If you�ve ever had your wallet stolen or lost, you understand the trickle of fear that such a discovery produces. Most consumers realize that it's imperative to call the bank and credit card issuers immediately in order to close those accounts and avoid fraudulent charges. Unfortunately, a great majority of individuals don't realize that their credit history and rating may be at risk every day.

Unless consumers take extra care to protect themselves, online credit card and identity theft provides criminals with an insidious and sometimes invisible method of draining a bank account, racking up charges to the limit on a credit card or invading your personal privacy and security that often goes undetected for weeks, and sometimes months.

These days, online purchasing is a way of life, as is bill paying over the Internet. However, Internet fraud is limited to roughly 10% of all fraud cases. Nevertheless, while some of us check or bank accounts and credit card statements daily, or at least weekly, the vast majority don't log onto their Internet accounts until it's time to pay those bills. In as little as a day, a thief can rack up your credit card balance or make dozens of purchases from a credit card account without you being the wiser.

Take steps to prevent identify theft before it occurs. Identity theft is often described as either the basic form of identity theft or credit hijacking. Basic identity theft involves the �traditional� form of identity theft where an individual steals biographical information to open new credit accounts. Credit hijacking is a type of identity theft where an individual gains access to and uses existing credit accounts for fraud.

To protect your financial security, follow these basic steps:

Place an initial fraud alert on the three major credit reports (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax).
Give your creditors the same telephone number that's listed on your consumer credit report. (Creditor's are prevented from opening or approving new credit lines until after verbal verification by you).
Extend the time frame for the initial fraud alert (90 days) to extend up to seven years by writing a letter to each credit bureau requesting such, and mailing to the address specified in the confirmation letter you receive from the initial fraud alert.
Create a personal security code for all credit card and bank accounts. This password or code is in addition to your private PIN number, mother's maiden name, zip code, and the last four digits of your Social Security number. The private security code is yours alone and may be considered a supplementary pass code to ensure that no one is able to access your accounts without mentioning this code.

While taking these steps may take a little of your time, it's more than worth the benefits and added security you will enjoy. Don't wait until you have become a victim of identity theft or credit hijacking to protect your financial security.

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