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Credit monitoring agencies charge a monthly fee (usually between $7.95 and $29.95 per month) to protect your identity and monitor your credit report for unusual or fraudulent activity. Representatives from IdentityGuard credit monitoring agency recently appeared on the Blog Talk Radio Show Technical Tidbits and reported that it would take “hours each day for the average person to do what we do.” This includes monitoring your social media activity as well as financial accounts. The company, rated best credit monitoring service by CreditShout, is actually working to put credit monitoring industry standards in place.
You may not have hours a day, but you can still take measures to protect your identity without paying a service. With so many fraudulent services out there, you can save money and know you’re not getting ripped off by taking the responsibility for protecting your identity into your own hands. Here are 7 easy ways to get started.
A large percentage of credit card fraud occurs in the workplace. With Cyber-Monday less than a month away, you may be doing some online shopping at work. Don’t leave your credit cards on your desk when you’re not there, and make sure no one can see over your shoulder when you type in sensitive information, like credit card numbers or your Paypal password.
Write down the phone numbers to call in case your credit cards are stolen, and keep it someplace safe. (Not in your wallet with your cards.)
Believe it or not, low-tech “garbage theft” is still a prime culprit in identity theft. Shred everything with your credit card numbers or social security number on it, but also anything with your name, address and other identifying information. (Basically, all your mail that you’re not filing.)
At a bare minimum, get your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com once a year.
Whether you get your statements electronically (which eliminates the need for shredding) or by mail, check them every month. I can’t tell you how many people I know have automatic payments set up and don’t even bother to open their credit card statements each month. Reading your credit card statements is the easiest — and least expensive — way to keep tabs on fraudulent activity quickly enough to report it. If you’ve been a victim of credit card fraud but don’t report it for 60 days, the credit card company may refuse to pay. Don’t take chances. Pay attention to your credit card statements.
Many people handle most of their personal finance on their computer today, whether it’s through QuickBooks, or through a Web-based program “in the cloud” like Mint.com. That’s why it’s especially important to make sure you access the Internet only through a secure connection, and make sure your computer is up-to-date with the latest firewalls. If you have a wireless router, make sure that’s secure, too. And, of course, don’t give anyone access to your computer password. On the hardware side, don’t ever leave your computer unattended in a public place (like a coffee shop), where someone can put keylogging hardware or software on it to get your passwords.
A secure connection will help keep your computers safe from hackers. But also make sure no one’s looking over your shoulder when you type your passwords. Computer passwords should:
- Include a mix of numbers, letters and symbols
- Not be words in the English language
- Not be obvious for someone to guess, like “password” or your birthday
Finally, don’t write your passwords down where someone could find them.