You worked hard to build an excellent credit history, so of course, you want to protect your score. But the truth is, it only takes one sneaky, dishonest person to steal your personal information and ruin your credit reputation.
Identity theft can quickly send your credit from good to bad. Even though you're not responsible for this negative information on your credit report, it can take months or years to repair the damage. Protecting yourself starts with keeping your private information under lock and key. This includes bank account numbers, your Social Security number and credit card numbers.
Obviously, you know not to share your bank account or Social Security number with anyone, so it might be easy to keep these numbers hidden. However, it's a different story with your credit cards.
Depending on how often you use credit, you may give countless people a sneak peak of your credit card numbers multiple times a week. Think about it. You give waiters your credit card at restaurants. You give your credit cards to clerks at retail stores, and you handover your credit card numbers while shopping online. You may think you're safe since this is how it works in the consumer world. That's until you realize an important truth about identity theft-thieves don't need your wallet to steal your credit card number.
Thieves have several tricks up their sleeves for swiping personal information, and if you know the methods they use, you can better protect yourself.
Copying Your Credit Card Info at Restaurants
Some restaurants have taken measures to reduce identity theft. Rather than the waitstaff taking a patron's credit card, they carry portable credit card readers and swipe credit cards at the table in front of customers. The problem is that not all restaurants offer this. In most cases, it's safe to pay with a credit card at restaurants. But there have been reports of waiters copying credit card information and taking advantage of patrons. If you're worried about this happening to you, pay for restaurant meals with cash.
Hacking into Retail Store Computer Systems
Each time you make a credit card payment at a restaurant or retail store, the establishment's computer retains a record of your credit card information. Unfortunately, many savvy thieves know how to break into these computers and swipe customer names and credit card information (i.e Target and Home Depot). Paying with cash is the only way to guarantee your protection. If you use a credit card, regularly check your statements for fraudulent activity.
Breaking into Unsecured Websites
In this day and age of the Internet, you can do just about anything without leaving your house-order food, shop, manage your money, etc. If you're shopping online, only purchase from secured websites. Look for a security symbol or padlock either in the upper or bottom corner of the site. If you don't see a logo, don't enter your credit card information. It doesn't take much effort for a hacker to break into an unsecured website.
Lifting Your Personal Mail
Signing up for paperless statements is another trick to keep your credit card information safe, especially if you don't have a lock on your mailbox. Anyone can walk past your mailbox and quickly steal credit card statements and other mail with your personal information. This person can max out your credit cards and ruin your good name before you even realize a problem. If you receive paper statements, check your mail immediately, notify your credit card company if a statement never arrives, and keep a close eye on your accounts.