The electronic age has increased our productivity, yet compromised our financial safety. With threats all around us – like shifty telemarketing, phishing, scamming, spamming, and malware – we need to be on guard. Staying alert and knowing what to say and do in advance can help when faced with questionable situations.
Unsolicited incoming calls involving some offer, promotion, or suggestion that your credit card or bank account has been compromised are usually scams. Your first response should be “no, thank you,” and your second should be to hang up. I don’t know any financial institution that will call you on the phone unprompted for anything. Never give personal or financial details to this type of caller unless you specifically requested information. Email should be treated the same way. If you did not initiate the correspondence, do not open email from an unrecognized address and do not volunteer any information. Know, too, that you don’t have to give your email address or phone number to any retail store. Sometimes it seems like part of the check-out process, but it is totally optional.
Lines of credit that are open and not frequently used should be closed. When I make this recommendation, clients often ask, “Won’t that hurt my credit?” or “Does that look bad for credit purposes?” Not in the slightest. Accounts closed by consumers while in good standing have no impact on credit scores. However, dormant accounts that remain open are easy targets for fraud. If you reflect on your department store credit card, how often do you use it? And how often are you asked for an ID to verify that the card is yours? If the account typically is out of sight and out of mind, it can be several months before you realize that your account has been compromised. You should receive a notice if someone changes the address on your account. However, since you are not actively using the account, you may not open the notice. If this happens, your credit could be slowly ruined.
This leads to an extremely important task that you should do every year without fail: Pull your credit report. You are allowed one free report annually from annualcreditreport.com/index.action. Also, you may have a free copy pulled anytime you apply for credit. Your credit report contains a wealth of information, including all accounts open and closed in your name. It provides balances due and payment information, loan applications, as well as current and past addresses. A careful review may also uncover errors or discrepancies that could impact your overall credit score, so give it the attention it deserves.
Social security numbers also need to be carefully protected. It seems like we are asked to share this information more often than ever, but do not carry any social security cards with you – not even your children’s cards. If someone other than your financial institution or your employer asks for your social security number, feel free to ask questions. How will it be used? Why do you need it? If I do not want to provide it, what will happen? And just as importantly, How do you plan to protect my information? Also avoid emailing pins, social security, or account numbers to anyone.
Staying on guard, changing ways of thinking, and sometimes not responding can help protect you from devious scams and negative consequences. Start your New Year safe and secure, versus sorry.