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Sharing a house or an apartment with a roommate or two can be a great way to save money. Just make sure to protect your credit, because an unscrupulous roommate can wreck your credit rating in a hurry.

Here are four of the ways your roommates can wreck your credit, along with some tactics to help you reduce your risk.

1. Swiping Your Social Security Number

If a roomie gets a hold of your Social Security number, they can pretend to be you, just like that. They already have the same address as you, and with your Social Security number they’ll be able to apply for credit, bank accounts, even car loans using your name and your credit history.

So guard your Social Security card and other private financial information. Keep these items in a locked desk drawer or in a safety deposit box.

Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet or leave your wallet out in common areas of a shared house or apartment.

2. Intercepting Your Mail

Does your roommate or roommates have first dibs on the mail? Make sure they are trustworthy. Let’s say you’ve just moved to a new area and opened a new bank account or credit card account. If a roommate intercepts your personal financial information, such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers, etc., they can do what they want with the account and you’ll be stuck with the bills and a credit mess to clean up.

Always keep track of important mail that you’re expecting, and follow up with senders if you don’t receive something you should have. Check your bank and credit card statements frequently, and track your spending so you can easily recognize any purchases you didn’t make.

3. Not Paying Their Share of the Bills

If the lease and utility and other accounts are in your name, it will hurt your credit record if a bill goes unpaid or the rent is paid late.

A roommate who fails to pay his or her share of monthly bills on time can be a real headache for your financial life and for your credit rating. And if a roommate moves out without giving you any notice, you may be stuck with the full cost of the rent and other expenses all on your own.  If your roommate pays late or misses payments, it’s probably a good idea to start looking for a new roommate.

So choose your roommates carefully, ask for references and check them. And make sure they have the means to pay their share of the rent each month.

4. Going Online as You

If a roommate swipes the password information for your online accounts, they could go online as you and charge up your bank and credit cards any way they wish.

This is why it’s important to protect your password information and change your passwords frequently. Keep your laptop in a locked room when it is not with you.

It’s important to take good common-sense measures to protect yourself, including checking your credit regularly for signs of fraud. You can check your credit reports for free once a year from each credit reporting agency through AnnualCreditReport.com – look for accounts that aren’t yours. And checking your credit scores regularly – which you can do for free using a site like Credit.com – can tip you off to problems with your credit if you see an unexpected drops in your scores.

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

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