Get Smart About Credit this Week

March 8, 2016
Smart About Credit

This week is National Consumer Protection Week, an annual campaign that's designed to highlight financial topics, inform consumers about their rights and promote tools that help people make better-informed decisions.

Sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission, the event is a consortium of information and events put together by various federal agencies, state governments, consumer organization and local consumer protection agencies from around the country. It highlights not just credit card information, but also information about identity theft, banking, investing and other consumer related topics like shopping and automobiles.

"Knowledge is power, financial education is the first line of defense a consumer has against a fraudster," said Debbie Matz, National Credit Union Administration Board Chairman, in a statement. The NCUA is one of the many agencies that promotes this week and has a new Fraud Prevention Center for information about fraud prevention, identity theft and online security.

While this week is always full of basic information, good tips and helpful reminders in how to manage credit, credit cards and debt, sometimes you'll learn advice that sounds unusual but can be very practical.

For example, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reminds Floridian parents to keep an eye on their children's credit reports. If you think that might be absurd because children don't generally have credit cards. However, that makes them the perfect target because they also usually have clean credit histories and no one will be checking their credit reports, allowing thieves to get away with stealing their identities for years. In fact, annually, over 50,000 children in Florida experience some kind of identity theft, which totals over $100 million a year.

To combat this, the state of Florida allows parents or guardians the option of freezing their child's credit--even if it hasn't yet been established--in order to block others from using it.

Truth in Advertising, a nonprofit organization that's a resource to help consumers protect themselves against false advertising and marketing scams, has information on its website about negative option offers, which are offers that assume you've purchased an item or service and will keep charging you for it until you contact the business responsible for it to cancel. Examples of these are book or music clubs that send you offers for goods that you have to specifically reject, or else they will be sent to you, and you'll be charged for them--even if you didn't want the item in the first place.

The FTC offers a lot of advice, including what to do when a company blocks your credit or debit card. Blocks often occur when you stay at a hotel or rent a car because the merchant puts a hold on your account for the full amount of the bill, just to make sure you can cover it. If you're near your credit limit, this may mean your card gets declined elsewhere when you try to use it. You can avoid the embarrassment of being out and having your card declined due to blocking if you ask the company if it does practice blocking, the amount that will be blocked off, how that amount is determined and how long the block will last. The FTC also gives tips on how else you can work around or with blocking practices.

All this information and more are located at ncpw.gov. And if one week isn't enough for you, be on the lookout for Money Smart Week from April 23-30. Put together by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago along with a number of partners. This week also strives to educate consumers of all ages about money matters great and small through online education and in-person events.

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