4 expert tips to protect yourself from credit scams
While credit scams have been around forever, they've recently exploded in number. According to Mint, from 2019 to 2020, the number of identity theft reports went up by 113% and the number of reports of identity theft by credit cards increased by 44.6%. The amount of fraud by new credit card accounts saw a 48% increase from 2019.
As more information is digital today, on top of the increase in health and financial stressors, scams designed to access your credit accounts or personal information are on the rise.
Having financial or credit accounts hacked can have long-lasting implications, beyond financial loss and inconvenience.
Here are tips to help protect your credit and personal information.
1. Practice good cyber hygiene
Use long, strong passwords unique to each account or website — or use a password manager to help create better passwords and keep track of them. Change the password on your home’s router. If you're using the same password for several accounts, or haven’t changed passwords in a while, now's the time to clean up your digital act.
2. Back up your data
Having digital and physical backups for your data protects you from not only losing important information, but also from ransomware attacks — when a hacker freezes or destroys your data unless you pay them in bitcoin. While this is more likely to happen to businesses, it can give you peace of mind to have your data backed up.
Consider both a Cloud backup as well as on a physical hard drive — and/or printing out vital information or documents.
3. Monitor your credit reports
Keeping an eye on your credit reports alerts you to attempts to steal your identity, such as someone opening an account in your name. You can check any of the major credit reporting companies for free once a year. However, because identity theft is becoming more frequent, you should check your credit score more often. One tactic is to rotate which company you request a report from, requesting one every few months.
You can also check your credit with VantageScore, which uses credit scoring models that provide lenders and consumers with highly predictive credit scores that are easier to understand and actually score more people. Access yours for free through the providers here.
Check your credit reports for:
- Credit accounts/debt that isn't yours.
- Inquiries indicating a company accessed your report without your permission.
- An address where you've never lived. This could be a sign someone's tried to use your identity to open an account.
If you see items like these on your report, contact the credit agency right away. A change to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in 2018 allows consumers to put a freeze on their credit reports for free, so credit reporting companies will restrict access to your reports, not allowing lenders with whom you do not have an existing relationship to pull them. This can help prevent fraudulent credit applications from being opened. Then you can choose when to “unfreeze” the credit reports and put them back into circulation.
4. Be alert to common scams
You may receive an email saying one of your credit accounts has been blocked or suspended. It may look like an email from a legit company. Never click links within the email, as they may take you to a fake website (that looks real). Instead, access your account from the website you always use to see if there’s a problem. Contact the company directly, not through the email. Most likely it’s a phishing attempt to get your personal login or financial information.
Scammers may take advantage of current crises, claiming to be COVID-19 contact tracers, or referring to government stimulus checks. Never give personal or financial information like your birthdate or Social Security number over the phone or via email. Other common scams involve taxes or unemployment compensation.
View any email or text asking for information or to reply with an account login or other personal information as suspect, and contact the supposed sender directly.