Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Freeze Your Credit, So It Can't Be Stolen

Recently, someone I do not know blogged the sad story of losing her wallet out of her purse and then having to deal with repeated attacks on her credit. Yes, she was really stupid not to keep her purse on her; evidently it has been her casual habit to leave it unguarded in grocery stores and even hang it on the cart the bellhop uses at hotels. So of course we can smugly say she was asking for it. No question, the identity thieves pick the low-hanging fruit first. If you have visitors to your home frequently, find a good place to secrete your purse, too. People you know will steal your identity, too.

Let's not be smug, though. Unfortunately, credit thieves are coming for all of us, and it's just a matter of time when they get to you or me. It's very hard to protect ourselves completely because everybody wants our personal information. Facebook keeps trying to get details of my life--the very items that credit companies want as the answers to questions as backup to the basic password. And certain people I do not know have found my date of birth (a matter of public record) and celebrated it on Facebook, totally without my cooperation or permission. My address and phone number are easily found through a free ZabaSearch, too, so forget that cute "give us your zip code" at the gas pump. Dead easy to obtain. Some things are matters of public record, including addresses.

So what can you do? You can freeze your credit with all three credit reporting agencies for a few dollars. You can tell each credit company with which you do business, and those that simply mail to you, not to send you credit offers (I haven't gotten them in many years). It's a little harder, but you can also demand that your credit card company not send you "convenience checks." We did this when our parent was high up in dementia, so no hired nurse could grab the checks and take her credit for a ride. It's also a good idea to cancel excess credit for elderly folks, and keep a remaining card in a safe place.

You can give false dates of birth when registering for websites (as long as you're 18, they're happy). You can remove excess credit cards from your wallet before you travel. You can make sure you never, ever give anyone your debit card number, or that your bank account from the debit card only has a few dollars over the price of what you are purchasing right now. You also can call your credit card companies whenever you plan to travel, and tell them the dates and locations. Without that prior call, I have found that credit has been denied for large purchases--even on a card that I routinely use for large purchases--and for small purchases, too, such as at a grocery store while visiting relatives out of state.

Of course do not carry your Social Security or Medicare card on a daily basis. Carry photocopies with the numbers blanked out; you know the number by heart, anyway. Change your online passwords, and use two-step verifications whenever possible. Use only one credit card online, not all of them (I know you have more than one). Check your bank accounts regularly, and look at your credit card statements to make sure no unusual charges have slipped in. Use your middle initial, so your name is more distinctive. If you name is Kathy Jones or the like, have it legally changed to something less generic, even if the change is only to add the middle initial Q. Proving you are the innocent Kathy Jones can be a nightmare otherwise.

The lock on your credit with the reporting agencies is probably the cheapest and easiest preventative measure, and you do not need to buy a commercial plan to do this.

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