As Halloween rolls around, it’s time to tackle your financial fears.
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For many Americans, pulling your credit reports (you can get free credit reports once a year) and checking your credit scores can be a terrifying idea. If you haven’t checked your credit in a while, you don’t know what you could find on there and the unknown can be pretty scary. But knowledge is power and you can protect yourself and your credit from these three credit spooks. Each can wreak havoc with your credit and your life if not vanquished quickly.
1. Vampire Identity Thieves
An identity thief can drain the financial life out of your bank and credit card accounts. All it takes is one breach of your personal financial information to become a victim.
Your financial information could be compromised by a waiter or waitress who copies your credit card number, a dumpster diver who finds your unshredded financial records, an unscrupulous medical office worker or hotel clerk with access to sensitive info, or a relative or roommate who finds your personal financial account numbers in your mail.
A vampire identity thief could swipe your personal financial information on a phony website, by taking over your phone or utility account, in a computer virus or by stealing your wallet. Yep, vampire identity thieves seem to be everywhere, draining your financial accounts or opening new accounts in your name and sucking the life out of your credit score.
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Ward them off by keeping your personal financial information on lockdown:
- Change your online passwords frequently.
- Shred all credit and loan offers you receive in the mail.
- Keep close tabs on all your credit card and debit cards. Carry just one or two in your wallet and keep the others locked away.
- Share your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary and do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
- Review your bank and credit card statements each month. Report suspicious and unfamiliar charges immediately. And follow these five steps ASAP, if you suspect an identity thief has struck.
2. Credit Shadows
Is someone else’s credit haunting your credit file? Did your file get mixed up with someone else’s? Maybe someone with a similar name or even a relative?
Don’t let these credit shadows play tricks with your credit record and hurt your chances of qualifying for the home or auto loan that you deserve. You may think that your credit is in good shape, then apply for a loan and get smacked in the face with a credit score you don’t recognize. That can be especially painful if it means you get hit with a higher interest rate for a loan that has a 30-year term like a mortgage. The lifetime cost of your debt can be enormous if you don’t have a good credit score. You can prevent getting into a situation like this by keeping an eye on your credit scores, and you can get two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.
Report credit errors or mixed accounts to the credit reporting agencies and to the individual creditors. Be patient and persistent and follow all the steps needed to correct errors and keep your credit file free of credit shadows.
3. Zombie Debts
Are you being hassled about a debt that’s not even yours? Or that is no longer collectable? Don’t let a zombie debt hurt your credit or take over your phone with annoying or unwarranted collection calls.
Make those collection calls stop and clear up your credit by standing up for your rights with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Stop those zombie debts in their tracks and restore peace to your home and your phone.
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Lucy Lazarony is a freelance personal finance writer. Her articles have been featured on Bankrate.com, MoneyRates.com, MSN Money, and The National Endowment for Financial Education. Prior to freelancing, she worked as a staff writer for Bankrate.com for seven years.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida and spent a summer as an international intern at Richmond, The American International University in London.
She lives in South Florida.