Christmas is only two weeks away. Now is the time to get that gift shopping done before those amazing holiday sales have passed you by and everything is picked over. But even as you search for that perfect gift at the best possible price, you need to keep yourself safe. Porch pirates aren’t the only thing you have to worry about this holiday season. You also need to keep an eye out for identity thieves.
Over 16.4 million United States citizens became victims of identity theft in 2017, with financial losses totaling upwards of 16.8 billion dollars. Every year, December and January see higher than usual reports of identity theft. According to a 2018 survey, eight percent of consumers polled had their identity stolen in 2017, with twenty-seven percent of these incidents happening while the victim was shopping online for Christmas gifts.
Christmas creates ideal conditions for identity thieves. A busy and chaotic holiday shopping season creates distracted and careless shoppers, who are even easier to take advantage of. A sharp increase in online shopping this time of year creates even more chances for an identity thief to nab someone’s personal information or hook consumers with a phishing scam. Preventing identity theft is more important than ever this time of year. Luckily, there are multiple steps you can take to protect yourself from these modern-day Grinches:
- Use a Secure Wi-Fi Network: Free wi-fi hotspots are everywhere, and it might be tempting to make use of them during a busy time like this. However, these networks often have poor security, making checking your e-mail or bank account an incredibly risky move. A savvy identity thief can use special software or devices to snoop on your activity over these networks or set up false hotspots, giving them access to your credit card, bank account, and social security numbers.
- Be Aware of Your Surroundings: Pickpockets love large crowds and busy, distracted people, because it’s that much easier to steal their money. Make sure your money is safe and secure every time you complete a transaction. Also hide your debit and credit card numbers whenever you use them – a nearby identity thief can take a picture of them with their cell phone camera, giving them access to your full name, your card’s number, and its expiration date.
- Watch Out for Skimmers: A skimmer is a device that criminals put on the face of an ATM, which appears to be part of the machine. This device copies credit card information, allowing criminals to use it for illegitimate means. It is often very difficult for civilians to identify a skimmer on sight. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, however. Here are some useful ways to spot an ATM skimmer.
- Use Cash and Credit: Debit cards might seem like a safe way to avoid spending money you don’t have, but they have multiple flaws. Unlike cash or credit, a debit card withdraws money directly from your checking account. This means that if a criminal compromises your debit card, your bank account might not cover the resulting bounced check charges. You are also responsible for up to 500 dollars of unauthorized charges on a debit card if you don’t report the fraud within two days and an unlimited amount of unauthorized charges if you don’t report within sixty days of your statement being mailed to you.
- Be Careful While Shopping Online: Before you enter any sensitive personal information on a website, make sure it is secure. Look for the padlock at the top of the webpage, which shows that the site is encrypted, and your information is safe from criminals. Be wary of promotional links advertising holiday sales, even if they look legitimate. Criminals often set up fake webpages to steal shoppers’ payment information. Here is how you can identify these websites.
You should also pay close attention your credit scores and credit reports after the holiday season. Watch for any suspicious-looking activity and make sure to address it before it escalates. Be mindful and aware as you finish your gift shopping, and Happy Holidays from the Don Turner Legal Team!