Cyber security experts have been telling us for several years now that it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when identity theft will impact our lives. We can’t predict it and we can’t prevent it. What we can do is watch for it and be prepared for when it does happen. Although it’s open season on us all year round, it’s more intense around the holidays. We’re distracted with shopping, decorating, preparing for guests, preparing to travel, parties, and more shopping. Identity Thieves are thrilled by this because it makes it easier for them to slip in and out without notice. It may be January and in some cases February before we realize something has happened and by then, the thieves are long gone.
Fortunately, if it’s a fraudulent charge, our financial institution will help us out, but if it’s not that, then we need to find a way to deal with it. Here are a couple of things you can do to keep tabs on your money and your identity this holiday season.
- Shopping online continues to grow and this time of year we start receiving a lot of ads through email and through texts from companies that want to take advantage of this way of shopping. There’s nothing wrong with that, but just know that thieves are lurking. They want your information and they go to great lengths to fabricate and design beautiful sites with fantastic deals to lure us in--all of it fake. If you stumble on to one of these sites and make a purchase, you won’t get your merchandise and the people who designed this beautiful site will have your information. Check out companies that you are not familiar with before you take out your card.
- When doing all this shopping online, we expect shipping notices. Thieves will create fake notices that look like they are coming from Fed Ex, UPS, US Postal Service and major retailers. They look so real! When you click on the link, it directs you to one of their sites. They will have captured your information or worse, they get your information AND deposit malware onto your computer. The best way to track your purchases is to go to the shipper’s site and put in the tracking number you got when you made the purchase rather than clicking the notice sent to you through an email.
- If you don’t do this already, check your accounts weekly especially this time of year. This way if something seems wrong, you can take immediate action before too much damage is done. Be on guard and look for abnormalities.
- If you are traveling, wait until you get home to post pictures and stories. Yes, it’s more fun to do it as it happens, but it’s more fun for thieves too. They are looking for people who are not at home. Think they don’t know where you live? Think again. The information you put on your Facebook page tells a thief a whole lot about who you are and where you are. These people are good at what they do.
- When traveling, take only those credit, debit and loyalty cards that you will use. These cards carry a great deal of information about you. Maybe that Sears card or the Ralphs loyal customer card can stay at home. The less you carry the less you lose if your wallet or purse is stolen or you accidentally leave it somewhere.
- When traveling we often use public WiFi to keep in touch. We’ve all heard this, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be mentioned again here. Using a public WiFi network leaves us vulnerable. Avoid making purchases or reservations where you are keying in your personal information. Public WiFi is—well—public and anyone can be tapping into what you’re doing.
- Skimmers and your credit/debit card. Even with the recent introduction of the chip on our cards, we are still vulnerable to skimmers, those devices that only need to get close to us to record the information contained on our cards. It’s the magnetic strip that makes us vulnerable and as long as there are magnetic strips on our cards, people using skimmers will be in business. Crowded malls and airport terminals make perfect locations for skimming. A recent report on ABC news stated that strips will phase out as retailers install and use chip-only readers, but that is years into the future. To move this transition along, retailers rather than the financial institution are bearing the cost of fraudulent charges if they don’t upgrade to the chip-only readers and a fraudulent charge is reported at their business.
Millions of people lose their identity every year. Don’t be one of them. It is true that we can’t prevent identity theft, but we can help ourselves by staying vigilant. Take notice if something doesn’t seem right. Use the above guidelines to make it harder for thieves to disrupt your world.
Lori Lawson is a LegalShield Director and is an ID Shield specialist. Her company, New Line Associates is located here in Oceanside and she has been a Chamber member for over ten years. Visit their website at newlineassociates.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free, no obligation fifteen-minute consultation.