Keep an Eye on Your Credit
You can never be too careful about your credit. Learn about your rights as a consumer and the best ways to protect your clean credit record.
Know your credit rights
If you¡¯re at least 18 years old, you cannot be denied a card based on your age, racial background, sex, marital status, religion, national origin, or participation in a public assistance program. A financial institution¡¯s decision about issuing you a card must be based solely on your credit history and other personal information. Make sure you understand your credit report and check it often to verify its accuracy.
Protect your personal information
Identity theft, email scams and other illegal activities have increased dramatically with the growth of the Internet. Scam artists and other criminals create elaborate but often believable schemes to defraud consumers, so it is critical to safeguard your personal information against any and all fraud. Protect yourself:
- Don't give out personal information unless you have initiated the contact. Thieves can pose as representatives of legitimate companies with which you do business and request you 'verify personal information.' In "verifying" it, you are actually giving it to the caller. Instead, tell the caller you're busy and will have to call them back, then ask for a name. Do not use a phone number supplier by the caller. Use your statements or a phone book to get the number of the business, then verify the caller and his or her purpose.
- Place passwords on bank accounts, credit card accounts and other lines of credit. Use something other than your social security number or mother's maiden name to guard against identity theft.
- Keep your social security card in a secure place like a safety deposit box or home safe. It should not be carried in your wallet unless you are going to need it. A social security card in the wrong hands makes identity theft even easier.
- Avoid giving out your social security number unless it is required to obtain a credit report, loan, or some other legitimate transaction. If asked for your social security number, find out why it is needed and ask if it is legally incumbent upon you to provide it to receive the goods or services you are requesting. In most cases it is not and another number can be substituted.
- Use a "confetti" shredder for all paper and plastic that displays your personal information. This includes statements, credit card solicitations, junk mail that has your name and address, and expired cards of all kinds, including not only credit cards but also insurance cards, medical cards and even library cards. If you receive magazine subscriptions, remove the address pages for the shredder before throwing the magazines out.
If you suspect identity theft:
- Call the fraud hotlines of all three national credit bureaus. Report the problem, request a ¡°fraud alert,¡± and ask for a free copy of your credit report.
Equifax (800) 525-6285
Experian (888) 397-3742
TransUnion (800) 680-7289
- Call the fraud departments of your creditors. Contact your card issuers, other lenders, phone companies, and utility companies. Follow up each call with a letter describing the problem.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Call toll-free (877) ID-THEFT [(877) 438-4338],
or visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft
Know how to dispute a billing or purchase error
When you challenge a purchase or billing error, be sure to put everything in writing¡ªincluding your account information and an explanation of the dispute¡ªand note these requirements:
- Billing Errors: The Fair Credit Billing Act protects you in billing disputes with card issuers and certain other creditors. If you think you have found a mistake, write to the billing dispute address on your statement within sixty days after they send you the first bill containing the error. Note: You do not have to pay any amount in question during the investigation, but you are still obligated to pay any undisputed charges. Your card issuer is legally obligated to acknowledge your letter within thirty days, and must either correct the error or explain it to you in writing within two billing cycles.
- Purchase Disputes: According to the Truth-in-Lending Act, purchases eligible for dispute are goods and services that a) cost more than $50, b) have been purchased in your home state or within 100 miles of your mailing address, and c) are not yet paid. First try to resolve the dispute with the merchant. If that doesn¡¯t work, contact your issuer in writing. (Keep in mind that this protection does not apply to amounts you have already paid on your credit card bill for the merchandise or service.)
Report stolen or lost cards immediately
Contact your financial institution to report the loss or theft and arrange for a replacement card to be mailed to you. You should keep a copy of your financial institution¡¯s name, its customer service phone number, and your credit card account number in a convenient place¡ªseparate from your card.