During the holiday season, people tend to make more purchases than at any other time of the year. In addition, consumers are more distracted and face an increased risk of identity theft during the holidays.
There are many ways an identity thief can take advantage of you. Whether you’re shopping with credit cards, shopping online, using online banking or withdrawing money from an ATM, there are steps you can take to prevent identity theft. A good place to start is by becoming aware of the ways an identity thief may steal your information and put you at financial risk during the holiday season.
1. Busy and distracted shoppers are targets for identity thieves.
When you’re out shopping, be aware of your surroundings. During the holiday season, stores and shopping malls tend to be crowded. Plus, if you are making lots of purchases, you’ll likely be pulling your wallet out repeatedly while juggling shopping bags.
When out in public spaces, pickpockets are a concern. When you have completed a transaction, take the time to make sure you put your wallet safely away to protect your credit cards and ID.
If you are paying with a credit or debit card, it is a good idea to keep the number concealed just in case someone behind you in line takes a picture of the card with a cell phone. It may look like the person is texting, but it is also possible that an identity thief is taking a photograph of your credit or debit card number, expiration date and your full name.
2. Identity thieves prey on online bargain-seekers.
Many shoppers choose to avoid busy shopping centers during the holidays and do much of their shopping online. While most retailers provide safe and convenient systems for making purchases online, it is important to look out for potential scams. During the holidays, scammers often take advantage of people’s desire to get bargains.
How to Avoid Online Scams
If you receive emails or text messages that offer you name-brand merchandise at a discount, it may be a scam. These messages might look official, but they could be scams designed to get your financial information.
- Avoid clicking on links if you do not recognize the sender.
- Even if the message seems legitimate, it is generally safest to visit a retailer’s website directly. Doing so will ensure that you do not click on links that direct you to a fraudulent website. Some of these fake websites are designed to look identical to a retailer’s website, so do not rely on the appearance alone.
- Before entering your payment information on a retailer’s website, look for the “lock” symbol at the top of the webpage. This symbol indicates that the webpage is encrypted and that your information is protected from criminals.
3. Criminals can access information sent through public Wi-Fi.
If you have some downtime while you’re out shopping for the holidays, you may be tempted to check your bank account or credit card statement to see how much you’ve spent. While monitoring your financial data is an important method of detecting potential identity theft, submitting your private data over an unencrypted network may put your information at risk. Criminals can access the information that is passed through these open networks.
4. Skimmers steal shoppers’ data.
Criminals are well aware of the fact that people spend significantly more money during the holiday season. One way identity thieves steal someone’s credentials is by attaching skimming devices to card readers or ATMs. These “skimmers” copy card information, which criminals can use to replicate the card and make unauthorized purchases.
Never use a card reader that appears as if someone has tampered with it. For extra protection, use your hand to cover the keypad when you enter your PIN so that it will not be visible to an onlooker or a camera.
How do you know if your identity’s been stolen?
Most credit card companies have fraud detection departments that monitor your credit cards for any unusual activity. If they detect suspicious purchases on your credit card, they may freeze the account or contact you to verify the purchases. If you receive a call, text or email from the bank, do not reply with your personal information. Instead, call the number located on the back of your payment card to ensure that you are in contact with the financial institution and not a scammer.
Check your credit card and bank statements regularly to make sure there are no unauthorized charges listed. If you notice any charges that you did not make, contact the financial institution immediately to report the fraud. Even if the charges are small, it is important to report it because some thieves “test” cards with insignificant purchases before they go on expensive spending sprees.
After the holidays, monitor your credit reports to look for any potentially fraudulent transactions. You’re entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit agencies.
For more information on identity theft, you can find it here from the Federal Trade Commission.