Today more than ever, it is important to monitor your financial activity and credit reports. Fraudsters are continually finding new ways to steal data and make fraudulent purchases. Thankfully, there’s a few simple – and best of all, free – ways to help keep yourself secure.
Most banks, credit cards and lenders allow you to sign up for text, email or mobile push alerts, notifying you of various types of account activity.
- Visit each website and/or app for each of your financial providers and enroll in their alerts. This includes brokerage accounts, credit cards, and banks. Choose the alert type that’s best for you.
I personally like using mobile push alerts and emails to ensure I notice the notification. The mobile push alert comes through instantly but if I’m focused on something other than my phone when it comes through, I may disregard the alert. If I forget to go back and review the alert, I know I’ll see the same notification in my inbox later when I’m reading emails.
- Choose to receive alerts for charges over a certain dollar amount (for example $500), international transactions, late payments, etc. To be safe, I elect alerts for all transactions, not just those over a certain dollar limit. The downside is that you may receive a significant number of alerts.
- If you receive a notification that looks suspicious or doesn’t align with your usual account activity, you can investigate it right away. Don’t forget to review your finances regularly with your spouse/partner if your share an account or with anyone who is an authorized user. What may appear to be suspicious activity could simply be a legitimate transaction made by an authorized user of the account.
Review Your Credit Reports Regularly
There are three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and Transunion. Federal law allows consumers to get a free copy of their credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting agency. You can obtain those reports for free, here: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action
- Rather than accessing all three reports once per year, consider setting a recurring calendar reminder for each 4 months to access a report from a different agency.
For example, in January, access your Equifax report. Then in April, access your Experian report. Lastly, in August, access your Transunion report. Then once January rolls around again you repeat the cycle since it has been 12 months since you last accessed your Equifax report.
- When reviewing your credit reports, ensure that the information is correct and up to date. If something appears suspicious or if there is a mistake (i.e.: an account or loan erroneously shows an outstanding balance but it has actually been paid in full, report the issue to the credit reporting agency so it can be corrected).
Freeze Your Credit
One of the best things you can do is to place an indefinite freeze on your credit. Placing a freeze on your credit prevents anyone from fraudulently opening new credit using your personal information. Keep in mind, this also will prevent you from opening new credit while the freeze is in place.
So, if you’re applying for a new credit card, car loan or mortgage, you’ll have to take an extra but simple step of temporarily lifting your credit freeze so the lender can access your credit as part of their application process.
Placing an indefinite freeze on your credit is simple. Visit each credit reporting agency’s website and navigate to the section dedicating to placing or lifting a freeze.
The links below should navigate directly to the freeze section of each agency’s website.
- Equifax: https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/credit-freeze/
- Experian: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
- Transunion: https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze
Each agency’s site and process for freezing/unfreezing may be a bit different so be sure to take your time. You may need to create a username and password as well as a unique PIN. Be sure to save this information in a safe place where you can easily access it in the future.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Lastly, be sure to share this information with friends and family. The more people we can help protect their finances, the better!