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Preventing Holiday Identity Theft

Ensuring the busy shopping season doesn’t put your data at risk.

Since consumers are generally distracted while purchasing gifts for their loved ones during the holidays, they often face an increased risk of identity theft. In fact, there are a multitude of measures an identity thief can take to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers. Whether you are shopping in-person with credit cards, shopping online, or making ATM debit withdrawals, there are steps you can take to prevent holiday identity theft.

The tips below can help reinforce the identity theft prevention strategy you have in place so you can ensure you keep your information safe during the holidays. And remember, if your holiday credit card issues are the result of overcharging rather than ID theft, we can help. Call Consolidated Credit today at (855) 782-3054 for a free debt analysis from a certified credit counselor.

Pay attention to how you make in-store purchases

Data breaches at the holidays give smart thieves a chance to steal account information from thousands of shoppers in one convenient go. Hackers target major retailers to steal credit card information because there are generally more transactions during the holidays.

So, is the solution to stop shopping at major retailers all together? Of course not.

Instead, choose a payment method that protects your data. Paying cash is best because it leaves no personal data in the systems of any store. Now, your worries may shift to what if I am mugged or if a pickpocket manages to get their sticky fingers on the cash?

Well, if you decide to opt for paying with plastic for this reason, choose the card carefully. Consider using debit cards to help you avoid accruing interest charges. But what if you are afraid of the retailer getting hacked? In that case, we recommend going to a no-fee ATM before you go shopping and withdrawing the necessary amount for your shopping spree.

And before withdrawing, we recommend avoiding the usage of a card reader that looks as though it may have been tampered with. Sometimes identity thieves will use “skimmers” to copy credit card information. With that stolen information, identity thieves replicate cards and make unauthorized purchases.

Tip for avoiding ID theft at an ATM

Additionally, we recommend using your hand to cover up the keypad as you enter your PIN to avoid onlookers. Sometimes identity thieves will pretend they are texting someone while waiting in line at an ATM. When in reality, they are trying to take photos of your credit card number/PIN.

Choosing the right card for holiday shopping

Although credit cards keep your main source of cash flow safe, they give thieves easy access to your open credit line if the store’s systems are compromised. If you do opt to use a credit card, choose a card with a low credit limit and/or a card with good fraud protection. That way if your account info is stolen, you limit the damage and the hassle you’ll have dealing with the issue.

Also, make sure that any card you’re using for holiday shopping has fraud protection activated. If the creditor or bank sees charges that they believe are suspicious, they will notify you so you can verify the purchases.

One final option is to get a pre-paid credit card that you can load with a limited amount of cash. That way, identity thieves won’t get access to any major credit line or debit card you hold.

Think about enhancing your security

Lots of people don’t understand how easily identity thieves can access their personal data without having to step foot in their homes. So, taking the time to rethink how you can enhance your account security before going on a holiday shopping spree may be a good idea.

Here are a few tips to help you minimize the possibility of your account(s) being compromised:

Use unique passwords for each account

Do your best to create unique passwords for each of your accounts. If this seems like too daunting a task to try and remember a bunch of different passwords, try creating hard-to-guess passwords. Otherwise, maybe consider using variations of the same password; throw symbols in different places and try using different numbers. 

You can also get a password storage vault for your family, such as LastPass or Dashlane. These password managers make it easier to store hard-to-remember passwords. Both managers have free options, or you can get premium or family plans.

Use multifactor authentication

Whenever and wherever possible, we recommend using multifactor authentication. This is a security feature that requires extra steps to verify your identity before you can log in. For example, you may get an email sent to you with a unique code or you may receive a text with a unique code before allowing access to your account.

Always monitor your credit

No, we’re not suggesting you sit ‘round the clock sifting through every line on your credit report. We suggest signing up for free credit monitoring services. Experian’s service, for example, comes with real-time alerts. So, if someone attempts to open a credit account in your name, you would be alerted before too much damage is done.

Be wary of scalpers in online marketplaces

Because of the pandemic, this holiday season will be hit with high demand and limited availability as a result of supply chain disruptions and worker shortages. This will likely make more people than usual turn to online marketplaces, like Facebook Marketplace or NextDoor, for the items they may have missed out on.

Scalpers will take advantage of consumers trying to purchase the latest gaming console, for example. If you are asked to pay via wire transfer, gift cards, or even cryptocurrency, avoid the transaction entirely. Instead, consider paying cash or using a peer-to-peer payment app that has transaction protections for consumers, i.e. PayPal or Venmo.

Research before making charitable donations

Scammers will go so far as to take advantage of people’s giving hearts. They will try to scam you through emails or by making phone calls posing as reps for charity organizations. They’ll even use spoofing technology to make it appear as though the call or email is coming from an authentic charity. But instead of the donations going to a good cause, they line up an identity thief’s pocket.

Before thieves and scammers have you yelling “bah humbug,” make sure to check out charity organizations’ websites to find legitimate information for donating either over the phone, by mail, or online. Additionally, you can look up charity organizations on websites like Charity Navigator or CharityWatch to ensure they are legitimate charities.

Otherwise, consider donating locally. Local food banks and shelters can always use items especially as we enter holiday (winter) season. So, empty out your pantry for a good cause and make space for hiding presents!

Beware Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

These types of tools make it easy to connect to your accounts and shop online no matter where you are in the world, but they also make it easier for thieves to target your information. “Bluebugging” allows savvy fraudsters to hack any device that has its Bluetooth activated in a thief’s vicinity. Once they access your device, they can access any apps and personal information you have stored.

In order to avoid this, don’t keep your Bluetooth constantly active – particularly on your smartphone. You should not use Bluetooth in public places or if you do, you should only have it activated for the limited amount of time you need it for something specific.

Public Wi-Fi is another convenience that allows you to get online in public spaces. However, using public Wi-Fi to shop or bank online puts you at risk for identity theft. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks to make any purchases or check sensitive information. Why? Because criminals can access your data from unencrypted networks.

If you are having trouble paying off your holiday credit card charges, call a certified credit counselor now for a free evaluation.