Identity Theft Reminders During the Holidays

HolidayIDTheftWith the holidays in full swing, your debit and credit cards may be getting more use than normal—both online and off.

Unfortunately, as you start planning gifts and parties, identity thieves are also scheming new ways to steal your personal information. You’ll need to use caution to help better protect your identity and keep the season merry and bright.

Here are some reminders to keep on your shopping list this year when it comes to identity theft.

Only shop on trusted websites. The Identity Theft Resource Center recommends doing business only with companies you know and trust, and only shopping on encrypted websites. Encryption means any private information you enter into a website is encoded so only authorized parties can read the information. Icons such as padlocks or unbroken keys usually are found at the top or bottom of the browser window when a website is encrypted. When shopping, also create new, different and complex passwords for each website so if one is stolen, an identity thief can’t automatically break into your other online shopping accounts.

If the holiday deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The holiday season is full of great online deals and in-store coupons, but not every deal is real. Some are scams set up to trick holiday shoppers into giving up personal identification information. According to the Better Business Bureau, fraudsters may send fake emails or advertise for “amazing deals” on popular products to entice shoppers to enter credit card and address information. Pay particular attention to the website address to be certain it’s a secure address linked to a real business, and check out BBB’s Business Directory before buying from any business you don’t recognize.

Be careful with digital greeting cards. These greeting cards may not be as harmless as they seem. Some come loaded with malware designed to steal personal information from your computer. Even if the card appears to come from someone you know, don’t click links in the body of an email, and don’t open attachments. According to the Greeting Card Association, legitimate e-card notifications always come with the full name or personal email address of the sender, and all legitimate e-card publishers will allow you to collect your e-card directly from a website instead of through a link. You should manually type the website URL into your browser window and enter the retrieval code information from the notification email into that site to retrieve your e-card.

Verify charities before giving. While this scam can happen any time of the year, fake charities set up to steal your information and your money are particularly prevalent during the holidays. Legitimate charities rely on year-end giving to make ends meet, hoping that people will feel more philanthropic during the holiday season and take advantage of the last chance to make tax-deductible donations. Fake charities rely on the same thing. Before giving, USA.gov recommends verifying the charity’s complete name and address with the attorney general or BBB. Also, consider donating funds with a credit card for extra protection against fraudulent charges.

Keep checking your accounts for fraudulent activity. It’s a busy time, but throughout the merry mayhem of the season, be sure to keep up with charges on your credit and debit accounts to ensure they’re all purchases you’ve made. If anything looks suspicious, immediately contact your financial institution to alert them to the activity.

Megan Craig is a Chicago-based journalist and communications professional who writes mostly about personal finance and consumer issues. She is a former reporter and editor for the Chicago Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @megcraig1.

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