There are Some trips You can
Protect Yourself from Credit Card Fraud and Identity Theft
- Credit card fraud is common in dorms because so many people live in one building in an unusually open environment. Keep close tabs on your credit card and don't leave it lying around or leave your wallet or purse lying around if the card is in it. All anyone needs to commit fraud is the number and expiration date from your card. It's best to keep it locked up until you need it.
- Thieves who "dumpster dive" can retrieve credit card offers, apply for credit in your name, and charge up a huge balance before you even know what happened. They can also use personal information they find on statements and other documents containing personal information. An inexpensive shredder should be required equipment in every college dorm room. Shred credit card offers you receive in the mail and any documents containing personal information before you throw them in the trash.
- Save your credit card slips each time you make a purchase and keep them together until your monthly statement arrives. As soon as you receive it, check each slip against the statement and verify that the amount is accurate. If you find a discrepancy, call the credit card issuer immediately. One common scam that has netted its perpetrators big bucks is charging small amounts to many credit cards, hoping the credit card owner will ignore it.
- Write down your credit card numbers, expiration dates, and the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the issuing companies, and keep the information in a secure place. If your card is lost or stolen, notify the card issuer immediately to take advantage of the law that limits your liability for fraudulent use of your card.
- If you have an issue with a charge that appears on your credit card statement, notify the credit card company in writing within 60 days (preferably much sooner) by sending a letter to the address specified on your statement (not the payment address). Your lender is required to respond within 30 days and conduct an investigation within 90 days. Until the issue is resolved, you're not required to pay the amount in question.
- Some universities let you choose your student identification number. Never use your Social Security Number as your student ID number if you have a choice. Having your Social Security Number prominently displayed on a card that you use so frequently makes you a prime target for identity theft.
- Credit cards are not to be shared, even with your best friend. Guard your credit card number and give it out only when ordering online or over the phone. Order in private so your number won't be overheard.
- If possible, keep your credit card in sight while it's being scanned for purchases. Fraud committed by salespeople and restaurant wait staff who skim the information from your card with a special hand-held scanner is on the increase. The scammers sell the information to others who use it to commit fraud with your credit card number.
- Check your credit reports once a year. You can correct any errors that might end up raising your interest rates, and ensure that you haven't been a victim of identity theft. If you see any credit accounts on your report that you don't recognize, contact the credit bureau immediately. Someone else might be fraudulently applying for and using credit in your name.
- College students are prime targets for identity theft, so if you live in a dorm or other shared living area, take precautions to protect your personal and credit information. Keep financial and personal information in a safe place out of view from prying eyes. Protect your wallet, checkbook, credit card receipts, and incoming and outgoing mail. Keep your dorm room locked when you're not in it.
- Use a free computer firewall program like Zone Alarm (www.zonelabs.com) to protect yourself from hackers who can retrieve financial or other information you have stored on your computer. This information can be used to apply for credit in your name or steal money from your accounts.
- Never download a computer file that is sent from someone you don't know. Such files often contain viruses or Trojan horses that install code on your computer. Your personal information can then be stolen and used fraudulently.
- Reduce your chances of being a victim of identity theft by keeping tight control of your personal financial information. Shred bills, statements, credit card offers, and credit card receipts before trashing them.
- To protect yourself from identity theft, don't provide personal information such as address, telephone number, Social Security Number, bank account number, or email address unless you know to whom you're providing the information, why it's being requested, and how it will be used. Don't give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call and you know the organization.
- Beware of phishing emails, which appear to be sent from AOL, eBay, your bank or credit card company, PayPal, or other seemingly legitimate businesses, warning you that your account information needs to be updated. The message urges you to click on the link embedded in the email, which takes you to an official looking website where you enter your credit card or bank account information. Thieves use this information to steal you blind. Never respond to emails asking for this type of information.
Four Sources of Help with Credit Card Debt When You're in over Your Head
- If you start to encounter financial problems, seek help immediately from your parents or a financial counselor or credit counselor. Getting a grip on your finances early will make life easier in the long run. The longer you wait to take action, the worse your situation could get and the more painful it will be to extricate yourself.
- If you're having trouble paying your credit card or other bills, free counseling may be available from your credit union, cooperative extension office, military family service center, or religious organization. Don't wait. Call at the first sign of trouble.
- You can also obtain free professional counseling services from a member of the National Foundation for Consumer Credit, which operates under the name Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS). To locate a CCCS near you, call toll-free 1-800-388-2227 or visit www.nfcc.org.
- Myvesta is another counseling service (Internet based) that can help you get control of your debt before it's too late. If you're feeling like you're in over your head, visit their website at www.myvesta.org for more information.
Two Sources of Credit "Help" You Should Avoid
- Don't believe services that claim they can erase your bad credit. They'll take your money and leave you in the same shape in which they found you. Bad credit can only be "fixed" by using credit responsibly and making your payments consistently over a period of months or years; however, if there's an actual error on your credit report, you should try to clear it up by sending a letter of 100 words or less to the credit bureau, explaining the problem.
- If, in spite of your good intentions, you find yourself in deep credit card debt, stay away from so-called credit doctors or anyone who promises to fix your bad credit for free or for a fee that ranges between $300 and $1,000. These offers are one of the biggest scams that desperate people fall for when they're over their heads in debt.