The start of the holiday shopping season is closing in on us. Whether you’re an online shopper, one that shops in a store or if you do a little bit of both, note that this is the time of year when criminals and hackers are out in force to steal your money and your identity.
The Consumer Federation of America, a non-profit association of almost 300 consumer organizations, has compiled a list of tips for having an identity theft-free holiday season.
- Keep your computer safe. Regularly update the security software on all of your computers. Use smart, unique passwords; do not use your date of birth or other personal information. Do not use easy dictionary passwords that might be easy for someone else to guess. Do not reuse passwords across multiple online websites.
- Check your credit reports. The end of the year is a good time to request your credit reports through annualcreditreport.com. Under federal law, you’re entitled to a free report from each of the credit bureaus once a year. Review your reports carefully and inform the credit bureaus if there are any inaccuracies or signs of fraud.
- Beware of email scams. Remember: No legitimate company or organization will ask for your personal information via email.
- Get off marketing lists for pre-approved credit. Crooks may steal these offers from your mail and use them to obtain credit in your name. You can opt-out of receiving pre-approved credit offers for no charge by going to optoutprescreen.com.
- Shop Secure Sites. Check to make sure you’re shopping on a safe site by taking a look at the website URL. If it begins with “https” instead of “http,” the site is using an SSL Certificate and you should be in good shape. If you don’t see “https,” shop elsewhere.
- Shred it and forget it. Buy and use a cross-cutting paper shredder to dispose of any documents you no longer need that contain your personal information.
- Keep an eye out for your holiday packages. Thieves follow delivery trucks and grab the packages before the real recipients can retrieve them. Consumers should require a signature upon delivery or have a neighbor accept packages on their behalf if they won’t be home.
- Be careful what you share. Using social media is a great way to keep in touch with friends and relatives, but don’t post your address or other personal information. And be aware that digital photos may have geocoding features that reveal the locations where they were taken. Use the privacy settings on the social networks you use to limit the personal information you share.
- Be wise when you use wireless Internet connections. Only connect to wireless networks that require a network security key or certificate. If you use a wireless Internet connection at home, be sure that the security features are turned on and set your own password, rather than using the default password.
- Lighten your wallet. Leave the personal info you don’t need at home and only take the credit cards you plan to use. You’ll have fewer companies to contact, if you do lose your wallet or purse—or it gets stolen.
- Be aware. When making an ATM transaction or sharing personal information over the phone, make sure you’re in a secure space where no one can snap a picture or overhear your conversation. Be wary of scammers calling you out of the blue claiming to be a charitable organization and never provide personal information to unknown callers over the phone. If you’re unsure about their identity, don’t hesitate to ask for their number and call them back once you’ve confirmed the source of the call.
- Guard your Social Security Number. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet and remove the number from all checks and any documents you carry around. Shred any mail or papers that might have your SSN on it.
- Check your bills and statements. Take time every few days to check your accounts for fraudulent charges. Banks and credit card companies have safeguards in place to catch potential fraud, but only you will recognize every transaction.
- Open all your mail. It could be a clue that if someone has stolen your identity, they could send the bills to your home address. Don’t assume all mail from banks or credit card agencies is junk mail.
What To Do If You Do Experience Fraud
Take action immediately. Contact your creditors and banks to let them know your security has been compromised.
- Close any accounts you didn’t open. Ask your financial partners to decline any new accounts you didn’t request.
- Call the credit card company where the fraudulent charges were made and close the accounts right away. Cancel any cards and bank accounts associated with the fraud.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1
- File a police report
- Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus to report the theft. Carefully review your credit reports to make sure no additional accounts have been opened in your name, and ask for a “fraud alert” to be placed on your file.
- Take extra precautions when updating your PINs and passwords. To prevent further fraud, change passwords or PINs for all of your credit card accounts, bank accounts, online store accounts.
- Keep a record of everything—the fraudulent charges and your incident-report conversations.
- Be diligent and check your credit card and bank statements frequently for any additional signs of fraud.
Lastly, Enjoy the Holidays
You don’t have to go off the grid to keep your finances safe. Just be smart and stay aware. Enjoy the holidays and embrace the season of giving.