The holiday season is the season for giving, but this is not always the case. Unfortunately, the holiday season is also peak stealing season for identity thieves, con artists, and grinches of all sorts. These criminals are out in full force during the biggest shopping season of the year, just waiting for the right opportunity to take advantage of stressed and distracted shoppers.
With the excitement of the holiday season, Erica Smith, a 32-year-old nurse, ignored the red flags of identity theft that came last December. When she received a letter from an unfamiliar bank regarding a credit card application, she assumed it was a mistake and tossed it in the trash. The holidays came and went without incident, but the warning signs soon popped up in the form of phone calls from stores and car dealerships, following up on recent credit applications in Smith's name. She realized that she was a victim of one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States - identity theft.
Unfortunately, it was too late to prevent the damage from being done. An unknown identity thief had already run up large bills with two different cell phone companies and a cable company totaling $2,300. She informed the police but there have been no arrests so far. And after several months, she has yet to fully clear her name and credit report. The fraudulent accounts are closed but the black marks on her credit remain.
This nightmare, unfortunately, is a common one. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), identity theft affects ten million American victims each year, costing individuals and businesses $52 billion. And that number is expected to increase as identity thieves become more sophisticated and as the technique is further embraced by large criminal organizations.
Fortunately, there are ways to keep identity thieves from stealing your credit card information and other personal data - especially if you understand what they do and how they do it. TrustedID offers the following simple yet effective guidelines to help you reduce your risk of identity theft this holiday season.
-Use only authenticated Web sites to conduct business online. Before submitting personal or financial information through a Web site, check for the locked padlock image on your browser's status bar or look for "https://" (rather than http://) in your browser window. If you have any concerns about the authenticity of a Web page, call the site's owner to confirm the URL.
-Before buying anything online, make sure the site is secure. According to the Better Business Bureau, secure sites will have "https" instead of "http" in the Web address of the purchasing information page.
-Be careful with your passwords. Use "strong" passwords that contain both letters and numbers and change these passwords frequently.
-Be aware of phishing and pharming scams. In these scams, criminals use fake emails and Web sites to impersonate legitimate organizations. Exercise caution when opening emails and instant messages from unknown sources.
-Exercise your right to block unapproved access to your credit files. This is one of the best ways to prevent your information from being misused. TrustedID makes it easy and convenient for you to restrict access to your credit reports.
Shopping at the Mall
-Be aware of people standing nearby when you are making purchases. Always look over your shoulder - identity thefts have been known to copy credit card information or even take pictures of cards on their cell phone cameras.
-Shopping malls are especially crowded during the holidays, so carry your wallet or purse securely. Leave your social security card and checkbook at home.
-Write "Check Photo ID" in permanent ink on your credit card, near your signature. This is an effective way to remind cashiers to check your identity before processing your card.
-After the holidays are over, you may not want to see your credit card statements. But it is important to check your bills carefully for unfamiliar purchases. Save your holiday shopping receipts in one place so you can easily validate that your billing statement is accurate.
- You can never be too safe when it comes to your personal information. By understanding the risks and taking extra precautions, you can give yourself the best holiday gift of all: peace of mind that your identity is safe.
- To ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday season this year, consider enrolling in a consumer protection service, such as IDFreeze, a suite of services designed to eliminate your exposure to identity theft and credit fraud. Visit TrustedID.com for more information on how you can proactively protect access to your credit and stay safe for seasons to come.
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