Three ways to protect your identity during the busy holiday season
Thieves thrive on unsuspecting holiday shoppers in busy stores, so keep a hold of your purse or wallet. Write down the customer service numbers printed on the back of your credit and debit cards just in case your purse or wallet is stolen so that you can quickly contact your financial institutions and hopefully prevent unauthorized use on your accounts.
When you head out to do your holiday shopping, bring only the credit card or cards that you plan to use. If you carry cash, carry only what you need and never carry anything with your social security number on it.
…Even When Shopping Online
Shopping online is convenient, shipping is often free, I can compare prices so I know I’m getting the best price, and some retailers (like ones that aren’t incorporated or doing business in my state) don’t assess sales tax on my purchases. There many things that compel me and hundreds of thousands of other holiday shoppers to shop online…but thieves lurk online, too. To protect your accounts and your identity, shop only on sites that you know are legitimate and remember to use strong passwords when creating accounts.
So what’s a legitimate site and what makes a strong password? A legitimate website displays an image of a locked padlock on your web browser and has a URL that contains “https://”. The “s” is very important! Sites that begin with http:// are not secure sites. Strong passwords are generally 8 or more characters long and include a combination of both letters and numbers. Really strong passwords also contain special characters and upper and lower case letters. Most online retailers ask you to create an account when making online purchases and when creating an account you must create a password to protect your account information.
In addition to using strong passwords, it is always a good practice to make sure your computer is protected by up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. Also, remember not to open e-mails or attachments from an unknown sender no matter how enticing the subject line may sound and don’t respond to e-mails requesting that you respond with any kind of account or password information.
Don’t Forget to Follow-Up!
Look at your bank statements and your credit card statements each and every month! Check to make sure you made all of the transactions reported. Contact your financial institution quickly if you have any questions or concerns, even for a small charge. Many thieves start with small amounts (like $0.30) to see if you notice and to see if the account is active and usable. If they are able to get away with a small amount, they try a much larger amount and they wipe out your whole bank account or max out your line of credit. Get in the habit of checking your statements and monitoring all of your accounts, it’s one of the best ways you can protect your own identity.
In addition to regularly monitoring your accounts and reading your monthly statements, take a look at your credit report. Make it a resolution for the New Year to get a copy of your free credit report by going to www.annualcreditreport.com. This is the only truly free centralized service that allows you to view your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once each year. If anything on your credit report is inaccurate, report it right away. Inaccuracies can appear as a misspelling of your name, a wrong address, an account that doesn’t belong to you, or an inaccurate account balance. Don’t worry, it’s actually fairly easy to report inaccuracies online while reviewing your reports.
More tips for protecting your identity can be found online on the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s website: http://cbi.state.co.us/inv/ID_Theft/Index_IDTheft.html
-Erin, CU Money Sense team memberShare on Facebook