bank information) They have stronger guarantees under federal law to protect you against fraud.
Use Strong and Different Passwords
Security experts agree that developing a strong password is one of the best defenses against criminal activity.
With that said, many of us get lazy and just tend to reuse the same password on each site over and over again. This can be a costly mistake, and if you’re looking to increase your credit protection, can harm you!
First of all, don’t ever just use one password. You want a different password for every single financial institution.
For some reason, if a criminal is able to detect one of your passwords, he will not be able to access every single account you own. Imagine a headache that would be!
Experts also recommend long passwords, also known as “passphrases” which can consist of a string of numbers, symbols, and a mixture of upper and lowercase numbers. To the untrained eye, the password L#vetomakem$ney4stuf may seem random, but to you “love to make the money for stuff” reads like a perfect sentence fitting for a bank.
Avoid using common dictionary words. A criminal can either guess them or use software to decode them.
The most important advice? Never, ever post your passwords in plain sight. Yes, there are people who will just haphazardly stick a Post-it note on their computer monitor to remind them of an important password. As far as credit protection goes, this method is both weak and dangerous!
As a financially savvy person, you know better. Use a legitimate password manager like LastPass to create strong passwords for each of your sites. You only need to remember one master password to log in. These password managers safely secure all your login information.
Think Beyond the Password
Today, many services offer multi-factor authentication to determine your identity. You will often encounter this when you log into your account from an unrecognized device, like a new phone or computer.
This is a great credit protection service, as it uses another “source” to verify if it’s really you. For example, if you’re signing onto a website, it may send you a text via your cell phone with a numerical code. You will need to enter this code to access the website.
Even if multi-factor authentication seems like a hassle, it’s one of the best steps you can take to improve your credit protection.
With cell phones today, you can also register with fingerprints or facial recognition. These can also be secure methods for safety, especially if a criminal obtains access to your phone.
Finally, be mindful when you connect to Wi-Fi, especially in public places. Even though it’s easier to do business online, your data can be at risk.
Your information may not be encrypted, which could be incredibly useful for criminals. Unsecured data can reveal usernames, names of your banks, email addresses, and phone numbers. The wrong person can string together the different information and create some serious damage.
In general, it’s better to connect to cellular networks instead of Wi-Fi for any banking or credit monitoring.
Avoid “connecting automatically” when your device finds available networks. Criminals can set up fake Wi-Fi networks that often mimic the names of legitimate ones. You want to know exactly which network you should connect to at any given location.
Finally, make sure that “https: appears in every address bar of every website you check (with a padlock icon next to it). It’s important to make sure that you are on a secure website.
Look Out For Phishing Scams
Credit protection isn’t just about securing your password and checking your accounts regularly.
Unfortunately, some criminals will actually pose as your bank or credit card company to access sensitive information.
A few things to look out for:
- overly generic emails that don’t have your legal name
- validating via social security number
- unsecured or suspicious sites to access your account
- email addresses not matching the name of the company
If you notice any of these suspicious behaviors, do not respond. Instead, contact the financial institution directly. You can do this by calling.
They will be able to notify you right away if they were, in fact, trying to reach you, or if it was just a scammer trying to pull a fast one.
Manage Sensitive Documents
From bank statements to social security cards to insurance forms, you probably have several sensitive documents lying around your home.
You need an organization system for this information! First of all, invest in a quality home safe. Safes allow you to protect hard-to-replace documents, such as birth certificates, passports, tax records, and even important family photos. Anything with your social security number on it should automatically go into the safe.
Make sure that you have it hidden in a non-obvious location and do not tell anyone except those who live in the home where it is. The master bedroom tends to be the first place criminals check, so keep that in mind.
The next purchase you need to make? A shredder. Regularly shred any credit card applications, bills, or outdated bank information.
A good rule of thumb for increased credit protection? If it has anything to do with your financial affairs or financial institution, shred it.
This also means scanning through junk mail. Even though it may take a few extra moments out of your day, this mail can contain personal details.
Place a Freeze
Credit freeze rules vary from state to state, but they are one of the best credit protection services available.
If you’ve detected fraudulent activity, you can freeze your account. This prohibits any company or individual from accessing your credit.
Just keep in mind that you’ll need to unfreeze your records when you plan on opening a new line of credit (such as taking out a mortgage or applying for a new credit card).
Freezes are helpful if you’ve discovered that your identity has been compromised. It allows you time to sort out the mess without worrying about more damage.
Final Thoughts on Credit Protection
Credit protection starts with you. Stay proactive and on top of your accounts and make sure that you are staying up-to-date on the latest technological trends.
Interested in learning more about improving or building your credit? Be sure to check out our blog today!