With the holiday shopping season fast approaching, it’s important to be ready to protect yourself and your identity from scammers and fraudsters waiting to pounce — whether in crowded malls or the online marketplace. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), in fact, reports increased activity in its call center during the first three months of the year, likely a result of identity theft issues that originated during the busy holiday shopping season.
Fortunately, it is possible to retain your good cheer, get your shopping done, and keep your identity secure by taking these simple steps during the holiday season:
Pare down. Before you hit the mall, clean out your wallet of unnecessary receipts, ATM cards, and credit cards. Try to use just one credit card for all of your holiday shopping—and bring just one card with you—the holiday seasons is considered a peak time for pickpockets, so leaving unnecessary cards at home will help to limit your exposure to fraud.
Guard your personal information. When the stores fill up with shoppers, “researchers” come out in full force, with surveys and other forms that offer the chance to win a new car or an exotic vacation. While most of these individuals are on the up and up, some could be scammers looking to gain access to your personal information. No legitimate survey or contest will ask for your Social Security number, driver’s license number, or banking account information.
Keep your credit cards close. Never leave your wallet or purse unattended. It only takes a few seconds for a thief to steal your wallet and all the personal information it contains. Also, never let a salesperson take your credit card somewhere you can’t see it, since handheld “skimming machines”—which record your card information—can be hidden in a hand or under a counter.
Be a discerning online shopper. If you prefer to shop from the comfort of your home, stick to reputable online sites that you have used before, or those that are registered with the Better Business Bureau. Avoid clicking on pop-ups, which can take you to another site designed to steal your personal information.
Keep an eye out for holiday packages. Particularly during the month of December, mail theft skyrockets. A common tactic for thieves across the country is to follow delivery trucks and then steal packages before the recipients can retrieve them. There’s a double whammy: Not only do you lose your prized purchase, you could also fall victim to fraud if the package includes a statement inside with your name, account number and other identifying information. It’s best to require a signature upon delivery.
Follow safe mailing practices. Once you’ve signed and stamped your holiday cards—including gift checks and gift cards—be sure to mail them from a secure mailbox.
Be a savvy donor. Philanthropy peaks in December, when consumers are in a giving mood. Scammers know this. So do your homework before contributing to any charity organization. Be cautious of GoFundMe campaigns, they have become a notorious hotspot for charity scammers due to a lack of required verification. If it is a registered 501(C)3 entity with the IRS, the organization’s 990 tax return should be available to the public. You can also check with www.GuideStar.org or the Better Business Bureau to see if the charity is listed.
Step up your vigilance. Monitoring your bank and credit card accounts regularly is more important than ever during the holiday shopping months. Look for activity you didn’t initiate and keep an eye on your account balance whenever you use the ATM. It’s also a good idea to change your passwords and PINs before, during or after the holiday season, in order to throw off thieves who may have gained access to them.
For more information about identity theft and fraud and steps you can take to protect yourself and your family, visit our education center.
Fraud-Savvy Shopping Tips
- Use one payment card for all your gift buying
- Shopping online? Verify reputability and security of sites
- Be aware of scammers preying on your giving holiday spirit
- Require a signature for package deliveries