How to Protect Your Credit: Safeguarding Against Fraud and Identity Theft
Modern connectivity and technology has been a mixed bag of previously unimaginable conveniences and unpredictable risks.
Mobile banking, online shopping and credit cards are easily accessible and, in many cases, virtually free tools for consumers in the U.S. Unfortunately, there are people who have found vulnerabilities within the modern digital structure to exploit.
Following security best practices will fortify your credit defenses and ensure you remain insulated from the multifaceted threats that pervade the digital realm.
Create Robust Passwords
The cornerstone of digital security, robust passwords act as your primary defense against unauthorized access to your financial accounts. There are specific strategies consumers can implement to make their passwords much harder to steal or crack:
- Complexity: Incorporate a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters.
- Length: Aim for a minimum of 12 characters.
- Unpredictability: Eschew easily guessable information, such as birthdates or common words.
- Unique Credentials: Allocate distinct passwords for different platforms to prevent a security breach on one account from jeopardizing others.
- Password Managers: Utilize reliable password management tools to store and manage your credentials securely.
Use Credit Reports and Monitoring
Routine monitoring of your credit report enables you to identify and address any anomalous activities promptly. Consumers may want to research credit surveillance products and/or implement monitoring practices on their own:
- Look Into Credit Monitoring: There are a variety of credit monitoring services, some of which offer free base-level services. Paid versions are more likely to notify you of fraud (like new credit cards or loans opened in your name) more quickly.
- Free Annual Reports: Leverage the free annual credit reports you’re entitled to receive from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
- Alerts: Set up alerts for unusual activities, such as hefty purchases or unfamiliar transactions.
- Reporting: Immediately report any discrepancies or unauthorized transactions to the relevant financial institutions and credit bureaus.
Beware of Phishing Scams
Phishing scams, designed to bait consumers into divulging personal information, employ a plethora of deceptive tactics. Remaining vigilant, paying attention to details and always maintaining an appropriate level of suspicion can help you avoid scammers:
- Verification: Confirm the authenticity of requests for information by contacting the institution directly through verified contact details.
- Guardedness: Never disclose personal or financial information in response to unsolicited communications.
- Email Vigilance: Scrutinize email senders and URLs for incongruities to detect impersonation attempts.
- Attachments and Links: Avoid opening attachments or clicking on links in unsolicited emails to evade malware.
- Education: Stay abreast of prevailing phishing strategies and inform yourself about the modus operandi of scammers.
Freeze Your Credit
Activating a credit freeze denies prospective creditors access to your credit report, significantly impeding identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. When implementing a credit freeze:
- Contact All Bureaus: Ensure you place a freeze with all three major credit bureaus for comprehensive protection.
- Accessibility: Remember that you will need to lift the freeze when applying for credit.
- Duration: Consider the nature of the freeze — whether temporary or permanent – based on your requirements.
Consumers shouldn’t let a credit freeze give them a false sense of security. It doesn’t provide complete protection from all types of fraud, like those involving your Social Security number. It also won’t prevent fraud involving any existing credit accounts (like someone stealing your debit or credit card).
A credit freeze also makes opening new credit lines of any kind more cumbersome. However, if you have no plans on opening a new credit card or loan in the near future, it may be worth your time to look into a freeze.
Leverage Fraud Alerts
Implementing fraud alerts on your credit reports compels creditors to verify your identity before extending credit. Here’s how you can make the most of fraud alerts:
- Initiation: Contact one of the credit bureaus to place an initial fraud alert, which will communicate the alert to the other two bureaus.
- Duration: Determine whether you require an initial fraud alert (valid for one year and renewable) or an extended alert (valid for seven years, available for identity theft victims).
Secure Your Devices
Ensure the devices through which you access financial information are fortified with robust security measures:
- Up-to-Date Software: Regularly update your devices’ operating systems and applications to leverage the latest security features.
- Two-Factor Authentication: Most financial institutions or organizations that handle sensitive data will allow you to implement two-factor authentication, which can dramatically increase the security on private information.
- Look for Secure Connections: Avoid accessing any sensitive accounts or websites that require logins when you are on public Wi-Fi or an unsecured network.
- Use Virus and Malware Protection on Your Computer and Phones: There are some free virus protection solutions, but there are also many affordable and effective paid options available.
Helping New Orleans Bank Safely
At OnPath Federal Credit Union, the financial safety and health of our banking customers is our highest priority. We are proud to offer a robust suite of security measures designed to prevent fraud and alert members quickly if any fraudulent activity is detected.
There is no set-it-and-forget-it, one-time solution to protect your credit and finances from fraud. It will require ongoing effort for as long as these technologies exist. However, once you’ve started implementing these safety measures and incorporate vigilance into your daily routine and behaviors, protecting yourself becomes second nature.
Learn more about our safe banking services by calling us at 800.749.6193.