Sunday, December 07, 2014

How to Prevent Holiday Season Identity Theft


Approximately 15 million United States consumers have their identities used fraudulently each year costing up to $50 billion. Identity theft crimes have expanded and include stealing purses or wallets, laptops, cell phones, going through trash, stealing mail, using social media, writing bad checks, stealing electricity service, government benefits, tax refunds, insurance, fraudulent loans and more. 

One feature feature that puts consumers at risk is holiday shopping including shopping online.  Most companies automatically save your credit card or debit card information and personal information when shopping online. Companies claim this makes it easier for consumers to make purchases in the future but what if you only visit the site once, now they have your personal information which is at risk for identity theft. 

Why it’s a prime time for holiday season identity theft
  • Increased shopping online and in-store
  • People are distracted and their guard is down about protecting their identity which increases their exposure and risk of identity theft
  • It is easier to drop a receipt or leave a credit card at a store without realizing it
  • Mobile devices and cell phones are not password protected and don’t have security software installed
  • Increase in hacker attacks on company websites including retailers
  • Seasonal and temporary workers are hired who may not be required to get a background check or may have a criminal history
  • Shopping at unknown websites
  • Stores are more crowded which makes it easier for thieves to steal your purchase or wallet
  • Many people travel during the holidays

Tips on how to avoid holiday season identity theft
  • Packages. If packages will be delivered when you are not home, have them delivered to a neighbor’s house or other alternate address.
  • Online.  Only shop at well-known websites or stores.  Don’t purchase items from third party sellers.  Shop online at secure websites that use https or shttp. Clear the cache, cookies and browsing history daily. 
  • Credit.  When using debit cards use credit instead of debit.  Your PIN can be comprised when using your debit card from skimmer ATM machines. Notify your bank if you will be shopping outside your local area.
  • Security alert. Place a security alert on your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports to prevent people and businesses from accessing your credit report unless you are notified first.
  • Credit cards. Carry only the credit cards you know you will use on a specific day. Don’t carry all your credit cards in your wallet. If your wallet is stolen so are your credit cards.
  • Safety. Don’t reveal your credit card in public which increases the risk for skimming. Put your credit card in your front pocket or sock instead of your wallet. Beware of camera phones.
  • Verify. Verify your account balances daily during the holiday shopping season to ensure you are not a victim of identity theft.
  • Sleeve. Purchase a credit card sleeve that blocks RFID transmission (skimming) so there is a lesser chance of having your credit card read while walking down the street.  Beware of people who stand close to you or who lean against you on the side where your wallet or purse is held. Wrap your credit cards and debit cards in aluminum foil which blocks RFID transmissions and is less expensive than buying a credit card sleeve.
  • Software. Install antivirus software on your home computer and all portable devices.
  • Passwords. Add passwords or passcodes to your bank accounts, credit cards and other financial accounts.

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