10 Ways to Protect Yourself, Your Credit & Your Money from Identity Theft
Credit card and identity theft is a big problem in Canada. Thieves are interested in stealing your credit cards, your debit card information and your identification so that they can apply for credit in your name. Police and financial institutions are doing what they can to combat this kind of crime, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize the importance of protecting their cards and their identification until they become a victim of one of these crimes.
Thieves work in almost all communities, sometimes by phone and they also lurk online. You don’t need to live in fear. If you exercise caution and follow the steps outlined below, you will make yourself a much harder target and substantially decrease your chances of becoming a victim.
Although many financial institutions provide protection against credit card and debit card theft, if you become a victim of one of these crimes, it can still become a major inconvenience for you no matter how much protection you have. Avoid becoming a victim.
1. To spot signs of identity theft, check your statements each month
Review your credit card and bank statements every month. Make sure that you recognize all of the charges on your statements. If there are charges on your statements that you did not authorize, call your credit card company or bank immediately to alert them of the unauthorized charges.
2. Check your credit report once a year to protect your credit & your identity
You can obtain a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the two credit reporting agencies. It is important to check your credit report occasionally to make sure that no one has stolen your identity and is obtaining credit in your name. If this sort of activity is not caught quickly, it can turn into a real mess. If someone has stolen your identification, contact both credit reporting agencies, Equifax and TransUnion, and place a note on your credit file that your identification was stolen on a certain date. This will likely cause any lender that receives an application in your name to be extra careful before issuing credit to someone claiming to be you.
3. Report lost or stolen credit cards, bank cards & other ID right away
If your credit cards are stolen, it is important that you notify your credit card companies immediately. When credit cards are stolen, many thieves go on a spending spree. Those who don’t max the cards out immediately will usually do so within a few days. The sooner you notify a credit card company that your card has been stolen, the sooner they can cancel it and possibly save many people from loosing money—including yourself.
4. Make sure your bank and credit card companies have your current phone number
Credit card companies and banks invest in sophisticated computer software that helps them identify fraudulent credit card or debit card activity. If they suspect that someone has stolen your card, they need to be able to contact you immediately to confirm whether or not you have lost your card. If they don’t have your correct phone number, then you may have unwittingly prevented them from catching a thief, and this person could go on to cause you a lot of trouble. Keeping your bank and credit card companies up to date with your current home, cell phone or work number can really be important.
5. Don’t leave your purse or wallet in your car
Thieves look for purses and wallets in cars parked at parks, lakes, beaches and other places were people may relax and let down their guard. Thieves also watch parking lots to see if anyone puts their purse in their car or trunk as they get out. Don’t be an easy target. Don’t leave your cards or identification in your car. If you need to put your valuables in your trunk, do so before you arrive at your destination—especially if you are parking where a lot of other cars are parked.
6. Only give your credit card number to reputable companies
Don’t give your credit card number to anyone over the phone unless you called them first. If someone unexpectedly calls you and then requests your credit card information, don’t give it to them. Tell them that you will call them back. Then check out the company in the phone book or with the Better Business Bureau to make sure that they exist and that the number they provide you with is a listed number for that business. If the number is not listed, call one of the numbers that are listed and then ask to be transferred to the person who called you.
You should also be careful providing your credit card number online. Again, only give your credit card number to reputable companies. When you deal with a reputable company online, the screen that asks for your credit card information will always begin with a website address that begins with “https”. The “s” at the end of “http” stands for “secure”. It means that this company takes your security seriously and is encrypting all information that is communicated between their computer and yours. If a website is asking for your credit card information and the website address does not begin with “https”, then leave the website and shop somewhere else that is more secure (every website address begins with “http” but you will notice that the “s” will be added only once the website asks you for your credit card information).
7. Cover your bank card and credit card PIN numbers
When thieves attempt to steal your debit card information in person, they need to swipe your card twice. When you hand the clerk your debit card, the clerk will swipe your card once through the proper debit card machine and if they are attempting to steal your debit card information, they will swipe your card a second time through their own skimming device. This is one reason why a clerk should not remove your debit card from your sight, but if they do, you should still be safe as long as they don’t get your PIN number. To get this, they will often install a camera above the debit card keypad where you punch in your PIN number. Cover your fingers as you punch in your PIN number so that no one—and no camera above—can see your PIN number.
8. Be careful about what bank machines you use
Banks are coming out with better bank machines all the time, but you still need to be cautious. Some thieves will put skimming devices on the front of bank machine card readers that look like they are actually part of the machine. These skimmers copy your card information as you insert your card into the bank machine and then a camera mounted at the top of the bank machine records your PIN number as you type it in. The camera often wirelessly transmits its video feed to a transmitter which is often located in the garbage can. If you notice any signs that a bank machine may have been tampered with, use a different one and report your suspicions right away. One sign that a camera may have been secretly installed is one light being out at the top of the bank machine (this is where thieves place their hidden camera). There are other tricks that thieves use to try to steal people’s card information, but if you are careful and observant, you should be able to avoid most traps.
9. Be careful with your bank card & credit card PIN numbers
Don’t write any of your PIN numbers on anything in your wallet or purse, and don’t attach a sticky note to your debit card with your PIN number on it. If you do this and someone steals your card, your bank probably won’t reimburse you for your losses. Also, don’t choose a PIN number that is too easy. If you choose something like 1111 or 1234 or the first four digits of your debit card, your bank will probably conclude that you didn’t take reasonable steps to protect your money and probably won’t reimburse you for any money that someone stole from your account. You should expect your bank to work as hard as you do at protecting your money and your information. If you aren’t careful, don’t expect them to bail you out.
10. Make a list of all your cards and include phone numbers
If someone steals your wallet or your purse, how quickly can you find the right phone numbers to call all of your credit card and debit card companies and cancel your cards? It is much better to create a list in advance that contains all of your credit card numbers followed by the 1-800 numbers that you can call to cancel your cards. Making a list like this is even easier if you have access to a photocopier. Just photocopy all of your cards on one piece of paper. Make sure that you store this piece of paper in a safe place. Don’t put it in your wallet or your purse where it could be stolen along with your cards.
The only way you can get complete protection from credit card and debit card fraud is to not have any cards. This works for some people, but it doesn’t work for most people. For those of us who need our cards, we can sleep well at night and be confident that we are safe if we follow the steps outlined in this article and exercise a reasonable degree of caution when we use our cards. Bad things happen, but by taking the right steps, we drastically reduce our risk of bad things happening to us.
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