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African Americans are spending a lot of money, on everything from clothes and cars to homes and vacations. But as we continue to spend simply because we can, we should be mindful of five steps that can make us better consumers:
26 Deal with identity theft It’s the fastest growing crime in America. According to a 2003 survey by the Federal Trade Commission, 9.9 million people were victims last year. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, Social Security number, date of birth, or mother’s maiden name without authority to commit fraud. To protect yourself, limit what you carry in your wallet. Always monitor your monthly billing statements and credit reports, and shred any documents that contain personal information. And if it happens to you, don’t take it lying down. Inform the police, get a copy of the police report, and contact the FTC at www.con sumer.gov/idtheft or 877-438-4338.
27 Comparison shop Buying the first thing you see might be the case if you’re in a rush, but these days you can find anything at the right price by shopping around. Try sites like www.pricegrab ber.com and www.pricescan.com, and don’t forget to:
- Get more than one quote, price, or estimate. If you’re shopping for a TV, for example, go to a few stores to decide on what you’re looking for and to see who offers the best deal.
- Look beyond the price. If you’re buying a big-ticket item, say an iPod, which costs $199 and up, ask the salesperson to throw in the service contract, a savings of $75 over two years.
28 Identify credit matters Typically, credit scores range from 300-850, with 720 or more considered excellent. If you fall below 650, then it’s time to get your credit in order. Order your report from Experian (www.experian.com), Equifax (www.equifax.com), and TransUnion (www.trans union.com), or get all three in one report from myfico.com. If you find information that is not yours, call the lender, write the lender, and have it removed. It may be time-consuming but it can be done. If the negative information is yours (i.e., lateness), you can begin increasing your score by paying your bills on time (you can even add a few points by paying the bill the day you get it); only applying for credit you need (20 credit cards is a bit much); and keeping charges down (owe 20% of the balance, not 80%).
29 Protect your privacy In the age of the Internet, protecting privacy is a hot-button topic. Under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the FTC has implemented rules to protect financial privacy. Yet, we are inundated with unwanted intrusions including spams, phone solicitations, and junk mail. In addition, the Fair Credit Reporting Act protects consumer privacy. So, get your credit report at least every six months to see which companies are inquiring about your sensitive and personal information.
To empower yourself on a day-to-day basis, the next time you do business with a company, ask how your personal information is going to be shared. Also, take the time