Identity theft reports always rise during the holidays. Why? We are busy, distracted, and often caught up in a spirit of kindness and generosity. We let our guard down just a little… and that is all they need.
Here are 6 recommendations to help you keep your identity safe this holiday season:
Pass on the new store card applications.
Sure, the 10% off your total purchase offer is attractive, especially when you are spending big bucks on holiday gifts. But filling out those at-the-register applications is a security risk. Years ago, you would recite your social security number out loud to the cashier (Wait… what?!? Yup. And you wonder why identity theft is rampant…)
These days, you probably have to type in your social security number into the pin pad and answer security questions as the store’s computer system pulls your credit electronically. But there is still a risk. Someone could be reading over your shoulder, using tiny cameras to record what you are doing, or the system may have been targeted by a hacker to scrape your personal data from the transmissions.
Besides, those store cards a usually a rip-off anyway. With interest rates at 25% to 30%, they are just a bad idea all around.
Be on the lookout for skimmers.
A skimmer is a small electronic device placed on top or in front of a real card scanner. They are nearly impossible to detect, especially in the busyness of the holiday shopping season. Would-be identity thieves install them at high traffic places like ATMs and gas pumps, usually after scouting out camera blind spots so they don’t get caught. They sit nearby with a computer, capturing your credit card data. They may even install a tiny spy cam at the ATM or gas pup to capture video of your fingers typing in your pin.
Always inspect the ATM or gas pump card slot before using it. If there are scratch marks, adhesive residue, dislodged security tape, or if the card reader seems to stick out a little too far from the rest of the machine, don’t use it. Better safe than sorry.
Some skimmer devices are portable and can transmit card information wirelessly. They are so small they can hide in a pocket! Never let a cashier, waiter, or store employee take your card out of your sight. It would only take a second or two for your card data to get stolen and then sold to the highest bidder.
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Check your account statements frequently.
If you are like most people, you only check your card statements when they are delivered by mail or email at the end of each billing cycle. During the holidays, you’ll want to log on to your credit card’s website to monitor your activity much more often – weekly at least.
I know a woman who did just this and discovered that someone had user her American Express card to buy a computer from a big online computer retailer. She called AmEx immediately and reported the fraud. They were able to give her an order number for the computer store. She then called the computer store and, since she had acted so quickly, the package was still in transit. She had it intercepted and returned to the store. That took care of the charge on her account. But she was mad!
So… she looked up the local police station for the delivery address and sent the cops over to the thief’s house! Turns out, his nephew in China gave him the stolen credit card number to order the computer and then send it overseas to him, where he would then sell it to someone else. It was all part of an international repackaging scheme!!
It pays, in more ways than one, to pay close attention to your statements and then act fast to correct the problem.
Credit card companies have built-in fraud protection policies for when you discover fraudulent charges. But, debit cards are different. Yes, there are fraud protection procedures once you discover the theft, but it may take quite a while to recover your missing money. Remember, debit cards are connected directly to your hard-earned cash! Use them with extreme caution – during the holidays and all year long.
Beware of emails that contain links and unsolicited phone calls.
Hopefully by now you have learned that you should never click links in emails, even if they look like they are from a legitimate source – especially if they are asking for personal or financial information. Identity thieves can spoof email addresses and copy company logos to make their fake emails look exactly like one coming from your real credit card company.
But, in the haste of the holidays, people make mistakes. And crooks are counting on it.
When you receive an email seemingly from a financial institution or charity, always look them up online or find the customer service number on a recent statement and call to confirm the email. Just a few minutes of work on your part can save you a lot of money and trouble.
The same goes for phone calls. If you get a call from someone claiming to be your bank, a creditor, bill collector, or charity, always get the person’s name, ID number, a call back number, and a web address. Then HANG UP! Do some online recon to check out their story and call the company back yourself. Just like scammers can spoof email addresses, they can also spoof caller id to make it say whatever name and phone number they want.
Shop carefully, in stores and online.
It’s a season of giving – which means lots of shopping! While you are out at the stores stay aware of your surroundings. Use credit instead of debit, ladies keep your purse zipped up under your arm, guys keep your wallet in your front pocket. Look for someone hovering too close to you at the register or standing nearby with no shopping bags. They may have a portable card reader! All they need to do is stand within a few feet of your wallet to steal credit card data. For added protection, you can get a special security wallet to shield your cards from this kind of theft.
For online holiday shopping, only shop from home on your personal wifi. (Or your phone, if you are connected to a secure network.) Never send financial or personal information over the internet when you are connected to a public wifi, like at a coffee shop or library. It’s very easy for a hacker to intercept your data on an open network.
And when you do shop online, choose one credit card for all your online purchases. It will make it much easier for you to monitor your card activity if you only have one account to check.
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And, remember to check your credit reports!
Identity theft and the resulting credit reporting errors can ruin your credit score. You are allowed to check each of your three credit reports (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) once every year for free. Go to annualcreditreport.com to get your free reports. It’s the only website approved by the federal government for getting your free copies of your credit reports. Read this article to find out how to check your credit report every four months for the rest of your life for free.
Think you might be a victim of identity theft? Contact the three credit reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Once you do, they can help you figure out how to proceed.
- Experian Fraud Division
1 888 397 3742
- Equifax Fraud Division
1 800 525 6285
- TransUnion Fraud Division
1 800 680 7289
If you have any questions, please give us a call at 770-952-5168 or contact us online.
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This information is intended for informational and educational purposes only and not as legal advice. If you have concerns about your credit report, harassment, identity theft, illegal collections activity, garnishments, or property liens, you should consult an attorney who specializes in consumer rights and defense.