Protect Your Credit

I got a “please pass it on” email that actually looked useful. Being generally unwilling to pass emails on, and considering that most of my email contacts would already have a copy from the person who sent it to me, I thought I would post a condensed version of the information here. I have verified the numbers at the bottom of the post. These are suggestions to protect yourself from fraud and identity theft in case your wallet or credit cards are lost or stolen.

  1. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put “PHOTO ID REQUIRED.” VISA requirements state that merchants should ask cardholders to sign their cards even if they have written “see ID” on their cards. My brother also tells me that stores where he lives won’t take unsigned cards even with Photo ID.
  2. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card Accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the “For” line. Instead, just put the last four numbers.
  3. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box use that instead of your home address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks.
  4. Make a photocopy of both sides of any ID you carry in your wallet and keep the copy in a safe place. This preserves any information you might need to report fraud or place a hold.

If your wallet is ever stolen:

  1. Cancel your credit cards immediately – the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy.
  2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen.
  3. Call the 3 national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and also call the Social Security fraud line number. From the email:

I had never heard of doing that until advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for credit was made over the internet in my name. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.

By the time I was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done. There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves’ purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert. Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away this weekend (someone turned it in). It seems to have stopped them dead in their tracks.

Now, here are the numbers you always need to contact if your wallet, etc., has been stolen:

  • Equifax – 1-888-766-0008 (Place a fraud alert)
  • Experian – 1-888-397-3742 (Place a fraud alert)
  • Trans Union – 1-800-680-7289 (Fraud Victim Assistance Department)
  • Social Security Administration1-800-269-0271 (Fraud hotline)

One thing that I thought about was that having a photocopy of all your credit cards (front and back) would be a little bit like keeping post-it notes with all your passwords. I think that credit card companies should send a fraud card that you could keep and even copy which would look like your regular card, except that it would be changed.

They could include a bogus name on the card (since you know your real name) which would have the same structure as your real name – John Doe or John B Doe. If they wanted to include a magnetic strip on the back it could be encoded to indicate that the card was fraudulent. They could include exactly as much of your real card number and expiration date as they would want if you are reporting a stolen card – the rest of the numbers would be bogus. Even if that was the full card number, the card would not have the correct name so thieves would not be able to use it. The back of the card could include the phone number to report fraud rather than the phone number for account maintenance (assuming they are different). They could also include a falsified CVV2 number – that would be on the front of American Express cards and the back of other cards. I imagine it would look similar to the card below.

UPDATE: As suggested in the comments – make sure to call your bank right away if you have checks or a debit card stolen.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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2 Responses to Protect Your Credit

  1. Jared says:

    First, there should be no need to call the social security administration, because you should not be carrying anything that has your social security number on it. The only time you should carry your social security card with you is when you’re going to need it for identification (e.g. when applying for certain jobs).

    Second, the only things you need in order to report the loss or theft of a credit card are the credit card number, your name (which you should remember, hopefully), and the contact number. Most of the contact numbers are available online or in the phone book. So I don’t think it’s necessary to have photocopies of the credit cards, and I also don’t think we should require the credit card companies to provide a fraud card. That’s just more expense to them without any obvious benefit.

    Third, the “See ID” thing is not valid. Signing the credit card indicates that you have entered into a legal relationship with the credit card company. Without the signature, you have no contract with them. Consider Visa’s instructions to companies when you present a card with “see ID” on it: They instruct the card checker to request that you sign the card, verify your government-issued ID, and then verify your card signature against the signature you put on the receipt.

    If you have a debit card (even if it’s backed by Visa or Mastercard), call your bank to report the theft of that card first. It’s usually much harder and more involved to get that money back.

  2. David says:

    Calling the SSA fraud hotline is a good idea if you were carrying your Social Security card with you – although I agree that you shouldn’t generally carry it. The whole “See ID” thing was new to me. I’ll fix that in the post after seeing the VISA rules. I’ll also add the suggestion about calling your bank with regard to debit cards.

    It seems to me that a fraud card is better than having a photocopy of your real credit card. Really, any way that you can remember your credit card number should be enough. I doubt the expense of a fraud card is prohibitive since most companies will give you a second card for free and often they already send fake cards in the mail in their efforts to recruit new cardholders. Also, I was not suggesting that we require the card companies to do it, I was suggesting that they might want to consider it as part of their effort to fight fraud.

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