“Creditworthiness” is another word for “financial trustworthiness.” If you want to be seriously considered for things like great interest rates, better credit offers, and more, you need to pay close attention to your credit and debt balances, your credit score and what is reported on it, and also keep a close eye for any possibility of fraud or identity theft. The last thing you need or want after working hard to build and improve your credit score and creditworthiness is for someone else to come along and ruin it all. The good news is, credit fraud and theft can be easily avoided through some simple tips and tools. What better time is there than Financial Literacy Month (April is Financial Literacy Month in case you didn’t know!) to learn bout how you protect yourself and your credit from the dangers of fraud and theft? Let’s dive in…
What is credit fraud?
Credit fraud is when someone uses your credit card(s) or personal identification and information to obtain financial benefits. For example, when someone uses your credit card to purchase goods or services without your authorization or when someone uses your personal information to obtain a credit card or open a line of credit.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft, or ID theft, is when an individual’s personal information, such as their Social Security Number or date of birth, is stolen and used to commit fraud – financial or otherwise.
What are common causes of credit fraud and identity theft?
- Lost or stolen credit cards
- Mail stolen from a mailbox
- Someone looking over your shoulder during a transaction that requires your PIN number
- Unauthorized/illegal information scanning devices setup in ATM machines
- Improperly disposed of information taken from the trash
- Unsolicited email or “phishing”
- False telephone solicitations
- Personnel records stolen or shared as a result of cyberspace hacking
How to be prepared to handle potential credit fraud or identity theft:
Record all account numbers and lender/card issuer/company contact information in a secure place (a safe, for example). Do not keep this information in a wallet or purse where it can be easily stolen or lost.
How to protect yourself from unauthorized charges as a result of credit fraud:
Keep copies of any vouchers and/or ATM receipts and cross check these receipts with your end of period billing or bank statements. If you have any doubt or suspicion about any transactions listed on your statement, notify your card issuer immediately.
Why it is important to check your credit report at least once per year:
Checking your credit report at least once a year may help prevent identity theft. Reviewing your credit report gives you a chance to make sure all items and credit accounts listed on the report are accurate. If you notice any inaccurate or unfamiliar information or accounts on your credit report, you will want to file a credit error dispute as soon as possible.
How do I file a dispute if I find an error on my credit report?
The process for filing a credit error dispute is different depending on the type of error and the credit bureau (Equifax, Transunion, or Experian). Please see this webpage from Consumer Finance Protection Bureau about how to file a dispute if you have found an error on your credit report that needs to be removed.
More Resources for Responding to Different Types of Fraud:
If you think your identity has been stolen, file a report with the local police department or the police department where the identity theft took place. Get the report number or a copy of the report in case the bank, credit card company, or any other parties need proof of the crime later.
Ask the following credit bureaus to place your account in ‘fraud alert’ status. There are different types of fraud alerts depending on the situation you find yourself in. The credit bureau you speak with will be able to help you determine which type of fraud alert to take advantage of.
Contact Information for Various Types of Fraud and Theft:
- Equifax: 800.525.6285
- Experian: 888.397.3742
- Trans Union: 800.680.7289
Driver’s license number fraud:
- Notify your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
Social Security number used to commit identity theft:
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877.438.4338.
Passport used in identity theft:
- Contact the U.S. State Department, Passport Services Department here.
- Visit the U.S. Postal Inspection Service® Website, Government Services here.