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Use Credit Monitoring to Catch Errors Faster

06/23/2015 02:56 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016

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Credit monitoring gets a lot of media attention these days. Between constant TV and Internet ads for monitoring services, coverage of security hacks and identity theft; the need for more vigilant monitoring is growing. Although practically everyone who carries a credit card has a basic understanding of what credit monitoring means and why it can be helpful, only a small percentage of consumers are actively engaged in monitoring their credit.

There are four basic ways that you can strengthen your own credit monitoring without much effort or difficulty. Implementing these strategies could prevent a financially devastating and stressful experience with credit card fraud or identity theft.

Carefully Review Every Monthly Statement

Mistakes happen, and so does fraud, but you can catch those errors or issues faster if you read through your entire monthly statement. Are there any charges (even very small ones) that you don't recall or that look strange? Those could be costing you every month -even the lesser amounts will add up over time. If you spot one, call your bank first to see if they can provide you with more information on that charge. If it is a mistake, you will be able to remedy it.

It's also a good idea to keep a document tracking all of your online shopping activity. This is helpful because some merchants have odd names, or the charge will show up under a different name (which they typically display that information somewhere). Writing down the exact amount, date of purchase, and what you bought will help you match legitimate purchases against your statement. Those that do not match, on the other hand, should be investigated. This will also help you determine where the fraud may have come from.

Take Advantage of Online Account Features

One of the best ways to automatically track your credit and keep a watchful eye on any errors is to use your online account tools and set creative preferences. Most card companies will alert you by text or email any time there is a charge over a specific dollar amount, or if the total amount owed hits a particular level.

By setting those preferences low, you will be instantly notified whenever that kind of transaction hits your account. If it was a mistake, or the result of fraudulent use, you will know immediately - instead of finding out weeks later when it may be too late to avoid more aggravated problems.

Stay On Top of Your Credit Reports and Scores

Look over your credit reports for mistakes and omissions, and track your credit score on a regular basis. This way, if there is any suspicious activity on your credit accounts or there are any errors that are hurting your credit, you can spot them right away.

According to Federal Law you can gain access to your credit reports at major reporting agencies like Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax once each year, free of charge. If you want to view your files more often than that you will be charged a fee of about $15, depending on the credit bureau.

It may be a good idea to set a reminder in your calendar to check your credit reports once each year or sync it with a date you won't forget like New Year's Day, April 15 when taxes are due, or your birthday. There are numerous ways to monitor your credit for free each month by signing up for a free credit monitoring service, through your bank, or through your credit card company.

Professional Credit Monitoring Services

There are many companies selling subscriptions to credit monitoring services and you may find those worthwhile. During tax season, for example, H&R Block offered their customers a service to protect them from identity theft at a cost of about $30 per year. Part of what was offered, however, could be received for free - like a special IRS I.D. number for identity theft victims, and news about the latest scams and threats.

If you are traveling out of the country or are just too busy to do an effective job of monitoring your own accounts and personal information, then a service like Identity Guard may be worth the cost. Before you choose an identity theft company, compare each service promised, read consumer reviews, and ask your friends about their experience with identity theft companies.

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