‘Tis the season for holiday shopping, and that means it’s prime time for identity thieves just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting shoppers. Think it can’t happen to you? The Bureau of Justice Statistics says each year nearly 20 million people in the U.S. are victims of identity theft, a crime that can have devastating consequences and take years to rectify.
The good news is, there are steps you can take to prevent identity theft and to protect yourself in the event your identity is stolen. Here’s what you need to do:
- Keep all documents with your Social Security number safely stored at home – never carry them in your wallet or purse.
- Change online passwords frequently throughout the holiday season, and make passwords difficult to “crack” by using capital and lowercase letters, numbers and punctuation where allowed.
- Avoid using public hotspots. The idea of shopping at the local coffee shop may sound appealing, but public WiFi can pose a significant security risk. If you must use a public hotspot, follow these safety guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Try to use one credit card for all your shopping to make it easier to track activity and monitor for signs of fraud.
- See if your credit card issuer offers virtual account numbers, temporary numbers that are attached to your account and active for a very short period of time or for a specific retailer.
- Use gift cards instead of credit cards to make purchases at stores and online. Yes, there’s a fee when you buy them, but they’re not tied to your credit or your bank. Most cards protect you from theft once you register them online.
- Beware of coupons that don’t come from trusted sources. If you receive a coupon offer in an email, check the link to ensure it comes from the retailer directly and not a third party.
- Look for the “https” designation when placing an order online. The “s” at the end means the site is encrypted so your data is protected.
- If you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft, report it to the local police, the IRS Identity Protection Special Unit (1-800-908-4490) and the Federal Trade Commission (consumer.ftc.gov or 1-877-438-4338). Call your credit card companies and your banks immediately.
- Consider investing in identity theft protection from Atlantic Pacific. It’s surprisingly affordable and a great way to enjoy peace of mind no matter where or how you shop. We offer cyber liability policies for businesses too.
Unfortunately, identity theft has become a multi-billion dollar business. Take a few safety precautions to keep your ID secure so you can enjoy greater peace of mind this holiday shopping season and throughout the New Year.
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