Establishing and maintaining a good credit score unlocks many things for you in life. Getting good terms on car and mortgage loans, taking out a small business loan, these depend on establishing a history of good credit.
Owning a credit card comes with a lot of responsibilities, paying your accounts on time being a top priority. But protecting your credit information is a critical responsibility as well, as identity theft can impact you in a myriad of ways. In this article we’re going to explore ways you can maintain a good credit score while taking active measures to protect your personal identity.
The grim stats on credit fraud
Where criminals used to need to physically pickpocket their victims, the internet has created a new landscape of identity theft. Physical card theft has gone down, but identity theft cases continue to rise, because cybercriminals have numerous opportunities to snatch data.
- With over 270,000 reports, credit card fraud was the most common type of identity theft in 2020, and more than doubled from 2017 to 2019.
- Almost 165 million records containing personal data were exposed through data breaches in 2019.
- There were 650,572 cases of identity theft in 2019.
It’s easy to think our credit card information is safely locked behind encrypted databases on servers, but you can’t take cybersecurity for granted. Many people would benefit from fraud protection services, such as automatic alerts if any of your personal information appears in new public data from vast financial networks.
There are numerous ways thieves are able to steal credit cards in this modern age, including but definitely not limited to:
- Cyberattacks on companies and card processors
- Physical skimmers at ATMs and swipers
- Malware and viruses
- Phishing scams
- Trash digging for physical receipts
Because there are different ways criminals can obtain your identity, you need different approaches to safeguarding your identity online, and your physical documents as well. Paper shredding or incineration is always a good bet.
Ways to protect your credit score and identity
Put a freeze on your credit reports
Freezing your credit reports does not mean freezing your current credit accounts. When you freeze your credit reports, you make it so that your identity is unable to be used for opening any new credit accounts, as these would require the creditor to verify your credit report. Thus, being unable to obtain a credit report on your identity means that new creditors will be unable to open accounts in your name.
You can keep all of your current credit cards and continue using your existing accounts as normal, you just have to unfreeze your credit report if you want to open any new accounts.
So overall there are pros and cons to freezing your credit, but the pros outweigh the cons.
- No one can open new credit lines in your name.
- It does not affect your credit score.
- It’s free to freeze/unfreeze your credit.
- You need to safeguard your PIN numbers for all three credit bureaus.
- You need to unfreeze your reports to do any business with new creditors.
Use automatic payment systems
Every credit card issuer offers an automatic payment system, so that your bills are paid each month on their due date. If you’re in a position to make sure you have enough money in your bank account to avoid being overdrawn, automatic payment systems help your credit score by establishing a regular payment history.
However you absolutely need to make sure that you have the balance to cover the automatic payments, as late payments will negatively affect your credit score by as much as 100 points for a month-late payment.
Review your monthly statements carefully
No matter how much you automate things and put accounts on alert, make the effort to manually review your monthly account statements. People generally check for larger fraudulent purchases, but identity thieves often start with really tiny amounts to test the card.
Cybercriminals are actually extremely crafty in how they test batches of stolen credit cards to verify which ones work, and knowing how they operate is certainly beneficial. At the end of the day, you should be concerned about a $1.25 charge to your account just as much as a $1,000 dollar charge, because the first one unnoticed will quickly become the latter.
Owning a credit card comes with a lot of financial responsibilities, but it also carries security responsibilities. It’s up to the consumer to make the best effort to safeguard their identity, and prove to the financial institution that you were proactive in reporting fraudulent activity.