Credit Card and personal identity theft/fraud are at epidemic proportions these days. One must be on guard literally 24X7 in order to avoid becoming a victim and if you take a hit, you have to go thru months of frustration getting damage properly repaired. There are endless schemes working to steal what you have and while there are services out there to monitor your credit such as Lifelock or the three credit bureaus, they typically only note suspicious activity after significant damage has been perpetrated on your accounts. The value of these services is more about assisting you in addressing the damage, but you still bear most of the required effort.
One scheme which has grown in numbers dramatically is credit card fraud. A thief gets hold of your personal identity information – scary that it can be so easily obtained these days. With the information, they apply online for a new credit card under the victim’s name and it gets approved and the card will be in the mail shortly. The thief immediately goes online to the US Post Office website – and requests an immediate 7-10 day temporary forwarding of your mail from your home/business address to another address where they can receive the mail. Shockingly all it takes is a $1 charge via any valid credit card which the Post Office uses to validate who you are. The name on the card is irrelevant and typically is a previously stolen valid card. Shame on the Post Office, but they claim that they process several million change of address requests annually.
The thief will receive the new credit card at the temporary address then immediately run up charges and cash advances to the max. Your mail starts showing up back in your box soon after and then you eventually get a bill statement from the credit card issuer. Then the fun begins as you are on the hook to pay until you can prove you did not make the charges. If you fail to pay, your credit rating is dinged.
Another long running credit card theft scheme is that you give your card to a waiter at a restaurant for example. They take the card to a spot out of your view where they will run the card and make the charge, but also either manually copy your name, card number and the security CVV code or use a device to swipe the card to obtain the info. Bogus cards can then be readily produced and used. That has been mostly negated with the arrival of cards with chips embedded in them. But that does not stop a thief from using the card information online to make purchases.
There are numerous easy ways to add protection to your identity and credit rating. A few to consider:
- Go digital online for all financial accounts such as payments, statements and correspondence
- Limit providing your SSN to anyone unless it is absolutely mandatory. Example, hospitals, Dentists and Doctors request it for their records, but is merely an anachronism and not required. Many victims of identity fraud/theft get the information exposed from these sources alone thanks to unsavory employees.
- You should request a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus – – Equifax, Experian and Trans Union – and review it carefully. Anytime someone requests to open a new bank, credit card, mortgage or similar financial account, the financial institution checks your credit reports online. But if the thief supplies all the required basic information – the account can easily be opened.
- If you are a victim of credit fraud, you should immediately contact at least one of the three credit bureaus who will put at least a 90 day theft notice on your record which basically alerts the requesting institution to not open any new account without extensive identity verification being done. It is also recommended to put what they call is a ‘freeze’ on a credit report which does not limit access by a validated company wanting to check your credit, but no new accounts can be opened. If you need to apply for a new credit card, auto loan, mortgage or similar – you can request the credit bureaus to permanently or temporarily remove the freeze in order to allow the application to process.
- Most banks and credit card issuers provide for free notification of every transaction enacted on an account including changes to any account holder information in virtual time via text messages, emails and some even provide for voice mails. No surprises.
These steps alone are easy to do and at no or minimal cost.