13 Quick Tips to Avoid Identity Theft During the Holidays

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When the holiday shopping season rolls around, so does the identity theft season.  Victims of identity theft feel angry and helpless, so don't let that happen to you. With all the increased purchasing activity online and off, the opportunities for identity theft abound.

The hustle, bustle and shopping that accompanies the holiday season, unfortunately, means an increase in the kinds of criminal activity that takes advantage of unsuspecting shoppers. Now is the time to increase your awareness of fraud, thieves, and scammers.

Here are the 13 quick identity theft protection tips that can help keep your personal information safe for the holidays--and all year round.

   1. Monitor bank, credit card and loan statements. If you are expecting a bill that doesn't come, contact your account holder immediately. If you see any bogus charges or unexpected spikes in your interest rates, contact your creditor. Watch for withdrawals or charges you did not make -no matter how small the charge is!

   2. Beware of people lurking nearby while using ATM, credit cards, checks and your laptop or community computer. Thieves will often hover near you to steal account and PIN numbers; they are trained to memorize credit card and account numbers.

   3. Don't shop on unsecured wireless networks or shared computers. Delete any personal information and passwords you may have entered into a shared computer. You never know who is going to be using it next and you never know if the computer is already infected with key-logging spy ware that collects bits of information on you with every stroke you make on the keyboard.

   4. Examine all correspondence you receive in mail.  Don't toss that "junk" mail without first reviewing it. If you receive email from financial institutions that you do not do business with or if there are name variations, you may want to contact the sender and ask why you are receiving it. When throwing out documents that contain personal information...SHRED them into small pieces.

   5. Safeguard your electronics. During the holidays thieves are always eyeing your electronic devices. Smart phones, laptops and GPS devices are among their favorites.  Always make sure that your laptop and smart phone is password protected, and armed with a firewall and up-to-date virus protection software -at all times. If you password protect your Smart Phone it will buy you some time to close accounts and change passwords if stolen. Also be sure to lock your devices in your trunk -our of sight from preying eyes.

   6. Review your credit reports. The official toll free automated number to call and order your free annual credit reports -one from each of the three credit bureaus, is 877-322-8228. Dispute any and all inaccuracies, including name variations and erroneous or old accounts, via certified mail. If your credit report is up-to-date and accurate, it will easier to clean up any fraudulent data that may land on your credit file after the holidays.

   7. Shop on safe and secure websites. Look for the closed padlock. It should appear on the status bar for the browser. Once you decide to make your purchase and proceed to the check out, look to see if the URL address has changed from "http" to "https." The "https" indicates that the website is a secure one and your purchase information has been encrypted -if you don't see the "s" -shop elsewhere. Look to see if the website has a phone number, review their return policy and take time to see if they have a privacy policy too. If you don't see the "https," you should probably cancel the transaction.

   8. Safeguard your Social Security number, passwords and PIN's. Never carry them in your wallet. If your wallet was lost or stolen today...would you know who to call and what steps to immediately take?

   9. Beware of scams. Never provide any personal information such as your Social Security number, bank account numbers or credit card data to anyone who contacts you via telephone solicitation, email or through social networking sites. Oftentimes, scam emails and phone calls will appear authentic and urgent -but they are not! If you receive a notice from someone instructing you to dial an 800 number (or any number), first check your statement or legitimate documentation for the valid phone number. Fake websites and bogus phone numbers are often included in "phishing" email scams, which are designed to appear urgent -don't fall for them. They only want information from you that they can sell or trade, to multiple thieves in the thriving underground chat rooms. Remember...legitimate companies will not ask for personal information through email.

  10. Prevent thieves from cracking passwords. Pick Passwords and profiles carefully. Pet names, birth dates, hometown and interests such as favorite sport team or band, favorite hangouts, hobbies, as well as spouses and childrens names are often compiled in passwords and thieves know this. They use these bits of information to crack your password and then get into your email, bank accounts or other online sites you frequent such as Amazon, Itunes -or anywhere you utilize your private password.

 11.  Use credit cards rather than debit cards. If there is a problem with the transaction, credit card companies can suspend payment to the seller, obtain the money back for you, and remove fraudulent charges. Debit cards on the other hand are essentially used like cash, which leads to a greater likelihood that a thief can access your bank account and clean you out.

12. Keep a list of important phone numbers that you will need to call if you suddenly discover your wallet is lost or stolen. Stash them away in a safe place (not in your wallet!)--even if it's in your pocket or with a spouse that you can call if necessary.

13.  Secure your smartphones, tablets and online devices.  Criminals are successfully utilizing technological advances to find creative ways to invade our lives.  We need to use the same technology to stop them in their tracks. The features that make your phone 'smart' also make it susceptible to viruses and malicious software. Secure your online devices before damage from a theft or cyber intruder occurs.   

The reality is cybercrimes are becoming more sophisticated, data breaches continue to happen and tech savvy criminals continue to find new and alarming methods to hijack, then sell our personal information. The more we know --the better we can protect ourselves. What you don't know can hurt you. For additional resources, tips and helpful information visit StaySafeOnline.org  



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What seems to be an innocent purchase can be the cause of other stealing your identity and this is why awareness regarding fraud should be widespread. Scam victims are on the rise and with the help of the tight information, others can stand a chance against those who just want to get money in illegal means.

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