From shoes and jeans to computers and grills, many items are on sale right now. Don’t let your identity be one of them! The number one crime in America – identity theft – runs rampant during the holiday season.
This happened to me several years ago at a reputable store. I won’t mention the name, but it’s known for selling personalized products. Apparently the cashier that took my order also took my information for his own personal use. A few weeks later, I received a phone call from a detective. The cashier had been arrested for credit card fraud, and my number was one of many found in his possession. No damage was done, other than the inconvenience of looking through my records and having my bank reissue a card. It could have been much worse!
An identity is stolen every three to four seconds. Yours will not be one of them if you follow these tips, courtesy of Scott Stevenson*, Founder and CEO of Eliminate ID Theft, an identity theft protection and credit-monitoring agency.
Beware of skimming.
- During the holidays, stores use temporary workers to accommodate the shoppers who crowd the malls. These workers often go through a much-less thorough screening process than full-time, salaried workers. Often paid hourly at a minimum wage, these workers can be lured by the promise of quick money that skimming credit card numbers offers.
- Know what a skimmer looks like. Google Images has plenty of pictures. Skimmers are small machines that look similar to other credit card technology, and thus can easily be overlooked even when used out in the open.
- When possible, use cash. That way, you won’t be a target of identity fraud.
- Be on the lookout. From an experienced thief to a proprietary teenager, anyone can steal a credit card number and use it to ruin your finances and credit.
- Watch to make sure no one copies down your card numbers. Shred all receipts, as many of these contain credit card expiration dates, as well as the last four digits of the card numbers.
Protect your information.
- The National Retail Federation estimated that nearly half of consumers would shop online in 2007; more than 61 million people would do so from work, potentially spreading their financial information on more than one computer.
- Erase all cookies. Make sure no one can sit down at your computer and access your information.
- Use a shredder. Destroy old credit card bills and opt out of unsolicited credit card offers (www.optoutprescreen.com). This reduces the chance of someone sifting through trash and discovering your personal financial numbers.
Think Before You Click!
- E-mails containing links to online stores often contain phishing software that records your personal information as you type. Find reputable online stores using a search engine, such as Google, and add these stores to your favorites so you don’t have to trust e-mail advertisements.
- Look for the Lock, the padlock that is. This icon at the bottom of an Internet window, along with the “http” or “https” at the beginning of a Web site, denotes security. Other indications that a site is trustworthy include notations from TRUSTe, Verisign, The Better Business Bureau and McAffee Secure. Additionally, when a site has Extended Validation SSL (a higher level of security) the address bar turns green and the organization’s name is displayed to show that it’s been certified. You can also check to see if the company is Visa CISP (Cardholder Information Security Program) compliant.
- Use temporary credit card numbers, provided upon customer request by many credit card companies, for online shopping. Even legitimate Web sites sometimes get hacked into; by using a temporary credit card number, you can avoid thieves racking up additional charges on your regular card.
- Avoid fakes. Some shopping sites that offer deep discounts really are too good to be true. These sites allow you to add items to your virtual shopping cart and enter your payment information upon check out, just like any reputable site, except the products never arrive-they never existed in the first place, and now the criminals have your money and your personal information! When possible, order through well-known sites like Amazon.com, eBay.com and Yahoo. Check to see if smaller sites have contact information that connects you to a live person, rather than just an online form. If a company skimps on contact information, it might be a sign to steer clear.
- Shop in private from your personal computer rather than one at work, a friend’s house, a hotel or the airport. You never know what cookies or hacking tools may accidentally be on public computers, and you don’t want your information stored where others can see it.
*Stevenson has been featured by CNBC, CBS, FOX, CreditCards.com and Newsday.