For many Americans, Christmas represents the biggest buying season of the year. As such, malls fill with shoppers and websites fill with millions of orders.
Just as Santas are out in full force, so are criminals, and they are looking to steal credit card, driver’s license and social security numbers. With shoppers often distracted by the demands of the holidays, a skilled thief can pick up a credit card number, or steal a forgotten iPad, in a crowded store without being caught.
Attention should be paid to online sites, too. If they don’t look quite right or the email pitches seem far from legitimate, be cautious. If you aren’t paying attention, it’s easy to respond to a bank inquiry only to find it came from a phishing enterprise and not your financial institution.
In order to keep your identity safe, we’ve divided some advice into two categories: in-store shopping and online buying. Pay attention to both categories and you’re more likely to have an uneventful and happy holiday season.
Keeping Your Identity Safe When Shopping In Stores
At the mall or in the neighborhood store, consider the following tips:
- Keep track of your cell phone. Make sure you have the auto-lock feature turned on so that if your cell is stolen the thief cannot access your interface or your accounts.
- Never bring your social security card shopping – you won’t need it. Take along as little personal identification as possible; no more than a driver’s license and credit card. Keep the huge purse at home!
- Pay with credit cards. Having a lot of cash with you is always a bad idea, especially during the holidays. Additionally, credit cards have more protections built in than debit cards do.
- Keep an eye on your accounts. Look at them online, especially during high-spending weeks. In general, thieves will take a little before taking a lot. If you notice anything suspicious, you should call your bank immediately.
Keeping Your Identity Safe When Shopping Online
When perusing the internet for deals, be sure to remain vigilant. Here’s how:
- Never bank or manage financial transactions in public. The person behind you at the coffee shop might be able to spy your username and password, or even break into the coffee shop’s internet system to find them. Always be aware of your surroundings and whether someone seems to be studying you.
- Only use sites with “https” in the URL. The “S” stands for secure transmissions.
- Patronize merchants with whom you have done previous business. You know them and they know you, so there’s a level of trust during the holiday season.
- Keep your anti-virus software current.
Best Practices Against Identity Theft
A few final notes that can keep you from becoming the mark of a thief:
- Make copies of the front and back of your credit cards in case there is a problem.
- Save your receipts and ask for emailed copies, too. Look into a credit-monitoring service that will alert you by text message or email of changes to your account.
Keep in mind that a few simple precautions will go a long way toward keeping you and your family free of identity thieves during the holidays.