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4 Tips On How To Protect Your Credit

4 Tips On How To Protect Your Credit

By Anne Arbour

There’s just no getting around it. We live in an online world where true privacy has become a precious commodity.

Every time we text, email, shop or do our banking online, or swipe or tap our credit card in a store, we open ourselves up to potentially exposing our personal credit information to criminal activity.

Even a simple phone call is an opportunity for a third party to access our personal banking or credit details.

What’s worse is that so many of us are embarrassed to ever admit that we might have fallen victim to a scam or a fraud wherein we may have inadvertently disclosed such personal information.

In fact, estimates are that in Canada more than 95% of mass marketing fraud never gets reported and only 15% of fraud victims report an incident in the US. This is especially true with seniors who don’t want others to view them as incapable of managing their own financial affairs.

Does this mean we should stop using all the amazing technology available to us?  

Of course not, but what’s a person to do? As with many other parts of life, the best defence is a good offense.

Here are a few ways to protect yourself and your critical information:

Check your credit report regularly

The best way to know if someone is using your identity or taking advantage of your credit is to check your own credit report on a regular basis to ensure that all the information it contains is known to you. You can access your personal credit report for free once every 12 months;

  • In Canada: From each of the two main credit agencies – Equifax and TransUnion
  • In the US: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Further details are available at USA.gov

It’s important to order from more than one agency, as creditors can choose which agency they report to and you’ll want to be sure that you have the full picture.

If you notice anything unusual on your report or an item that is unknown to you, report it immediately. It’s your responsibility for correcting any errors on your report. The credit agencies can coach you through the process, but it’s always best to make sure you communicate in writing and keep a file of all exchanges and corrections for future reference.

Protect your passwords and PINs

Your log in information, particularly your passwords and PINs, are the golden ticket for someone trying to access your banking or credit accounts.

Long gone are the days when we had just one password we could scribble onto a slip of paper to stash under our mousepads (you never really thought that would work, did you?).

These days, we likely have multiple devices we use to access the Internet, and certainly multiple accounts online (think banking, shopping, social media, assorted apps). It just seems so much easier to use the same simple password for everything.  That’s a big mistake, of course, and makes us a prime target for hacking.

It’s important to have a variety of strong passwords and PINs and that they are changed regularly and never shared. In terms of the strength of your passwords, did you know that in this day and age ‘123456’ and ‘password’ still remain at the top of the heap of worst passwords being used? We can do better.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the number of passwords and access codes you have, or find it difficult to create strong passwords, there are many password manager tools that can help.

A few final words about passwords and PINs: When you are making a purchase in-store, try and avoid handing over your card to the cashier for inserting or tapping, to avoid potential double tapping or use of fake terminals. As well, when you are using an ATM or store terminal, be sure to shield the keypad as you’re entering your PIN. Last, memorize your current PINs and please never ever (ever) write them on the back of the card.

Monitor your accounts

With online access to our bank accounts and monthly credit card statements, regularly reviewing your account activity to ensure that no unrecognized transactions appear has never been easier.

Some financial institutions even provide text notifications of any transactions in your accounts so you can know immediately if there is any irregular activity.

Report any suspicious or unfamiliar activity to your financial institution immediately, and review your account holder agreement to familiarize yourself with your consumer rights and responsibilities when it comes to potential fraudulent activity in your accounts.  Typically, you are covered for any loss if reported in a timely manner.

If you are still receiving paper statements by mail, ripping them in half and tossing them into the recycle bin is no longer good enough. Investing in a small personal shredder to dispose of any paperwork containing sensitive personal details is a critical piece when it comes to protecting your personal information.

Don’t click!

In a world where text messages and email is ubiquitous, be careful and cautious about clicking on any links asking for personal details. Your financial institution may email you from time to time with offers or information, but they will never request personal information via an embedded link in a text or email. Don’t fall for this scam.

As well, never provide personal financial information over the phone to a person or company you don’t know. Last, be extremely careful about accessing online banking or credit information in a public Wi-Fi zone, where your personal information is widely exposed.

For more information and resources,

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Anne Arbour is the Credit Counselling Society’s Financial Educator for the Greater Toronto Area. Anne has over 25 years combined experience in facilitation and financial services, including operating her own small business financing company. She holds an MBA and is a Certified Educator In Personal Finance. Anne has served on expert panels for ACTRA and for FuturFund, and has been interviewed by Global News, Today's Parent Magazine, Canadian Money Saver Magazine and The Toronto Sun.

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