It's not hard for a person to ruin their credit score by making irresponsible decisions with credit cards and other financial products. In many cases though, identity thieves and other criminals can cause great financial harm to even the most responsible consumers.
This has especially been the case during the recession, as scammers have found new ways to target consumers and their credit information.
A recent announcement from North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper noted that in his state alone, there was a 19 percent increase in complaints received by his office's Consumer Protection Division in 2009. Complaints related to healthcare were said to be the most common, while complaints involving lending and telemarketing also remained high.
With these things in mind, Cooper offered some tips for people who want to protect their finances and their credit scores from criminals.
For example, he noted that it is often helpful to keep track of the information contained in one's credit report. Credit monitoring is a popular tool that instantly alerts consumers to changes in their credit reports.
He also noted that in North Carolina, it is illegal for businesses to charge advance fees for services like debt settlement and mortgage foreclosure assistance. That said, this is not the case in a number of other states. With that in mind, consumers should always take it as a red flag when a company claims it can improve one's financial situation in exchange for an up-front fee.
Cooper advised people that "if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is," and he also warned them to always say no to high-pressure sales pitches.
With these things in mind, Cooper warns that people should be wary in general of unsolicited offers from sources like telemarketers and email spam, and that they should never provide information like their Social Security number or bank account numbers when dealing with such pitches. Consumers can also consult with their local Better Business Bureau to determine whether a company they may end up dealing with is reputable.
Another thing for consumers to remember is that part of protecting their credit score includes placing up to date protections on their computer. This is because a growing number of scammers have tried to steal sensitive financial data with emails and websites that contain malware.