Identity theft is a problem any time of the year. But, while consumers are focused on giving during the holidays, crooks are focused on taking. If there’s one thing consumers don’t need during the holidays, it’s identity theft.
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) offers the following tips to help consumers protect themselves from identity theft during the busy holiday season:
- Be aware of your surroundings. Sidewalks and malls will be crowded and shoppers will be distracted — and this is the perfect environment for a pick-pocket. If someone bumps into you, don’t assume it was an accident. Clutch your purse closely at your side or in front of you with the wallet hidden at the bottom or stow wallets in an inside coat pocket.
- Don’t carry large sums of cash. Charge your purchases or use a debit card. Just remember that credit cards offer some protections that debit cards don’t. When you use a credit card, you can dispute a purchase before paying for it. With a debit card, the money is removed from your account at the time of the purchase. A thief can wipe out your checking or savings account before you ever realize the theft has taken place.
- Guard your PIN number at the ATM. Be aware of anyone lurking around the ATM, and if someone is standing too close, simply ask him or her to step back. Thieves can also install devices that read your information at the ATM without you knowing it. If you notice anything unusual about the ATM, use a different one, and report what you’ve seen to the bank.
- Don’t let your credit card get out of your sight. Unscrupulous clerks or waiters can copy your card information or swipe your card into a second card reader and later make a new credit card for themselves. Worse yet, they can sell your information to an organized crime ring.
- Lighten your wallet. Remove anything from your wallet that you don’t absolutely need to have with you. That way, if someone is successful in stealing it, they won’t get as much. Never carry your Social Security card with you, but check other cards that might use your SSN as an identifier. If you’re not going to be using your checkbook, leave it at home.
- Make copies of your credit cards. Copy both sides of all your cards. If you lose your wallet, you’ll have easy access to all of your account numbers and phone numbers, allowing you to alert your bank immediately.
- Keep up with all receipts. Not only will you need them to make returns easily, but crooks are very interested in stealing the information they contain. Never stuff the receipts into your car visor or leave them exposed in any way.
- Open your credit card statements as soon as they arrive. Check the bill for any unauthorized purchases. Even better, keep a watchful eye on your accounts by going online and reviewing your accounts each week. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, report it immediately to your bank. Doing so will likely remove any payment responsibility you might have for fraudulent purchases.
- Secure all personal information even while at home. Unfortunately, many times an ID thief is someone we know. During the holidays, you may have guests in your home. Remove temptation by putting personal information out of sight.
- Consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. Such services alert you via email anytime there is an inquiry or other activity to your credit report. In other words, if someone tries to open an account in your name, you’ll know about it. Such services are offered by all of the major credit reporting bureaus, and could be money well-spent.
- Order your credit report. Consumers are allowed one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three bureaus. Order a report now from one bureau, and order another one in January from a different bureau. This will give you a good snapshot of activity and will alert you to anything unusual.
BONUS: If you want to take extra precaution, you may want to purchase an RFID-blocking wallet to protect against wireless identity theft. While not common, wireless identity theft can occur if a person with an RFID reader is in close proximity to you and your RF-enabled cards.
In spite of all your efforts, if you are victimized by ID theft, contact an NFCC Member Agency for help. Their certified counselors can walk you through the steps to recovery. To find the agency closest to you, dial (800) 388-2227, or go online www.nfcc.org. To locate a Spanish speaking counselor, call (800) 682-9832.