Don't Ignore Holiday Identity Theft Warnings

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Try as we might there's no denying that Christmas is right around the corner.  Unfortunately, that means that the identity thieves who hope to cash in on all of the holiday spending that goes on this time of year are out in force.  I've warned a number of times how much of a threat identity thieves can be during the holiday season, so here are a few more reminders about the things you can do to keep yourself -and your identity -safe during this busy shopping season -and all year long.
• Use a credit card instead of a debit card when making purchases. Here's why: When your debit card info is stolen --a thief can empty your bank account. When your credit card info is stolen, your personal money isn't at risk. Theft and fraud are handled differently between credit cards and debit cards by most banks, and using your credit card gives you have more protection under the laws against fraudulent use than a debit card does. Many people use debit cards because they don't want to accrue interest or debt. Just be sure to pay off your balance once your holiday shopping is finished, and you will avoid accruing debt, paying interest  on everything you bought --and more importantly, avoid paying for items you didn't buy!

• Make sure that the website you're shopping on uses a secure connection when checking out.  This is evident when you note there is a "lock" symbol appearing next to the address bar of your browser, and in some browsers the address bar actually changes color to indicate that the connection is secure. 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. 

• Watch your inbox.  Scams and spam levels often increase during the holidays, and some of the messages you get might sound legitimate.  Of particular concern around the holidays should be messages that appear to be; a package delivery service notice from Fed Ex, UPS or the USPS, an order confirmation  or even a digital greeting card from a friend. Embedded links can be used to install malicious software on your cell phone and computer.

• Spotting and avoiding scams has become a way of life --but the number of scams and tricks intensify during the holiday season. Always be suspicious of any email (or phone number) that you can't verify is from a legitimate source.

• Don't shop on a public computer or public wireless network. You cannot guarantee the security of the computer and some may have spyware set to capture your every keystroke giving access to your account info, email and passwords to anyone else who uses the computer.

• Make sure that your antivirus and anti-spyware software is up to date before shopping online downloading apps or using your Smartphone. Change your passwords, and change your PINs too if possible.  Choose strong passwords that are at least ten characters long and that contain mixed-case letters and numbers.  Select a PIN that doesn't have any easily-identifiable significance to you.  By updating this information before you start shopping online you'll increase your chances of foiling an identity thief before he has a chance to strike.

• Watch your surroundings in stores, and at the ATM.  You never know who around you could be trying to steal your identity, so make sure that people behind you in line or at the ATM never get a clear view of your credit or debit card.  Use your body or your hand to block their view of the keypad when entering a PIN to make sure that they can't see what you enter.

• Don't let down your guard.  Don't tell yourself that someone isn't a threat because they don't look like a "typical" identity thief; there's no such thing.  Don't assume that a website is safe because it looks professionally made or has an icon claiming to be safe. Always look for a customer services number, check the privacy policy and; check the Better Business Bureau, check to see if there is a customer service number, and do a web search to see if there are complaints about the site. You can never be too careful. You never know how, when or where an identity thief might strike or a fraudster may hook and reel you in with one of their tricks.

Don't forget to keep your receipts and double-check your bank and credit card statements after your shopping is done, too; even if you do everything right -there's always a chance that somebody else has not.
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