Fraud Protection is Not Identity Theft Protection: Take Action!

Most credit cards and bank accounts have fraud protection included in the user agreements, but fraud protection extends only so far and may well not protect you, your finances and your credit rating. Banks and other financial institutions know well that fraud protection clauses aren’t enough: They offer paid services to supplement the partial protection and close loopholes in financial protection. While you might consider purchasing an identity theft plan, with reasonable diligence, you can accomplish much the same thing for little or no additional cost.

Extra Baggage

Don’t carry extra bank or credit cards with you everywhere. It’s convenient and reasonable to carry one with you, but leave all the others secured at home or in a lock box. You can lose your wallet, have it stolen or simply not see something slip from it, and once it’s gone, your “benefactor” could definitely benefit before you realize the loss or cost.

Don’t keep account numbers, log-in information or passwords to any account in your wallet, purse or car. It’s not even recommended that you store that information in a hidden file on your computer. If you need a reminder, start a Private Browsing session, create a separate, free email address and send yourself your account information. Include all personal data associated with each account, including security questions and answers, user names, log in and passwords. Include URLs for each site, addresses for physical buildings and important phone numbers for each entity.

When you have the sent/received email, log out of the email address, close the browser, open a new browser then stop the Private Browsing session. (Don’t worry; your usual sessions will restore themselves.)

Passwords

You may be tired of these bits of advice, but they hold just as true as they always have:

Don’t duplicate: Never use the same password for two or more accounts, even if the accounts are not identical.

Mix lower case and upper case letters. Include numbers and special characters. Never use the same letter, number or symbol more than once in each password. Never use upper or lower case letters, numbers or symbols in a row. While many sites “rate” a new password on strength, those ratings use generalities. Check your passwords against a multiple-criteria standard for the “strongest strong” password you can create and remember.

Change your passwords often. Never let a password stay the same for longer than six months. The more you access the account, whether it’s a bank account, your ISP account, a credit account or an email account, the more often you should change each account’s passwords—and security questions and answers.

Virtually every account site allows you to answer security questions if you forget your password. You don’t absolutely have to make up nonsense answers, though it helps, but you can use a mostly-factual answer but not have it accurate for the exact question.

For example, one common security question is “What was your mother’s maiden name?” If the factual and true answer is “Johnston,” vary the spelling or use a friend’s maiden name. Use “j0Hn$toN” as a variant or “Bartholomew” or whatever your friend’s maiden name is. The name variant is pretty effective against casual hack attempts, because it’s the exact spelling that counts. The alternate is especially effective if the variant is easily forgotten. Whether you spell it correctly or not, “Bartholomew” is definitely not the factually correct answer of “Johnson.”

Free Credit Reports

The law provides an opportunity for you to obtain one free copy of your credit report every year. Do so. Make it a routine and a Must-Do item.

If you apply for credit and are rejected, you are entitled to a free copy as well. Know, however, that a rejection-based request does not cancel your free annual report.

This post was contributed by John Walker, who runs a payday loans site. John lives in London, UK where he works as a financial analyst for a high street bank.


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