For Issue # 4 of the Credit Card Reviews Industry Roundup, credit card expert Jason Steele asks the following question:
What Steps Do You Take with Your Credit Cards to Help Protect Yourself from Identity Theft?
Here are the responses from this week's industry experts which include Sean Bryant, Greg Johnson, Jason Steele, Debra Schroeder, Lindsey VanSomeran, and Matt Schulz:
Sean Bryant - Personal finance and credit card journalist. Founder of OneSmartDollar.com
The most important step I take to secure my personal information is to regularly examine the credit card accounts for myself and my wife. By spotting fraudulent charges early, you can take the action necessary to prevent additional fraud. If one card has been compromised, you will want to have the charges reversed and request a new card. But if you are seeing a pattern of fraudulent charges, then you may have to request a credit freeze with the major consumer credit bureaus.
It’s also important to look at your credit reports at least once a year. Fortunately, anyone can order a free credit report each year from AnnualCreditReport.com. Just be sure to use the correct link, and not any others, as this is the only one that is authorized by the credit bureaus to offer you a free report each year. When you get your reports, you need to look for any new accounts that you didn’t authorize and any erroneous personal information. For example, a criminal could try to open new accounts under a different address than yours.
Finally, I don’t like using checks and debit cards, as they contain information about your bank account. At least with a credit card, you can have a chance to review your statement and dispute fraudulent charges before it affects your ability to pay your bills.
Greg Johnson - Co-owner of the popular blog Club Thrifty, where he teaches others how to spend less and travel more.
With so much of our personal information now stored online, identity theft is a crime to which we are all susceptible. The increasing frequency of large data breaches makes it more important than ever to keep a watchful eye on our accounts. Luckily, there are several things we all can do to keep our cards – and our identities – safer.
For starters, my wife and I access our online credit card accounts at least once a week. We quickly search our statements for errors, looking for any suspicious charges which might indicate our accounts have been compromised. By checking our accounts regularly, we’re bound to catch fraudulent activity early. It’s also a terrific way to ensure that we stick to our budget and avoid overspending.
Speaking of online accounts, it’s also important to select passwords that are tough to crack. Using the word “password” isn’t going to cut it anymore. We try to use complex passwords that include a combination of letters, numbers, symbols that would be near impossible to guess. Apps or programs like Dashlane are another good option to create secure passwords.
Finally, it’s also a good idea to sign up for a free credit monitoring service. While they certainly aren’t a foolproof way to protect your identity, they can help alert you to any suspicious activity on your credit report.
Personally, I use both Credit Sesame and Credit Karma to monitor my credit score and credit report. These programs send alerts when new accounts are opened in my name, helping me to spot any fraudulent activity quickly. In today’s world, I consider these free services to be a bare minimum form of identity protection.
Jason Steele - Producer of CardCon, the conference for credit and credit card media.
It starts with simple things such as keeping your credit cards and statements in a secure place, and not freely giving out the information. For example, I recently wanted to pay for a hotel room for a colleague, but the hotel insisted that I send them a copy of the front and back of my credit card as well as my id. I refused to provide them with this information, which was practically an all-purpose identity theft kit.
I’m also a big fan of the Discover card’s new Social Security number monitoring and new account alerts. These features are free to all Discover card holders, and could potentially help alert me if I’m at risk of identity theft. Another step I’ve taken is to enable additional security with my mobile phone provider. When criminals are able to convince a mobile phone company to port your phone number to their device, they are then able to falsely authenticate themselves as you for the purpose of gaining access to your accounts.
Finally, I am always reassured by the fact that credit cards are the most secure form of payment available. The Fair Credit Billing Act gives you the right to dispute any fraudulent charges, or charges for goods or services that you never received. No other form of payment enjoys such powerful federal legal protections.
Debra Schroeder - Founder of TravelingWellForLess.com
More than 41 million Americans are victims of Identity theft. You can reduce your chances of becoming a victim by taking these steps with your credit card.
Set up alerts for your credit cards. You can set alerts for balances, charges, and payments for each of your cards. Alerts can be set for any amount. If you set your charge alerts for $1, you'll receive an email or text for every card transaction of $1 or more.
Avoid using suspicious looking credit card terminals. Gas station pumps are an easy target for credit card skimmers. If the terminal is loose or strange looking, don't use it. Pay inside the gas station instead of at the pump.
Don't use public Wi-Fi for purchases, make payments, or check balances. If you're away from home and need to make a payment use your cellphone network or a VPN (virtual private network).
Review your credit card statements each month. It only takes a few minutes to check every charge on your statement. If you have multiple credit cards this can be time consuming. The time you spend reviewing your statements is less than the hassle of being a victim of identity theft.
Check your credit report. You can get a free yearly credit report from annualcreditreport.com. Order one each year to make sure the information is accurate. Some states like California let you get a free credit report from each credit bureau. California residents can get their credit report for free once every four months.
Lindsey VanSomeran - Personal finance writer and blogger at Notorious D.E.B.T.
Whenever I swipe my credit card, I always check to make sure there's no fishy business on the card reader. I’m basically checking for bits of plastic that look like they’re stuck on, which could be a sign of a card skimmer.
I use my card for online shopping a lot too. I have a good computer security program, Bitdefender that helps protect me against viruses, phishing attacks, and the like. I also check to make sure I’m using a secure HTTPS site before I ever enter in a credit card number or any personal information. With Google Chrome, this shows up as a green lock next to the URL, and it means that any data I enter will be encrypted.
But perhaps the biggest thing that’s helped keep me safe is checking my credit card account on a near-daily basis. I enter in all purchases manually into my budget program, YNAB. Doing this makes it just painful enough to spend so I don’t go crazy, but it also helps me keep a real-time pulse on what charges I’ve made.
Last year I noticed an unusual charge on my account. I live in Colorado and have no children, yet my card was used to make a small purchase at an OshKosh B’Gosh store in Indiana. I was able to immediately call up my credit card issuer and report the fraudulent charge before it escalated into something further. Thanks to me keeping a close eye on my account, I kept myself safe from identity theft.
Matt Schulz - Senior Industry Analyst at CreditCards.com. He is also a regular contributor to USNews.com’s My Money blog and the founder of TalkingInClass.org
One of the best things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft is the simplest: trust your instincts. In real life, if you find yourself in a neighborhood that makes you feel uneasy or unsafe for whatever reason, you act differently. You’re more guarded in what you do. You’re more likely to cast a critical eye toward someone who approaches you. And you’re definitely less likely to give out your vital information.
A similar approach can help you when it comes to protecting yourself from identity theft. Does something about that ATM just look off to you, even though you can’t quite explain it? Walk away. Does a merchant’s website look kind of sketchy? Don’t shop there. Does that email not quite look right to you? Don’t click that link. Does the person who called you seem to be asking for some really personal information? Don’t give it to them. Then, hang up.
The truth is that you should treat your credit card information like gold because that’s what it is to bad guys. Also remember that identity theft is a forever thing. Once your information is out there, it never leaves. And bad guys can be very patient, so it is important to remain diligent indefinitely.
Think of a big data breach like a neighborhood where there’s been a break-in. For the first few weeks afterwards, everyone in the neighborhood is locking doors, installing floodlights, padlocking gates and watching out for one another. That makes it very tough for bad guys, so no new incidents occur. But after a few more weeks, people relax and revert to their old habits. That’s when bad guys can strike again. It’s the same thing with a data breach. Bad guys simply wait for the furor over the breach to die down and then they get back to work. It’s our job to make their jobs as hard as possible.