You may be surprised to discover that Santa could find himself among the nearly 16.6 million Americans who sadly count themselves among the ranks of victims of identity theft, according to numbers crunched by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
I know firsthand how frustrating, time consuming and costly being targeted by scandalous identity thieves can be. More than 2 decades ago, my family’s home was robbed just weeks before Christmas. And among the prescription drugs, jewelry and gadgets the thieves stole, they nabbed books of spare checks, credit cards I thought were tucked safely out of sight with other financial documents. In a matter of days the crooks opened credit accounts in my name, which later required an immense amount of time to have removed from my credit profile.
Of course, credit reporting has changed to offer victims more protection. And the Internet has made disputing credit errors and discrepancies much easier, too. But the sophistication of thieves has also risen to new challenges stemming from innovative security measures.
The BJS says as a result, having your identity stolen can get costly. Total financial losses related to identity theft tip the scales at upwards of $50 billion a year. While only 14 percent of victims suffer out-of-pocket losses of $1 or more, about half of those incur losses of more than $100.
In my case, it took years to completely resolve any lingering issues resulting from identity theft. These days, the BJS says 20 percent of victims spend a month or more resolving related issues. And thanks to cyber security attacks, no one’s identity—not even that jolly old elf himself—may be spared from Scrooges looking to pocket his personal information.
To keep St. Nick safe during this holly jolly time of year (and to help you from following in his sleigh tracks) here’s a look at situations Santa finds himself in—as do many Americans, too—that leave him vulnerable for identity theft.
He trusts visitors
It’s hard to know exactly where Santa keeps his bills, credit card statements and other financial information. But here’s hoping he doesn’t leave those items on his desk or on Mrs. Claus’ kitchen counters.
A lot of elves, delivery drivers and mail personnel and reindeer trainers are in and out of Santa’s house during the holidays—and the rest of the year, too since he works year round for Christmas Eve. All that foot traffic can lead to trouble if Santa’s not careful.
Like most of us, Santa probably trusts the elves and others he welcomes in his home, especially since he considers the elves to be his family. But trust makes him vulnerable, says Denis G. Kelly, President IDCuffs.com, an identity protection service.
“Jolly Old St. Nick may not realize that a majority of identity theft victims fall prey to “friendly thieves” and personally know the criminal,” says Kelly. “Thieves with a personal family or friendly relationship have access to a considerable amount of personally identifying information. And Kelly says having access to credit financial information left in plain sight gives thieves the final piece to Santa’s identity puzzle.
Santa needs to consider caring for the identity of his elves, too. Here’s hoping he doesn’t leave information about his elven children’s student loans, bank statements and other sensitive financial documents lying around for visitors to casually steal.
Santa’s best bet is keeping any financial documentation locked in a safe spot out of visitors’ line of vision, says Neal O’Farrell, the nation’s Number 1 Consumer Security Advocate and a nationally respected expert who has been fighting cybercrime and identity theft around the world for thirty years. Some ideal locations include in a shoe box in the back of the closet or hidden in the laundry room where thieves rarely think to search.
He travels for his job
Even though Santa packs all his travel into a little more than 24 hours, he visits a variety of foreign lands. In order to pay for his egg nog latte so he doesn’t fall asleep at the reins, he likely carries his wallet, credit cards and all. But jetting around with a satchel stuffed with several credit cards puts Santa on the radar of Scrooges scouring for an identity theft victim.
Santa should lighten up, says Kelly. “All he needs to carry are his driver’s license and one credit card to minimize the risk of identity theft should his wallet be stolen by someone on his naughty list.”
“Santa should never take any personal information he doesn’t absolutely need on a trip,” adds Steven J.J. Weisman, Esq., an identity theft attorney in Amherst, MA. “He should never carry his Medicare card as that uses his social security number as his Medicare ID.” Other items to leave at home include Santa’s Social Security card, extra checks and all credit cards except for one he relies on in case of an emergency.
Just in case his wallet is stolen, here’s hoping Santa has a photocopy of everything in his wallet stored safely at home, says Robert Siciliano, a certified security instructor for numerous industry associations and identity theft expert with BestIDTheftCompanys.com. That will help him quickly interrupt the plans of identity thieves because he’ll know exactly what was taken and who to contact to prevent financial loss.
He tells the world where he’s going
NORAD trackers make it hard for Santa to silently slip away from the North Pole and make his midnight run. Kelly says putting information online via Facebook status updates, Twitter and Instagram uploads of vacation or other travel photos act like a beacon to identity thieves that a home is vacant and prime for thieves to rummage through.
Hopefully, Santa has a solid security system in place in case the Grinch makes his way to the North Pole to steal Santa’s identity. And even though it’s hard for him to keep his travel plans a secret, Mrs. Claus and the elves should remember to not brag online about a trip until after they’re back home and able to protect the personal information tucked in their home.
Photo credit: Getty Editorial