From shopping online to shopping in long lines, the holidays present a time of giving for consumers. For would-be thieves, the shopping season is a prime time for stealing one of life's most precious commodities - our identities. The holidays can be an exciting time of gifting but they are also a time when shoppers must stay vigilant in protecting their personal information.
More and more Americans have discovered the ease and convenience of conducting their financial business online. Thanks to online banking, we can access and manage 24/7, which makes things especially handy when it comes to online shopping. While doing any kind of business online seemed risky just a few years ago, today's encryption and security systems have made it one of the most practical ways to shop. Whether banking online or searching for that perfect gift, consumers can navigate the Internet with confidence.
To ensure the identity of its online customers, Web sites use encryption software which scrambles private information to prevent unauthorized access. Passwords and personal identification numbers are used to access an online account or place an order, providing additional protection. Experts also suggest making the most of security provided by a personal computer such as virus protection. Physical access controls should also be used and updated regularly.
For those headed to a shopping mall or department store, always keep an awareness of surroundings. Not everyone in a crowd is necessarily shopping for that same great deal as you. What they may be shopping for is your wallet and credit cards, which will give them additional access to your identity. Women should keep their purse clutched close to their side or in front, and men are advised to carry their wallet in an inside coat pocket.
Shoppers are also advised not to carry large sums of cash. Credit and debit cards are the best line of defense during holiday shopping. However, keep in mind that credit cards feature a certain level of protection not provided with a debit card. With a stolen debit card in hand, an ID thief can empty a savings or checking account. It's much harder to dispute the stolen cash than it is a stolen credit card.
Taking unnecessary cards out of a wallet before shopping is also a good idea. That way, there will be less to potentially steal. Also, keep in mind that some cards may include a Social Security number on them, such as insurance cards. Make sure to leave those at home as well. A Social Security number is that gateway to an identity.
Always keep receipts in a safe place as you shop and take them out of your purse or car once you reach home. Not only will receipts be needed in case of a return, but thieves are interested in any personal information they contain.
With the frequent use of a credit or debit card during the holidays, examine any and all credit or bank statements when they arrive. Keep an eye out for unauthorized purchases. Thanks to online banking, you can also easily keep a watchful eye on accounts on a weekly basis. Reporting any suspicious activity immediately will likely protect you from paying for any fraudulent purchases.
The holidays are a time for socializing. Having guests in your home is the highlight of the holidays, but it can also present opportunities unfortunately for ID theft. In fact, in 26 percent of identity theft complaints, the victim knew who had misused their personal information, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Remove any temptations by putting personal information out of sight of guests.
The holidays are a time of giving. Give yourself the best gift of all - a secure identity.