(StatePoint) Credit cards are a useful tool for managing personal finances and building credit, but they also expose you to a number of risks — including identity theft and credit card fraud. Thankfully, experts say there are many simple, proactive steps you can take to help protect yourself when using a credit card. Here are seven tips for guarding your credit.
- Monitor your credit reports. To identify any suspicious activity, periodically request and review your credit reports and your children’s from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. These companies will provide you with a free credit report once per year. Consider requesting a different agency’s report every four months at no charge for more frequent monitoring. If you see any signs of identity theft, credit card fraud or other scams, contact the credit bureaus right away.
- Activate fraud alerts. Experian, Equifax and TransUnion also offer free credit fraud alerts. When a potential creditor sees a fraud alert on your credit file, they will take additional steps to verify your identity before authorizing new credit. Fraud alerts last for 90 days but can easily be renewed. You only need to contact one credit bureau to set up alerts — that company will notify the other two.
- Freeze your credit. Placing a freeze on your credit reports will prevent anyone from opening new accounts in your name. You will need to contact all three credit bureaus to freeze your reports. Note that it may take several days to lift a freeze if you need to apply for credit. Also, credit freezes do not prevent fraudulent transactions on your existing credit accounts.
- Review credit card statements carefully. Check your statements as soon as you receive them to make sure there are no fraudulent charges. Contact your card issuer if you see anything suspicious.
- Enroll in bank notification programs. Most banks offer a credit card notification program which will alert you to account charges over a preset amount.
- Protect your passwords. Change logins and passwords monthly, use password generators and sign up for two-factor authentication. Security experts recommend a minimum of 14 characters for creating a secure password.
- Shop online carefully. Avoid making payments or accessing financial information on unsecured wireless networks, such as those at coffee shops, hotels and restaurants. Your phone should be treated like your computer: password protect it, too.
A Certified Financial Planner professional can help you protect your assets from this type of risk and pick up the financial pieces if your information falls into the wrong hands. To find a CFP professional near you, visit www.letsmakeaplan.org.
With a few simple tools and a bit of diligence, you can safely use and continue to build your credit.