Free Simple Tips To Help Prevent Identity Theft

Erroneous Credit Card Charge

The text arrived unexpectedly, around 9AM on Labor Day. “Do you recognize any of the following charges on your X557 account?” There were two charges from earlier in the day that I did not recognize, so I returned a “no” response. I immediately called my card issuer and they cancelled the card on the spot. Apparently, a $5900 charge went through for a Home Depot transaction. While I was not liable for the fraudulent transaction, I still had a sense of someone violating my identity. A follow up phone call to the bank informed me that since my wife and I still had our credit cards in our possession and the cards had not been lost or stolen, that someone had completed the in-store transaction with a counterfeit card. Now I’m wondering, how on earth they could get away with that without proper ID? What if they had ID with my name on it?

How Data Is Being Stolen

I began the typical internet search on identity theft and credit card fraud. Currently there are a bunch of international criminal counterfeit credit card rings being busted, and even more in action. Card data is being mined by:

  • A method called skimming, where the criminal inserts a sleeve of some sort into a card swipe terminal, which captures the data on the next unsuspecting card-swiper.
  • A method where an RFID reader can read and capture data through someone’s purse or wallet.
  • By hacking internet stores and retail databases.

Credit Card Fraud

In my case, I followed up with the bank a couple of days later then was informed that the transaction did not occur in-store, but had been keyed in. So then I started thinking about how a keyed transaction (via phone or internet) could be processed, when the ship to did not match the card billing address. While the fraud unit from my bank told me that this was a case of credit card fraud, and not identity theft, even so, my paranoia continued.

Free Credit Reports

That night I pulled a credit report from Experian. All citizens are now entitled to a free credit report once a year from one of the big three credit bureaus. So this means we can receive a free report, every four months from either Experian, TransUnion, Or Equifax. Luckily, my report did not show any unusual activity. Even so, I decided to investigate one of the identity theft prevention services. It appears that the most popular is a service called Life-Lock. For $10/month Life-Lock will monitor your credit, have your name and address removed from mailing lists, and even offer insurance if you become a victim. Upon further investigation, I learned that anyone can easily place a security alert on their credit for free.

Lifelock Service for Free

If you want to take some extra precaution, and do not plan on making immediate purchases that require a credit check, then all you have to do is contact one of the three credit agencies, and tell them you want to place a fraud alert on your credit. They will place a 90 day security alert on your file, remove your name and address from pre-screened mailing lists for 6 months, and notify the other two agencies. After 60 days you can extend the request. Life-Lock performs the same service, and they contact the bureaus on your behalf every 90 days or so.

You can contact any one of the three credit reporting agencies:

As of today, I continue to monitor my bank and credit card accounts, and luckily, don’t see anything unusual. Here are ten tips that I practice, that should help negate the potential of becoming a victim of identity theft. There are of course more safeguards, but these are the freebies:

  1. Check your credit reports every four months
  2. Place a fraud alert on your credit file
  3. Reduce the amount of junk mail you receive by being removed from prescreened mailing lists. You can opt-out permanently, or for five years. Call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com. The phone number and website are operated by the major consumer reporting companies.
  4. Monitor your bank and credit card accounts
  5. Consider having a separate card for internet transactions
  6. Before providing any information on-line, always make sure the address bar begins with https:// the added “s” denotes a secure page.
  7. Never provide sensitive information to someone who originated a phone call; you can always call them back if they are legitimate.
  8. Be careful providing information on the internet, particularly from emails that you receive. While the email origination address, logo, and email in general may appear to be legitimate, there are a lot of clever phishing scams that thwart unsuspecting folks. One tip on this is that before you hit reply, place your cursor over the address, but don’t click on it. Now take a look at your lower left hand screen, and it will show the page address for what is being highlighted—if the address shows a different domain from where the email originated, don’t click the link!
  9. Consider purchasing a steel wallet or foil lined purse that prevents RFID readers from stealing your data
  10. Be aware when you hand your card to anyone, or when you place any on-line transaction. Pay Attention!

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