Your credit is so important. I grew my business using credit, as I didn’t have my own money. That was scary, but recently the biggest threat to my credit is others. That’s right: others. I was recently the victim of an attempted identity theft. The operative word here is “attempted”.
One of my credit card companies called to confirm my new home billing address in Chicago. Chicago?! Someone in Chicago had gotten my personal information off the Internet, including my credit report, and called this credit card issuer to change the billing address to Chicago. The next step, had they been successful, would have been to use the card up to its limit (They picked the card with the highest limit.), and, in the few months it would take for it to become delinquent, the damage would have been done. Yes, I could have disclaimed the use, and the credit card company (or the vendors!) would have eaten it, but it would have certainly had other adverse effects on me. Anyway, I averted a disaster. Also, I notified the credit bureaus to put a fraud notice in my credit files, which alerts any potential inquirer that they should talk to me personally before granting credit.
Here’s some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know. As everyone always advises, cancel the credit card immediately, but the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them easily. (I have a list and also have them in my Palm.) File a police report, immediately, in the jurisdiction where it was lost or stolen; this proves to credit providers you were diligent and is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one). But here’s what is perhaps most important:
Call the three national credit reporting organizations, immediately, to place a fraud alert on your name and SS#. I had never heard of doing that until advised by the card issuer that the change was made over the Internet in my name. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they should contact you by phone to authorize new credit.
The numbers are the following:
Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
Now, here’s your action item this month. Create a file called “Credit”, print this email out, and put it in the file. Create a list of your cards with customer service numbers. (Don’t put the expiration dates on the list.) Order your credit report, review it and put it in the file. Then subscribe to a credit watch service. There are many from which to choose on the internet. Make sure you get one with email notifications in the event of any changes or inquiries to your file. (You will know within hours if someone tampers with your credit by modifying an account, appying for credit, etc.)
Also, if someone does steal your identity, visit www.idtheftcenter.org, for good information on how to prevent it and what to do as a victim.
One other small security tip: print small labels and put them on the back of your cell phone, Palm, laptop, etc. I recently lost my cell phone (on an airplane!), and because it had a label that said “reward, call xxx-xxx-xxxx” on the rear, a passenger found it the next day (on the other side of the US), called, and mailed it to me. Cool!
Next month: More good stuff from Chapter 4 of “Salvaging Millions”.
Remember, only you can make BUSINESS GREAT!
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Ron Sturgeon is past owner of AAA Small Car World. In 1999, he sold his six Texas locations, with 140 employees, to Greenleaf. In 2001, he founded North Texas Insurance Auction, which he sold to Copart in 2002. In 2002, his book “Salvaging Millions” was published to help small business owners achieve significant success. In June 2003, he joined the new ownership and management team of GreenLeaf. He also manages his real estate holdings and investments. You can learn more about him at WWW.autosalvageconsultant.com He can be reached at 5940 Eden, Haltom City, TX 76117, (best) email@example.com or 817-834-3625 ext 6#.