7 Tips to Avoid Identity Theft While Holiday Shopping
Online shopping. Mall Shopping. Local Shopping. Shopping Shopping. This is a time of year when credit card numbers are whizzing back and forth at the speed of light. unfortunately, well intentioned shoppers could find themselves to be the targets of credit card fraud and/or identity theft if they aren't careful. There are things you can do to protect your financial health, your credit card statement(s), and your credit report and avoid the nightmare that can begin to unfold once your identity has been officially stolen.
7 Tips to Identity Theft and/or Credit Card Fraud
- Start Shredding. Shredding can be your best ally for a variety of reasons. Between bank statements, retirement fund updates, and credit card bills, a thief doesn't have to dig very far through the trash to find a literal jackpot of personal and sensitive information. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that people shred every single bit of personal information before it is thrown away. Don't give anyone the chance to see dates, social security numbers, or account numbers which can grant them access to lines of credit. Also, credit card offers often accelerate in the period leading up to the holidays. Make sure these offers are shredded as well so someone else doesn't take credit card companies up on their offer and get their hands on a credit card you never knew existed.
- Resist Online Contest Offers. You may have noticed (especially if you don't have your Pop-up-blockers engaged) that many online shopping experiences are interrupted with, "Win a brand new HDTV!" and other exciting and tempting offers. All you have to do is fill in a few boxes and voila! You are entered into their contest. Beware! These are a great way for hackers to get personal information and have access to your computer, thus gaining the inside scoop to infinite bits of your personal information.
- Check Your Billing Statements. This is key. Some companies have amazing customer service when it comes to potential credit card fraud or fraudulent credit card charges - others, not so much. The sooner you catch fraudulent charges, the higher chance you will have of getting all of the charges reversed and replacing the credit card with a new one. Make sure that you thoroughly review your credit card statement each month. Sometimes, credit card fraud happens in big ways - like a $1500 purchase at Best Buy you know you didn't make. But much of the time, savvy credit card thieves use them to purchase gas, snacks, and small food items here and there where they are much less likely to be noticed. Even the small line items on your statement are worth double checking.
- Cancel Old Cards. Sometimes, people pay off a credit card and let it sit, unused and inactive, in an effort to improve their credit score. This really isn't a good idea. If you have old and inactive cards, they are more likely to become targets of credit card fraud which can go unnoticed for a long time. Go ahead and cancel lines of credit you no longer use, and build your credit by wisely using - and paying off - active accounts.
- Upgrade Computer Security Software. If you are an online shopper, it's imperative that you use updated and reliable security software to protect your computer from unwanted invasions. It's easier than you think for people to hack in to your WiFi account and have access to your computer and online activities. This puts you at risk for identity theft of the worst kind. Also, make sure your passwords are unpredictable and contain a combination of capital letters, numbers, and symbols. Old pet names or birth dates are too easy for people to figure out and take advantage of.
- Be a Smart Online Shopper. The holiday season is not a good time to shop at new online discount sites you have never heard of. If you do decide to take advantage of a deal at a store you are unfamiliar with, read reviews and carefully examine their online privacy policies. Whenever possible, avoid using your credit card and instead use a PayPal account, or BillMeLater options, which are completely secure and protect your private information.
- Beware of the Social Media Trap. People have become so laissez-faire about their social media commentary they often forget there is a whole world of people they aren't interested in socializing with who have access to every word they say. Make sure you never give any personal information of any kind over social media sites. On that note, be careful before posting updates like, "The skiing in Mammoth is amazing!" That is like advertising, "None of us are home so all of our valuables and personal files are up for grabs. Come on over!" It's hard to be sympathetic about your identity theft investigation process when you've basically sent a Facebook invite to every thief in your local area...
While it's wonderful to be generous during the holidays, don't let your exuberant gift shopping undermine your personal security. Be careful about who has access to your private information so you don't become the victim of credit card fraud or identity theft.
Mike Garroutte, owner of Linked Investigations has helped to run identity theft investigations for more than two decades. He is a licensed private investigator in Los Angeles and an Orange County private investigator. If you feel you have been the victim of Identity Theft and would like some help regarding how to proceed, contact Linked Investigations for a free consultation.