Millions of US residents have their identities compromised and used fraudulently each year with financial losses ion excess of $50 billion. In addition, the Identity Theft Resource Center says victims now spend an average of 600 hours recovering from this crime, usually over a period of months or even years. While the numbers themselves are disconcerting, the complex and calculating methods of identity thieves are even more so, especially during the holiday season.
Eat, Drink, & Be Weary of Identity Thieves
The holiday season is upon us and with it comes cheerful get-togethers, festive food and drink, shopping sprees, traveling, and gift giving. However, for identity thieves, the holidays mean pocket-picking, charity and gift card scams, phishing, skimming, and other unscrupulous theft strategies at a time when consumers are distracted with holiday merriment and thus more vulnerable.
Despite the holiday madness, with just 5 shopping weeks left, it is important to be alert and vigilant when it comes to knowing the status of your identity and how to defend it against thieves.
10 Tips for Avoiding Identity Fraud
Although it may seem like a chore amidst the holiday hubbub, taking some small steps now to protect your ID will help you avoid a lot of post-holiday headaches that would result from a stolen identity.
Here are some helpful tips to safeguard your identity during the holidays:
Never give out personal information to strangers over the phone, email, or text. You may get a lot of seasonal solicitations and phone calls but politely decline no matter who they claim to be. Also report any calls, emails, or texts claiming to be from your credit union and requesting personal information…your credit union will NEVER do this.
Make sure personal documents are secure. Keep your credit/debit cards, checkbooks, and Social Security card in a safe place – do not keep your SS card or SSN in your wallet. Always shred personal documents that are not being used including credit card and cash advance applications. Keep copies of receipts when shopping.
Beware of pocket pickers. Women should carry purses tightly and close to the body, and men should carry wallets in their front pocket.
Practice online safety. When doing online shopping, ensure that the website is secure by checking for the "lock" icon on your browser and the "https" in the URL – unsafe sites are missing the 's'. Also, keep anti-virus software and firewalls up- to-date for maximum protection.
Practice credit card safety. Do not carry more cards than you will need, make sure you sign all new cards when they are activated, and make a copy (front and back) of each credit card you will be carrying so if you are victimized, you'll know what cards you had and can call the companies right away.
Practice PIN safety. Never write your PIN down or keep it in your wallet, make sure it is complex enough not to be guessed and be aware of your surroundings when checking out at a store or using the ATM.
Avoid "skimming" by watching cashiers. Skimming is a relatively new crime that happens when a cashier scans your card through a device that captures the data.
Be aware of charity scams. ID thieves prey on the generous during the holidays. If you are questioning an organization's legitimacy, check out sites such as www.charitywatch.org, www.charitynavigator.org, or www.bbb.org.
Sign up for a credit monitoring service which will alert you to major changes on your credit report. These services are offered by the three national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and Trans-Union), and your credit union may offer such a service as well. The cost is usually about $10 per month – far less than what you'll spend in money and time should your ID be compromised.
Check your credit score every four months, using different credit score companies each time. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act gives consumers the ability to secure one copy of their credit report for free from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year. Free credit reports are available from http://www.annualcreditreport.com.
One side note, although it will not affect your identity but will cost you money and cause disappointment, be aware of the latest gift card scam. There is a machine used by thieves to scan and record the info of gift cards displayed by the check out counter. Then once the card is activated with money, they spend it instantly before the recipient even has a chance to use it. Spare yourself this hassle by requesting a card from behind the counter and saving your receipt.
If you take the proper precautions and remain alert during the hustle and bustle of the holidays, you should drastically decrease your chances of being affected by identity theft and scams. Be smart, be safe, and have a Happy, Healthy Holiday Season!
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