Navigating your way through life is hard enough without those hopefully rare moments when you are stressed out or distracted and press the wrong button, take the wrong call, sign the wrong document, neglect to sign the right document or find another one of the countless ways we arrive at that "oops" moment that makes everything infinitely worse and has the potential to haunt you for years to come. (Just ask Carlos Danger.)
Here are five things people do, which they shouldn't, that can really make life much harder than it needs to be.
|Oversharing on Social Networking Sites|
Do you share too much personal information with online "friends" who may not have your best interests at heart? Many people do. Here's a shortlist: taking quizzes that are often little more than data-sucking platforms for marketing companies or hackers; providing birthdates, physical addresses or travel plans; using credit cards on unencrypted websites; sending credit card information to the new online love of your life so he or she can visit; posting geo-tagged pictures showing a new car, favorite artwork hanging in their den, or your children at play in the local park.
Be careful on social networking sites. The world doesn't need to know your dog's name, where you live and work, your mother's maiden name, or the myriad of other factoids that enable an identity thief to cobble together enough of your life to convince someone that they are you.
|Joining Accounts With 'The One'|
Just because you have reached an agreement with your ex-partner that he or she will take care of certain joint financial obligations doesn't shield you from the credit consequences of late or missed payments. The world is awash with stories of people whose credit scores have been crushed because the former love of their life hit a financial bump in the road, decided to exact revenge through non-payment or is just plain irresponsible. When you open joint credit accounts with a partner, creditors look to both parties for payment unless one of you has made arrangements to be removed from the account.
Before the judge bangs the gavel and you leave the courthouse, make sure that you do everything you can to close joint accounts and that your creditors are informed of the responsible party vis-à-vis that account. If any joint accounts survive, review every bill, demand confirmation of every payment and give yourself enough time to step in and make a payment before you are exposed to the fallout of a 30-day late notice.
|Focusing on Credit Only When You Need to Use it|
Like friendship, credit isn't something that should be nurtured only when convenient or necessary. It is ubiquitous and impacts almost every aspect of your life, which is why you need to build, nurture, manage and protect your credit portfolio. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com and obtain a free copy of your credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion every year; correct any errors you discover on your reports or notify credit bureau fraud departments when you find accounts you didn't know you had. You can monitor your credit month to month and get your free credit score once a month at Credit.com.
Don't forget to check your credit card and bank accounts frequently to make sure that every transaction you see is yours and not a mistaken entry or early warning sign that you are a victim of identity theft (you can use a service like Mint.com to see all of your accounts in one place). Beyond that, sign up with your bank, credit union or credit card company for free email or text notifications of transactions that occur in your accounts so you can quickly detect unauthorized activity. And of course, always pay your bills on time and try not to use so much of your available credit (more than 10%) that it negatively impacts your credit score.
The ultimate guardian of the consumer is the consumer. Your credit is an asset and you are your own personal manager. You want your credit report to read like a résumé and not a rap sheet.
|Clicking on a Link in an Email From the IRS|
So you just got bad news from the IRS via email. There's a link to click. You do it. And just like that… Mazel Tov! You've been spearphished. The IRS doesn't send bad news like this via email. There are lots of bad people out there who count on your knee-jerk reaction to do whatever it takes to satisfy your curiosity or solve a problem. It's best to assume that if you click the link, you will be creating a newer, much bigger problem for yourself.
The IRS communicates through snail mail. Never click on unfamiliar links or pictures, always go directly to the official website, and do not transmit personal information through email.
|Spilling the Beans Over the Phone|
During the past few years, fraudsters have scammed thousands of unsuspecting citizens into disclosing their personal identifying information over the phone to someone representing any number of organizations -- from employment recruiters to the Jury Commission. Then there are the con artists claiming to be from your credit card company who call to inform you that your account has been compromised. Why are they asking you to confirm your account number, expiration date, security code and, in some cases, your Social Security number? A good question that too few people ask.
Never provide personal information over the phone to someone you don't know. If you get a call, hang up, check the information on the back of your credit or debit card, call the customer service department and ask if there's an issue. Only when you are in control of the conversation should you provide personal authentication information.
When people hear the word "portfolio," their natural response is to think "investments." Your investments should be managed by a professional -- your financial security depends upon it. However, your credit and your identity are two other portfolios that must be properly managed and you are the only person in a position to do that. How you manage them will either enrich your life or put you in harm's way.
Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.