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Prevent Identity Fraud When Using Credit Cards
Don't wait until your identity has been "stolen" to worry about it. Identity fraud is a severe crime with serious repercussions that can take months or even years for victims to repair, not to mention hundreds to thousands of dollars. If someone has stolen a credit card, or has obtained enough information about you to start applying for new loans and credit cards, your credit score is going to be adversely effected. You will likely have difficulty obtaining a job (employers are making credit checks a regular part of the interviewing process), you’ll be denied credit for things you apply for. You will have a hard time, if not find it impossible, to obtain college loans, vehicle financing, credit cards, and mortgages. In some cases, identity fraud victims may even be arrested for crimes they haven’t committed, because someone else is living under their name as well.
How does identity theft happen? Most people are fairly careful with their personal information, so how can someone steal the “identity” of another human being and get away with it? There are many ways identity thieves are able to get personal information from people. In some cases, the thieves work for companies where they have access to individual records via a computer or through paper files. Sometimes, a person doesn’t even need access to the information, they’ll just hack into the computer system and retrieve the information they need to steal someone else’s identity. One of the most traditional ways for someone to obtain your personal information is by going through your mail. Whether they steal it right from your mailbox or find it in the garbage, if someone finds bank or credit card statements, checks that have been voided but not ripped up, new credit card offers and tax related information, they usually have enough information to become “you”.
People who go through garbage containers are known as “dumpster divers”, and will often be found looking for information in public trash areas and business dumpsters. There are people and businesses in the world that have a legitimate right to access another person’s credit report. These people include landlords, employers, and businesses that must run credit reports prior to extending credit. Identity thieves often become employed at these organizations in order to obtain access to the personal information they need to do their crime. Opportunities for thieves to find your information are endless. Identity thieves are smart; you have to be smarter. There are a few cautionary things you can do to help prevent identity theft. After reading your mail, cleaning your desk at home or work, or cleaning out your car- do not just throw your personal items in the trash. Receipts, utility bills, bank statements, loan statements and credit card offers and statements should be completely destroyed prior to throwing away. Invest in a paper shredder and shred everything you are throwing away to eliminate the possibility of someone finding out information.
Alternatively, you could burn your paperwork. When throwing away credit cards, shred them or cut them into many small pieces. It used to be that people felt it would be difficult to use another person’s credit card. After all, you have to sign your name when making a purchase with a credit card, right? You need to protect your credit cards in the same way that you protect your cash. Merchants rarely check that the signature on the back of a credit card matches the signature that is signed on a receipt when a purchase is made. If you have lost a credit card, or it has been stolen, report the situation to your creditor immediately. The credit card company will put a hold on the account to prevent any purchases from going through- and they can also track the location where someone has attempted to use the card. This will help in the efforts to find the thief. When you are dining at a restaurant, be mindful of paying with a credit card. Most waiters will take your card to the register to process it, and the card is out of your sight during this time.
How do you know the waiter or someone else isn’t writing the numbers and name down from your credit card to use it for online purchases later on? Consider paying with cash whenever you are at a restaurant. The biggest precaution you can take on a regular basis is to view your credit card statements and bank statements as soon as you receive them. Look for any purchases that you did not make, and call the credit card company immediately if you find something you are unsure of. If identity theft is caught early on, it can often be stopped before it gets out of hand. Also keep track of whether or not you’re receiving your statements every month. If you are missing a credit card statement, call the company to verify the address it’s being mailed to. It’s possible that someone filled out a change of address form at the post office or with the credit card company, and is receiving your statements at a different address with intent to use the information.
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