4 Ways to Stop Identity Thieves From Ruining Your Holidays

It's the most wonderful time of the year for retailers: the 2017 holiday shopping season got off to a booming start over the Black Friday-Cyber Monday holiday weekend and has remained strong since according to the National Retail Federation.

"This has been an impressive start to the holiday season, perhaps the best in the last few years," NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement. "The combination of job and wage gains, modest inflation and... elevated consumer confidence has led to solid holiday spending by American households."

But what's good for retailers is also good for scammers and thieves, who are actively looking for opportunities to steal people's personal and credit information as well.

According to a new holiday survey from Experian, 17% of people responded that they may have been the victim of identity theft during the holiday shopping season in recent years. Of those victims, 35% said it happened while using a credit card. Victims also stated that identity theft or fraud occurred while shopping online, such as with ecommerce fraud.

Armed with personal information such as birth dates and addresses—used in combination with Social Security or credit card number—criminals are targeting new combinations to yield better results with lower odds of getting caught.

Thieves are better able to navigate new paths to commit identity theft or create synthetic identity scams on a bigger scale with data from the dark web. The end result leads to your credit card or bank account being taken over by a criminal, or new identities created to scam businesses or the government.

"As more and more consumers turn to mobile devices, we are seeing a significant uptick in criminals also using this popular channel to place fraudulent orders," says Mike Gross, director of global fraud risk strategy for Experian.

Nearly 42% of ecommerce orders originate from smartphones during the peak holiday shopping season.

"In fact, this year, we saw a 64% increase in fraud attacks originating from mobile devices compared to last year. This trend will likely continue as fraudsters evolve their tactics and look for opportunities to capitalize on the massive growth in mobile holiday shoppers." (See also: It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year… for Criminals, Cheats, and Scammers)

How Can I Protect My Identity?

Here are four steps you can take to protect your identity and personal information:

  1. Do not carry unnecessary identity documents such as your Social Security Card with you.
  2. Do not leave your personal information unattended such as your purse in a shopping cart or your wallet on a counter.
  3. Do not leave your purse or wallet in the seat of your car when you are running errands. These items and personal documents or packages make for easy targets for identity thieves. If you have to bring them with you, lock them in the glove box or trunk.
  4. Be aware of when using personal information as identity thieves can take a picture or video of your credit card when you're entering your pin during checkout or at an ATM.

What Should I Do If I Am a Victim of Identity Theft?

Sometimes you can do all these things and still be a victim of identity theft. If your personal information is stolen or you lose your credit cards you can take these steps:

  1. Contact your bank or credit card issuer to report your cards as lost or stolen. They can go over any recent transactions to make sure that you are not responsible for any fraudulent charges.
  2. Call the Social Security Administration to let them know that your Social Security number has been stolen.
  3. Request a free initial fraud alert with Experian. Having a fraud alert in place will notify you if anyone is viewing your credit report or trying to apply for credit in your name. Lenders will have to contact you in order to verify your identity before approving applications that are taken out in your name.

You may also consider an identity theft protection product to help monitor your identity. You can learn more and find detailed steps to take to protect your identity along with ways for recovery through Experian's ID Theft Victim Assistance.

Note: The data is from an online survey from a sample of 1,000 adults ages 18+ nationwide, that ran November 18-28, 2017.

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