It Pays to Be Obsessive About Your Finances
One lesson I have learned over the years that has served me well on multiple occasions is that you really cannot be too obsessive about keeping a watchful eye on your finances. In today’s world, with all of our online and automated activity, it is easier than ever for criminals to get a hold of our personal and credit card information. In a matter of minutes, a thief can wrack up thousands of dollars in online purchases on your credit card, before you even know it is happening. Back in the 1990s when I had my first credit card, this was not a well-known phenomenon. Neither was identity theft. That is not to say that it didn’t happen, because it did. In fact, my identity was first stolen when I worked at a manufacturing plant and left my wallet with my license and social security card in the bathroom by mistake. A woman took it, and promptly went to the mall, where she bought $2000 worth of items on my credit card. She later opened up utility accounts in my name, and continues to occasionally try to open up various new accounts using my information. If I was not diligent in checking both my credit reports and my daily finances, I would not even know what she has been up to, and I could be liable for many accounts that are not my own. It is important to create a do it yourself credit card detection process. I share mine below.
Credit Card Fraud and All Its Implications
My credit card information has been stolen so many times online that I find it difficult to say exactly how many. Sometimes, the credit card company flags a suspicious purchase, and asks me to verify if it was me. There have been numerous occasions when I have seen a fraudulent charge before the credit card company has, and I have contacted them. All of my credit card companies offer no liability for fraudulent charges, which means that I don’t have to pay for whatever the thief has stolen. They remove the charges and issue me a new card. This is nice, and a definite relief, but it does not mean that I let down my guard. Often, a thief will buy something that costs very little as a way of testing the card, to see if anyone is paying attention. If it goes through undetected, they will then purchase more expensive things. What is particularly worrisome, though, is that there is no way to tell what information a thief has gotten access to. If they have your credit card number, they may also have your online passwords. They know your name. They could know your birthday. If they are savvy enough, they may find your social security number. When that happens, it becomes extremely difficult to protect yourself. Trust me, I know. You cannot get a new social security number just because yours has been stolen. You will have to go through a lengthy process of putting a credit alert on your credit bureau files, so that every time a new account is being opened it will be held until you can verify it was you. You will have to contest each and every thing on your credit report that is not yours, and prove it. You will need to do this repeatedly, perhaps for the rest of your life.
I use several different apps every single day to watch my finances. I want to know every transaction that occurs on my credit card accounts or in my checking and savings as soon as they happen. It seems obsessive, and maybe it is, but it has saved me a lot of time, money, and hassle since I started doing it. Just this past week, I noticed a $35 charge on my Visa for Pizza Hut that was not mine. The credit card company didn’t catch it, because I have bought Pizza Hut before. I contacted them, and after an investigation, they removed the charge and issued a new card. I have the apps that my bank offers, the credit card company apps, and third party financial apps, Mint.com and Personal Capital. I check them all frequently. I also check my credit at least once a year through www.annualcreditreport.com. If you take nothing else away from this website, I hope you do this. I am sure you will be happy you did.
Number 1: Never keep your social security card or number in your wallet!
Be your own credit champion by regularly monitoring your account activity. Set up alerts on your credit cards so you are notified whenever a purchase is made. Check your bank balances regularly. Be sure to check your credit reports from all three credit bureaus at least once a year. You are your own best advocate. If it isn’t yours, fight for your right to have it removed. Don’t let your credit suffer because of some thief who is out there using your good name and credit.
For helpful products and services, visit my Resources page.