Your credit cards are being used all around town - by someone other than you. What can you do to protect yourself?
The recent bust by South Pasadena police of an Arcadia man on charges of credit card fraud highlight the grim reality: you could be a victim of identity theft and credit card fraud at any time.
The alleged thief, 21-year-old Feng Xian, was reportedly found with over 200 cards, embossing machines and electronic equipment that allowed him to create bogus cards.
7 Ways To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
There's no fool-proof way to ensure that your identity isn't stolen, but there are a few precautions you can take.
- Shred Your Bills. Your financial statements contain critical information about you. Don't just throw it in the trash - shred it so no prying eyes can grab your information.
- Encrypt Your Hard Drives. If you scan your bills and save them in your computer, be sure to keep that machine in constant lock-down. If it gets into the wrong hands, the consequences can be disastrous.
- Keep A Tight Lip. If someone asks you for your social security number, date of birth or other identifying information during a phone call, don't give it out. Offer up the last four digits of your social security number and ask if there's any other way to verify your identity. Take it from me - there's always another, less invasive, way for a caller to handle this.
- Play Your Cards Close To The Vest. Keep your credit and debit cards in your wallet or bag at all times. Don't leave the card on the counter while you pay, or out in the open. Thieves have cameras on their phones - and won't hesitate to snap a picture.
- Watch Your Statements. You're busy - I get it. But that doesn't excuse you from taking a look at the bills when they come in each month. If there's something amiss, call the credit card company or bank immediately. There are federal laws that protect you from billing errors on your credit card statements, but your time to exercise those rights is limited.
- Opt Out. You can opt out of pre-approved credit card offers by calling 1-800-5OPTOUT. Doing so prevents the possibility of someone snatching your mail and accepting on your behalf.
- Don't Click That Link. If you get an email with a link, don't click it. If it's from a company or a friend, go to your browser and manually enter the link. Phishing scams are sneaky, and you don't want to get caught in the net.
If you believe you've been the victim of identity theft, you need to take action immediately to minimize the damage and protect your good credit name. Using these tips, you'll be able to save yourself a significant amount of time and effort.
Jay S. Fleischman is a consumer protection lawyer in Pasadena concentrating in the fields of consumer bankruptcy, student loan resolution, credit reporting errors and debt collection harassment. If you need help, call 866-787-8078 for a free phone evaluation.