Written by Patricia Guevarra
The holidays are approaching fast, and between staying within your shopping budget and managing your calendar to make sure you can make it to everyone’s holiday parties, you probably have enough to worry about. Stress can be high during this time of year, and there’s no room to add identity theft to that list of worries.
Each year, consumers forget to prioritize identity protection and end up paying the price during the holidays. Did you know that online fraud attempts increased 22 percent between the 2016 and 2017 holiday seasons? With all the online and in-store shopping you’ll be doing in the upcoming weeks, this is prime time for thieves to snoop around your personal information in the hopes that they can score your cards, cash, PIN — and even your Social Security information. This holiday season, make sure you’re going the extra mile to protect yourself and your identity.
Here are a few precautions you can start with.
Use secure networks and sites when shopping online
Cyber Monday is very convenient (especially for us homebodies who never want to see the light of day), but it also provides plenty of opportunity for people to access your personal information. Think about it: From the moment you log on to your computer to the moment you click “Check out,” you provide numerous passwords, your payment information, your home and billing address, and more. And that’s not counting all the information you might already have on your computer.
The two easiest ways to safeguard all this precious information? Ensure that you’re using legitimate websites, and stay away from public Wi-Fi. When shopping online, try to stick to shopping sites with URLs that start with “https://” (the “s” stands for “secure”). Avoiding public Wi-Fi can be hard, especially if you’re a café junkie like me, but when you connect to a public network, all the personal information stored on your devices is up for grabs for anyone else connected to that network. to further protect your online shopping experience.
Be alert and watch out for shoulder surfers while shopping
Shoulder surfer is a term given to criminals who quietly observe you while you’re shopping or using devices like ATMs, computers and kiosks in the hopes that you will inadvertently give up personal information they can take advantage of. Cover the keypad as you enter your PIN. If you’re making a transaction at an ATM, be aware of who is lurking around. Don’t ever reveal personal information about yourself out loud (you might think this is a given, but how many times have you told a store clerk your phone number or home address while applying for some kind of rewards membership?). Travel light when you’re shopping, and carry fewer credit cards. And most importantly, don’t carry around your Social Security card!
Check all devices for skimmers
Even more dangerous than shoulder surfers are card skimmers, which are designed to be next to impossible to find. Skimmers are devices attached to card readers at ATMs, gas pumps, stores and more that allow the owner to copy your card’s magnetic strip to commit fraud. While these devices look almost identical to the original card readers, there are ways that will help you detect a skimmer — or at the very least, give you enough reason to find a safer place to use your card.
Use secure locations where it’s hard for thieves to install and retrieve skimmers. For example, go inside the bank instead of using the outdoor ATM, or pay at the cashier instead of paying at the pump when buying gas. Jiggle the card reader before inserting your card; sometimes skimmers stick out or are poorly installed. Any sign of looseness means it’s better to use another machine. If all else fails, you can always just skip swiping altogether and use a mobile wallet like Apple Pay instead.
When in doubt, use cash or credit instead of debit
Avoid all the pains that come with using any type of card and just use cash! Using cash during the holiday season is a great way to keep your spending in check, but it’s also an easy way to protect yourself from identity theft. If cash isn’t a great option for you, use your low-interest credit card instead of your debit card. Due to different consumer laws, credit cards offer more protection against theft than debit cards.
Use identity theft protection options
Why not just be an overachiever and use actual tools that will help you protect yourself against theft? Experian® offers identity theft protection that includes monitoring, alerts, dark web surveillance, fraud resolution, up to $1 million in ID theft insurance and much more. If you’re committed to making sure you’re completely in the loop about your own identity, review your protection options and invest in them.
Identity theft is a nightmare that can keep you up at night, but it doesn’t have to become a reality. Do your due diligence, and make sure you’re protected! To learn more about protecting your identity this holiday season, tune in to our #CreditChat on Periscope, YouTube Live and Twitter on Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 3 p.m. Eastern time.
Topic: Smart Ways to Protect Your Identity This Holiday Season
When: November 28, 2018 at 3 p.m. ET.
Easy ways to chat with us on Twitter: Tchat
The panel included: Rod Griffin: Director of Public Education at Experian; Eric Rosenberg: Writer, Speaker, and Consultant; Kara: Personal Finance Blogger; Paul Moyer: Director of Financial Opportunities at Growth360; Dr. Sean Stein Smith: Assistant Professor at Lehman College (CUNY); Liz: IT Project Manager; and Cameron Huddleston: Personal Finance Expert.
Experian is the world’s leading global information services company. Learn more.