It’s easy to let your guard down during the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping. But according to the Consumer Federation of America identity theft rates reach their peak around the holiday season. From pick pockets to online scams to credit card skimming, identity thieves are on the prowl to take advantage of consumers who are too busy to look out for them. Luckily, there are many things you can do to protect against ID theft this holiday season and keep your identity safe for the New Year.
Be Aware of Pick Pockets
Pick pockets are out in full force during the holiday shopping season. Ladies, carry a small purse close to your body (or avoid bringing one altogether), and gentlemen, put your wallet in your front pocket. Keep an eye on your personal belongings at all times. A stealthy thief only needs a second to brush up against you and disappear into the crowd with your credit cards and ID. For even better protection, buy an RFID-blocking wallet to prevent thieves from scanning the RFID chip in your credit cards.
Protect Yourself Online
Online holiday shopping is convenient, but it also puts you at risk for identity theft. Any online shopping should only be done over an encrypted connection. You can protect against ID theft by making sure the site has a verified security certificate as well. When you get to the payment section of your order, check the website’s address to make sure it begins with “https” (the “s” indicates a secure site) and includes a padlock icon. Clicking the icon will allow you to view the security certificate.
You also want to avoid making bank transfers over your cell phone or when using a public wireless network. Identity thieves may be monitoring those connections to gain access to your bank account information. If you must do banking via cell phone consider establishing a virtual private network (VPN).
Don’t Toss Papers and Receipts Away
Tossing out receipts and any other paperwork containing your personal information is never safe. This is especially true during the holidays when you have lots of shopping bags and trash going in and out of the house. Identity thieves have no qualms with sifting through your garbage to find the information they need. Protect against ID theft by shredding all documents that have your full name, date of birth, credit card information, Social Security number, and any other personal information instead of throwing them in the wastebasket.
Safeguard Your Credit Card Information
Shop with cash to reduce the chances of identity theft whenever you can this holiday season. If you need to shop with a credit/debit card, only use ATMs you trust. Many identity thieves install card skimmers on ATMs in high-traffic areas to swipe your debit card information. Skimmers are virtually undetectable to the naked eye, so you won’t know you’re a victim of identity theft until you see the fraudulent charges on your statement-and by then it may be too late to recover the charges. Remember that debit cards need daily monitoring.
When shopping online, try filtering the purchase through a payment gateway like PayPal or use a debit card specific for online shopping, instead of entering your credit card information directly on the site. Protect against ID theft by only buying from reputable websites (remember that HTTPS security) and, if you’re having your merchandise shipped, make sure to request a signature so you know when and who received it.
Finally, check your credit card statements at least once a month and view your credit report by signing up for creditkarma.com to make sure nothing is amiss. You can also be proactive by using an identity theft protection service such as ID Theft Solutions. This trusted and affordable identity theft prevention firm is the only one that guarantees to recover your identity when it’s stolen.