With the growing concern about financial fraud and identity theft, getting protected has become more important than ever. It’s imperative to gain awareness on how to effectively look after yourself and your finances in this digital world.

Also, in an unstable economy, the sudden loss of a job can create a financial crisis and you need to protect your credit from being ruined. When faced with decreased income because of a job loss or being the victim of identity theft, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself and your credit.

Here are some steps you can take to protect your finances:

Dealing with the inevitable –

It’s important to live within one’s means, but nowadays it has become almost a necessity to open an account for credit cards, apply for loans, or just simply use personal information online for shopping or checking bank accounts. It’s always safer and perhaps smarter to just pay with cash, but then how does one build up their credit and have a strong credit history? With the perpetually busy world we live in and the opportunities it has to offer, the convenience of using these services are just too hard to resist. Online shopping and banking have become a vital part of our everyday lives.

The internet and personal devices security –

Living in a digital world, information, especially the confidential type, is within anyone’s fingertips and that’s a scary thing to think about. This makes things even riskier because good hackers can be too shrewd to be blocked by trusted security measures, such as a firewall. It’s advisable to have personal devices, such as laptops, mobile phones, tablets, etc. be protected by antivirus programs and make sure those programs are up-to-date.

Spyware and phishing attacks –

When using the internet, make sure that the website you are on is secure, especially if they are asking for personal information. A safe website should have https:// before the web address like this: https://www.advantageccs.org/. There should also be some logos and other safety identity information found on the website. This will help protect you against identity theft. The danger lies on websites with spyware that slowly creeps into devices to collect information on a person’s credit card including their usernames and passwords, so always be extra careful about clicking on links or opening any attachments.

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Staying safe while online –

The websites which are prone to scams and debacles include those with adult content; file sharing sites, and even popular social media sites which hackers love to mess with. Some of the proven ways of keeping a safe online environment to guard your credit includes:

  • Avoiding questionable and suspicious websites (look for https://)
  • Updating your devices operating systems regularly and using an Antivirus program
  • Increasing browser security online by adjusting the browser settings
  • Opening emails from trusted contacts only

Practicing credit card security basics –

Although it may be taken for granted way too often, understanding credit card safety is an important part of its ownership. Upon getting the card from the mail, it should be signed at the back immediately with “C.I.D.” or “See my I.D.” so the sales associate has to see your driver’s license to confirm it’s really you. Also, the card must NEVER be stored together with the PIN. This way, if/when the card gets stolen the PIN will still be safe and unknown to the thief.

Avoid giving away your account numbers –

Thieves are very smart with getting credit card numbers, this must be prevented at all cost by keeping the card private and it should not be shown to the public in any way. It is also not advisable to give away this information over the telephone, not unless you called the bank or a trusted merchant. Also, signing up for paperless statements and online payments on secured websites is a good idea to keep sensitive information from the postal system or from having someone go thru your garbage to find statements.

Checking your accounts regularly –

Fundamental to credit safety is making sure recent account activities are monitored either online or by the phone. Some banks offer email or text alerts whenever there are unusual activities with a person’s account. Check to see if your bank or creditor offers this service and sign up for it. You can also sign up for credit alerts on Credit Karma.

Report suspected fraud & lost cards right away –

Contact the issuing bank right away in case the card is lost or there is a suspected credit fraud activity. The issuer is capable of blocking the card or account number so it cannot be used by the thief. Acting fast to prevent any further damage is very important. It’s also stated in the U.S. law that banks are required to replace your lost card, although, you may have to pay a certain amount or have the fee waived.

Stop using your credit cards for everything –

If you just lost your job, the last thing you want is to end up deeper in debt, particularly when you don’t have your regular flow of income. And you do not want to count on being able to pay back any additional debt when you get another job. In a rocky economy, there is no guarantee that you will find another job at a comparable income level or even another job at all for quite some time. That’s why it’s so important to have an emergency savings fund ready. You don’t want to have to rely on your credit cards or loans just to pay the bills. Click here for more info on starting an emergency savings fund.

Take stock of your current financial situation –

Next, examine your current credit card damage. It’s essential to have a firm grasp of exactly who you owe, what you owe, and under what terms. Be sure to make at least the minimum monthly payments each month and never avoid your creditors. No matter the circumstances, it is crucial to always stay in contact with them to avoid landing yourself in trouble with a collections agency.

Keep your credit card companies and other creditors informed of your situation and ask them how you can work together to continue paying off your debt. Creditors may be able to offer you a grace period or some other protection, particularly if you continue to make efforts to pay and stay in contact with them. This is something that the certified credit counselors at Advantage CCS can help you accomplish. We can contact your creditors and set up payment plans with them to help you take charge of your situation. For more info on our Debt Management Program, check out this article: https://www.advantageccs.org/who-could-benefit-from-a-debt-management-program

It is also wise to reexamine your spending and finances during a financial crisis. Start by cutting any and all unnecessary spending such as trips to Starbucks, meals at restaurants, or nights out with friends. Even the smallest daily luxury expenses can add up quickly. If sticking to a budget is hard for you, Advantage CCS can help you learn how to create and stick to a realistic budget.

Raise a little extra cash –

Take the opportunity to clean your home and make some money in the process. Gather up any items you no longer use or need and have a yard sale or start posting on Craigslist or eBay.
If you feel you need a loan to get you over the hump, you may want to consider borrowing money from friends and family. They won’t require a credit check and the repayment terms will most likely be much more flexible and manageable than a loan from a financial institution.

Conclusion –

Prevention is always better than a cure! Similarly, it’s easier to make efforts in keeping your finances safe by protecting your credit rather than running after an unknown thief or racking up more debt after a job loss. Both of which can cost you innumerable sleepless nights and stressful back-and-forth calls to banks and security agencies.

Finally, make an appointment with a credit counselor at Advantage CCS. A credit counselor can help you come up with possible solutions and a plan specifically tailored to your situation and needs to get you back on your feet and guard your credit.

Author: Lauralynn Mangis
Lauralynn is the Online Marketing Specialist for AdvantageCCS. She is married and has two young daughters. She enjoys writing, reading, hiking, cooking, video games, sewing, and gardening. Lauralynn has a degree in Multimedia Technologies from Pittsburgh Technical College.