By Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog
January is often about New Year's resolutions. Whatever you want to call them, here are five ways you can better protect your information and your finances in 2022.
Check your credit report free through annualcreditreport.com or 877-322-8228. If you find any mistakes, dispute them quickly. Errors can cost you money, a new job or a home rental. Even if you’re not applying for a loan or credit card, your credit score and credit record can affect your auto insurance and homeowner’s insurance, your existing credit lines and the rates you pay on credit cards you already have.
You can get your credit report from each of the three bureaus once a week at no charge through April. Then it's once a year, unless the law is finally changed to allow consumers to access their credit reports free at any time. You must go through annualcreditreport.com or the official 877-322-8228 phone number to get reports free. If you go through Equifax, TransUnion or Experian directly, you’ll likely find yourself going down some rabbit hole that involves paying money.
If you have a debit card or use PayPal, Venmo or another payment app tied to a bank account, get a secondary checking account. Don't expose your primary checking account to fraud or mistakes that will happen at some point. Tons of banks offer no fee/no strings checking.
Everything is fine until it isn't. Your direct deposits and the money you need to pay your major bills are at risk if you have only one bank account and link it to a debit card or as a payment source for Venmo, PayPal, CashApp, etc. and even Amazon.
The largest retail banks generally do not offer no strings free checking accounts, but many, many regional and community banks do. This is particularly true if you’re OK with an account that includes an online bill payment service but doesn’t include traditional paper checks.
Check your passwords on your most important online accounts. Don't use the password for your main email on any other account because your email is what's used to reset other passwords. Also, have unique passwords for social media accounts, which are often hacked.
Make a commitment to check on activity on your primary bank account either online or by phone AT LEAST once a week. A much, much better resolution is to take two minutes and do it every single day. Or at least every other day. Make it part of your morning or evening routine.
Yes, if you have fraud or errors on your bank account or debit card, you’ll likely get those transactions reversed. But how much time will you waste doing that? What other payments might bounce if your account is cleaned out? Who will handle those insufficient funds fees? (Banks are less likely to detect fraud and freeze debit cards compared with credit cards.)
In addition to monitoring your accounts regularly, sign up for text or email alerts to your phone so you get real-time notifications of all activity on your bank account, debit card and credit card over a dollar amount that you select.
Be more paranoid. It’s sad, but we have to assume we’re at risk in lots of ways. Be suspicious of every email, phone call, text message and letter in the mail. Consider that anything out of the blue could be a scam.
Don't give information to unexpected callers. Don’t click on links in emails or texts you weren't anticipating, even if it says you won a prize or your FedEx shipment is late. If you get a phone call that a relative is in legal trouble and needs to get money wired or post bond with gift cards, call another relative to find out what's going on. If you get a weird text message or email from your boss or best friend to go buy iTunes gift cards, alert them that their name or email is being misused.
Adopting these five best practices will boost your finances and reduce your stress.