It now only takes a keystroke or a click of a computer mouse to spend money. If someone is not careful with information, not only can they lose a lot of money in an instant, but they also may spend a lot of time clearing up their credit report and reputation.


It now only takes a keystroke or a click of a computer mouse to spend money. If someone is not careful with information, not only can they lose a lot of money in an instant, but they also may spend a lot of time clearing up their credit report and reputation.

Avoid becoming a victim
Be careful giving personal information to on the phone, online and in-person. Do not set computer passwords that are easy to guess like a child’s name or a birth date. Keep the important papers in a secure location like a safety deposit box or home safe, or scan them and save copies in an online dropbox. Shred any documents containing personal information when they are no longer needed. Paying for a credit monitoring service is not necessary if someone is diligent at protecting their personal information.

Monitor credit reports
People can obtain a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting agencies from www.annualcreditreport.com (other websites may charge a fee). Report any errors in writing. If someone wants to know their credit score (say before applying for a loan), then that person will have to pay for this service. Credit scores are available for around $20 from any of the credit reporting agencies or from www.myfico.com. To stop credit card companies from sending unsolicited credit applications, go to www.optoutprescreen.com.

Monitor statements
Whether someone pays bills online or the old fashioned way, monitor the bank, credit card and investment account statements. Check for erroneous charges and report them right away, no matter how small. If a fraudster manages to incorrectly charge two dollars, and he does this to a million people, that’s $2 million in his pocket. Keep contact information up-to-date.

Avoid bad credit
It’s important in today’s economy to establish and maintain traditional credit such as a home mortgage, a car loan and a major credit card, but people want to stay away from nontraditional credit sources such as payday lenders and rent-to-own businesses. Using nontraditional credit can quickly escalate into a revolving debt nightmare. During this tax season, avoid the temptation to take out a refund anticipation loan. These loans charge effective annual interest rates as high as 1300 percent and if there is a problem with a tax return, that person is responsible for repaying the loan. If someone files their taxes electronically, they can expect to receive a refund in 10 days. If they can’t wait an extra week or so to buy something, then they need to evaluate whether they need it anyway.

Do research
Before making major purchases, research products online. Check out websites such as www.amazon.com, www.consumerreports.com, www.consumersearch.com and www.resellerratings.com for customer reviews and ratings. Compare prices, including shipping and handling charges. The best deal may be from an online vendor.

Know who to complain to
It’s bad enough being a victim of fraud. But it can be very frustrating trying to figure out where to file a complaint. If someone has a complaint against a business or charity, they can check them out at the Better Business Bureau, www.bbb.org. Contact the Oklahoma Insurance Department (1-800-522-0071) www.ok.gov/oid to report insurance fraud or the Securities and Exchange Commission www.sec.gov to file a complaint against a broker or a registered investment advisor.
Victims of identity theft need to contact the Federal Trade Commission at its special call center 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338). The FTC also operates a national Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse.
Following these tips can help a person become a savvy consumer. They will also have peace of mind knowing they are in control of personal information. This article was provided by Dr. Eileen St. Pierre, Personal Finance Specialist, College of Human Environmental Sciences, Oklahoma State University.
For more information about family finance issues, contact the Pottawatomie County OSU Extension Office.