Shopping on Black Friday? Arm yourself with Tips to Avoid Identity Theft this Holiday Season

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Holiday shopping can be a lot of fun, but it can also place you at greater risk for identity theft. The hustle and bustle of holiday shopping often delays the discovery that sensitive personal data has been stolen. After all, since you spend hours running around the mall or outlets, you might not notice that your car has been broken into for hours.

Plus, if you are like most shoppers, your wallet is stuffed with credit and debit cards and your purse is overflowing with a variety of items that you simply might need to maintain your stamina while shopping. In all likelihood, you won't even discover that your wallet is stolen until you arrive at the cashier's desk.

Your personal information is worth a lot to the thieves who steal it. Learn how to reduce your chances of having identity theft happen to you along with some tips for what to do if it does.

Tip 1: Thin your wallet before you leave home if you who plan to shop the traditional way braving the brick-and-mortar stores and boutiques. You probably only need one credit card to make your purchases so only carry one. If you need special store credit cards to take advantage of those deep discounts offered for holiday shopping, take only the ones that you plan to use. Fewer credit cards in your wallet will mean fewer accounts to report if your wallet is stolen.

Tip 2: Look ATM machines over thoroughly for signs of tampering or use one located in a secure location such as a bank if you must use one. Identity thieves use skimming devices to steal your pin and account number and withdraw cash from your checking account.

One of the tip offs that an ATM machine has been tampered with is that the flashing light that typically appears where you slide your card into the device is missing. The skimming device blocks this light. Other things to look for include advertising displays placed conveniently in front of the ATM display or card readers that look different than they normally do; fake ones are usually bulkier in size. The advertising display could have a small pinhole camera pointing at the display and the card reader might include a strip that includes a pin capturing device.

Tip 3: Avoid using your debit card while shopping. It is a really simple process to contact your credit card company and suspend payment for a suspicious transaction. Getting money back from a bank when you suspect fraudulent transactions is another story entirely.

Tip 4: Guard your information while shopping. Block the view of anyone who stands suspiciously close to you since they might be trying to steal your account number. Refuse to provide personal information such as your social security number verbally when having the clerk look up your store credit card account number. Write it down on a piece of paper and then destroy it. If you need to enter the information on a keypad, make sure that no one can see what you enter.

Tip 5: Secure your GPS, phone, or laptop. Did you know that thieves can glean tons of personal information from your cell phones, GPS unit, and laptops? Typically, people store their home address, banking information, and contact lists in these devices. Imagine what identity thieves can do with that info if they steal it from your GPS, cell phone, or laptop.

If you are leaving these electronic devices in the car while you shop, remember to hide them beneath the car seat or under a spare jacket. At the very least, put them out of easy reach to deter someone attempting to steal them by breaking a car window. Thieves troll though the parking lots looking for an easy and quick stealing opportunity. Don't give it to them.

If any of these items are stolen, remember to call those individuals whose information is stored in them and warn them not to share any information if someone calls asking for it. Of course, you will also need to be on the alert for signs of new credit requests as well as charges using current accounts. It might just be easier to switch all of your account numbers.

If you are purchasing a new GPS unit, laptop, or cell phone, exercise a bit of caution now for less worrying about your personal information. Avoid labeling sensitive information with easily identifiable tags such as mom, bank, or home and use generic labels instead such as your mom's first name instead. Instead of inputting your home address in your GPS, use a nearby public site such as an auto repair shop or grocery store. You will still be able to get home easily and an identity thief will have no idea where you live.

What to Do if Your Wallet is Stolen

You simply must have a plan of action just in case your wallet is stolen; otherwise all of your efforts at preventing identity theft have been for nothing. Since it is more hectic during holiday shopping, knowing exactly what to do can ease the pain when identity theft does occur.

If your wallet is stolen, here are a few tips.

  • Contact one of the three major credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on your file
  • Report stolen credit cards to the appropriate credit card company and cancel the account.
  • Report stolen debit cards to your bank.
  • Contact your spouse and anyone else who might have your pin numbers and tell them that your wallet has been stolen
  • Keep an eye out for new requests for credit by monitoring your credit report.
  • Contact Social Security Administration if you card was in your wallet
  • Contact your insurance company if your medical insurance card was in your wallet
  • Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles and report your drivers license stolen
  • Contact the stores who you may have discount cards with if they were in your wallet
  • File a police report

What if your purse is stolen?

Along with the above notifications consider what else may be in your purse that could lead a thief to your home, computer, car or family -and notify all those who should be aware of the theft. Lost of Stolen items that could put you and your family at risk could include;

  • Cell phone and contents such as bank account and contact numbers
  • Prescriptions
  • Car, home, office or hotel room keys
  • Alarm codes
  • Receipts
  • GPS
  • Library cards
  • Address books

Since each of these items require giving others notification of a potential compromise as soon as possible, keep a list of important phone numbers that you will need to call stashed away in a safe place -even if it's in your pocket or with a spouse that you can call.

As always, whenever considering purchasing a product or service, always make sure you determine exactly what it is your hard earned money is going to give you in return. By being an educated and informed consumer you will be more likely to only purchase those products or services that are of value to you --and worthy of your time and money. Don't be taken in by bait and switch offers that claim to prevent identity theft because; they don't! 

As always, do your own homework. If something seems too good to be true --I've learned the hard way; it usually is. Knowledge is power and hindsight has 20/20 vision ---but when it comes to avoiding identity theft, and dodging schemes created by crafty con artists, we need to keep our eyes wide-open and take advantage of all the power we can get. Take control of your identity and destiny --before someone else does. 

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1 Comment

Sound advice. I am a member of a different company (prepaid legal) and agree that we can't be to careful these days. Some services are worth the small fee they charge. Times are desperate and during desperate times people do desperate things. Identity theft operators are everywhere and its common knowledge they infiltrate legitimate businesses. Heck, the cashier who takes your check or debit card could be an under cover thief who turns your information into ready cash. I left my wallet in my locked glove compartment and the thief broke in and got it and my registration. I didn't learn about it until on my way home 3 hours later. By then they already found a way to access my bank account.

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