Home > Credit 101 > The 5 Dumbest Credit Moves

Comments 0 Comments

Several years ago, I watched in amazement when the CEO of a major identity theft protection firm, appeared in a series of commercials waving his Social Security card in the air, parading his Social Security number on a billboard through heavily populated urban areas and screaming his SSN through a bullhorn as a challenge to those who believed that he couldn’t protect it. As a result, he couldn’t protect it and became a 13-time victim of the crime. That’s what happens when you knowingly, willingly, almost joyfully put yourself out there as a target for hackers and identity thieves.

Most recently, I noticed another person put himself out there in somewhat similar fashion. Our would-be role model gleefully announced to the public that he had achieved the perfect credit score. According to a news release that he issued for public consumption, along with a screen shot of the 850 credit score that he got for free with his Discover card statement, this exercise in self-aggrandizement was inspired by his desire to “motivate, inspire and educate others; it is not intended to brag.”

When our correspondent, Christine DiGangi wrote a piece chiding the less-than-modest declaration of perfection, since anything above 800 is relatively meaningless in the quest for getting the most out of credit opportunities, the CEO of a consumer reporting company (our 850 man) – or his representatives — responded:

“It should come as no surprise that Christine DiGangi is asking everyone else to set their personal credit goal below the standard of excellence. She creates distractions because she has never obtained a perfect score. It’s very likely she never will because she doesn’t want to work hard and dedicate herself. Instead she and the other “experts” go out of their way to minimize success because they’re afraid others will continue to raise the bar and beat them at their own game.”

First, I’d wager that the author of that comment isn’t familiar with the breadth of DiGangi’s work educating consumers on the subject of credit, nor did he carefully read her column. The real point here is not to dampen anyone’s desire to strive for perfection in everything they do, but rather to illustrate that striving for a perfect credit score is not a good use of time. That doesn’t mean that each of us shouldn’t strive for excellent credit, and work hard to achieve it. But striving for a perfect credit score seems to us more like an obsession – one that provides no real benefit — rather than a reasonable goal.  If you don’t believe us, read this column titled, “Credit Score Obsessed? Don’t Be.” It’s by Barrett Burns, the CEO of VantageScore Solutions, one of the biggest credit scoring companies there is.

Beyond all that, the abovementioned holder of the 850 credit score should consider the perils of oversharing. Because of the environment in which we live, openly providing any information that can lead fraudsters and cyber ninjas to our doorstep is unwise, demonstrates a dangerous lack of self-protection, and puts us in harm’s way. While the CEO may have legitimately wanted to inspire people to achieve perfection, in doing so he became an ideal target of an identity thief. That kind of over-sharing isn’t even close to the worst example we’ve heard of, but it’s certainly inadvisable.

Some Credit Don’ts

Consider some other, even more extreme examples of people needlessly putting their credit in jeopardy:

1. The delegate to the last Democratic National Convention who was so ebullient about the party’s position on the expansion of health care that she couldn’t restrain herself from waving her Medicare card into a network camera, boldly – and unwisely – flashing her Medicare number (incidentally her Social Security Number) for all the world to see.

2. The countless individuals who, while in the grips of delirium, feel compelled to take selfies holding their recently acquired licenses, credit and debit cards or bank and credit card statements (inadvertently displaying account information) announcing to the rest of civilization that they have either acquired something of value, or extinguished debt.

3. Fashion hounds who will eagerly scoop up the latest rage – clear handbags (I am sure to be closely followed by clear wallets) – and then fill them with all form of credit, debit or Social Security cards, not to mention their driver’s licenses.

4. People who have an unquenchable thirst for receiving birthday greetings from thousands of “friends,” family, fans as well as fraudsters  desiring to want to share the joy of passing yet another age milestone by posting their full birthdays in every social networking scenario imaginable.

5. Folks who are compelled to announce to the world on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — not to mention countless dating sites — the most intimate details of their upcoming vacation, including the date of their departure, their itinerary and their return date. And then, in case anyone missed it, a real-time chronicle of where they are, what they are doing, the food groups they are consuming and shots of their room and the view they are enjoying when standing on their balcony.

Don’t Let This Be You

While these examples are highlights, these folks are not alone by any means. Most of us have been thoughtless about our identities and over-sharing at one time or another. Maybe you carry your Social Security card in your purse or wallet. Or perhaps you provide your Social Security number to anyone of apparent authority who requests it. Or you click on that random link in an email that just doesn’t seem right, which leads to malware infecting your computer and sucking up scads of personal information.

If you’re worried that you’ve made one of these or other mistakes and put your identity at risk, you’re not alone, and you’re not without recourse. Take advantage of the free credit reports to which you are entitled at AnnualCreditReport.com. Use sites like Credit.com, where you can get a free look at your credit and two free credit scores that are updated every 14 days. Check your credit and bank accounts for a few minutes each day to ensure that all transactions you see are correct. Enroll in free transactional credit- and debit card-monitoring programs offered by your credit union, bank, or credit card company. Shred your most sensitive documents; properly secure your computer and smartphone; guard sensitive information from people who contact you through a phone call, text or email without confirming their legitimacy; and stay away from unfamiliar links or photographs sent to you by people you either don’t know or vaguely think you know. And contact your insurance agent, bank, credit union or HR Department at work to see if they offer either a free or reasonably priced identity theft resolution program to assist you in the event you suffer a personal compromise.

In a world where breaches (exemplified by “Heartbleed,” Target and all stripe of individual, corporate and government database compromise) and identity theft have become the third certainty in life, jealously guarding our privacy must be our individual missions. While I enjoy a good marketing gambit, as well as saluting those who achieve perfection, or who have accomplished a meaningful milestone, discretion being the better part of valor requires that we become more covetous of our personal identifying information and better protect ourselves from those who would exploit us. If not, the credit perfection we crave may be short-lived.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its affiliates.

More on Identity Theft:

Image: kieferpix

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team