Did you get a present of credit card fraud for the holidays, courtesy of Target? This could lead to identity theft. To be fair, this is not the only recent large case. Neiman Marcus Group announced a similar breach on January 22, 2014. We all need to be aware of this possibility. With credit card fraud and identity theft, my first recommendation is to realize what factors are within your control.
First, know what you have:
- “What’s in Your Wallet ?” says Capitol One but really, what’s in your wallet? First, try this exercise-make a list from memory. Did you capture everything? Scan or copy the front and back of everything in your purse or wallet. Save the scan in a secure, encrypted file on a device. Secure the copied card copies in a safe, locked file, or even a safe deposit box if you have one. The backs of credit cards usually have the customer service or theft reporting number on them. (As does your statement.)
- Reduce, reduce, reduce! Many people (men first on this one) are sitting on too full a wallet. This is back for your back and could be bad for your bank accounts. Also, if you are fumbling at a gas tank, or ATM for the correct card, someone watching may decide you are a good target for them. Common mistakes are Social Security card (definite no-no) and Medicare cards (they have the Social Security number on them-black it out or use a copy with the SS# blacked out); too many credit cards. Passport-leave that one at home.
- What credit cards are you using online? Your heirs and family will need this information if something happens to you so may as well do the research! To reduce risk, use only one card for online purchases and don’t link it to any other accounts or financial relationships that you have. If you have already used more than one card online, consider getting a new card just for online use, or eliminating the use of all but one.
Second, what behaviors can you change?
- When you shop online, check for the https in the URL, not http. The added ‘s’ means the site has added security. Look for a lock symbol next to the https or elsewhere on the site. (Norton, Verisign and Symantec are companies that offer this protection to the company you do business with.)
- When shopping in person, be aware of other shoppers being too close while you are finishing your transaction. Shield your PIN when using your debit card. Even if it feels rude or awkward.
- In restaurants or bars, be aware of where your credit card is when paying your bill. Can you see the server ring up your transaction?
- Consider using cash or checks for some transactions. This may be impractical-as carrying around $2000 in cash for that big-screen TV you want for this weekend is not safe.
Third, check your credit report annually by using this tool, authorized by federal legislation: (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003). It’s time to order the first one for 2014, to spread them out throughout the year. This is the source of your credit score aka FICO®. Verify that all card history is correct, including payment history, your name(s), addresses and employers. Note: There are many imitators for this website (annualcreditreport.com) with large advertising budgets. They will try to up sell you at every turn.
In the next post: If your identity is stolen, five things to do immediately.
Remember, even though you don’t control all factors, the first brick in this wall can be strengthened by you.
Disclosure: I shopped at Target last year and have signed up for the free credit card monitoring, which Experian is running for them.
Related article via NerdWallet.com: http://bit.ly/1iF9sAy