Identity theft reached new highs in 2016, with 15.4 million Americans falling prey to identity thieves. Altogether, identity theft victims racked up financial losses of $16 billion.
Equifax experienced a breach in 2017 that exposed the personal information of 143 million consumers in the U.S. (Click here to find out if your information was compromised.)
The holiday season can be especially lucrative for identity thieves. When you’re caught up in a shopping frenzy and you’re swiping your debit or credit cards to pay for holiday purchases, you may not notice a charge or two that you didn’t make until it’s too late.
As you write your holiday list, give yourself a gift: make it a top priority to protect your credit and bank accounts. Here’s what you need to know to keep the Grinch from stealing your personal information—and your holiday spirit.
Stay safe when shopping online
Using your smartphone or tablet to pick up holiday gifts can save time but it can also put you at risk for identity theft if you’re not careful. If you’re going to skip the stores in favor of online shopping, these tips can help you stay safe.
- Watch out for bogus shopping apps. Whatever you want to buy, there’s probably an app for that. Unfortunately, not all of them are legit. Some identity thieves use fake apps to steal financial info. Before downloading a shopping app, check the reviews and verify that it’s authentic before plugging in your personal details.
- Avoid clicking suspicious links. During the holidays, retailers regularly send out emails advertising sales or offering coupons to entice shoppers to spend. If you get a promotional email, think twice before clicking on any links. Scroll over the link to check that the address has an HTTPs security certificate. Report any messages you think might be phishing scams.
- Use secure connections. The great thing about shopping from your phone is that you can do it anywhere. Using public Wi-Fi, however, is not a good idea. If you transmit banking details over a public connection, an identity thief could literally grab it out of thin air. Your best bet is to stick with secure connections so your information isn’t vulnerable to fraud.
- Be smart with passwords. An identity thief who gets the password to your bank or credit card accounts can wreak havoc with your finances. As you gear up for the holidays, take time to review and update passwords to make them tougher for identity thieves to crack.
Shopping safely in stores
If you plan to brave the Black Friday crowds or head out to the mall to shop for last-minute gifts, you need to protect your bank and credit accounts.
- Travel light. An easy way to keep your cards safe is to leave them at home. Bring one or two that you plan to use to make holiday purchases. Fewer cards mean fewer opportunities for an identity thief.
- Dip your chip. Store point of sale systems can be – and have been – hacked. EMV chips are a huge advancement against fraudulent use of stolen credit card numbers, because in each transaction, the chip is used to generate a unique code. Stick to retailers that have upgraded their payment systems with chip readers.
- Play it safe. If you need cash, stick to bank ATMs. They’re more likely than free-standing third-party ATMs to have good lighting and security cameras, and may be less likely to have been tampered with (such as insertion of a card skimming device).
Use Credit Sesame to monitor your accounts
You get something from Credit Sesame besides a free credit score. You also get free credit monitoring services and free identity theft protection and insurance. We can’t stop an identity thief but you can use your account to keep tabs your credit over the holidays, or at any other time. (You might be able to stop an identity thief in his tracks… by placing a freeze on your credit file with all three credit bureaus.)
When you log in to your account, you can navigate to a Protection Dashboard. This dashboard features some useful tools for catching potential signs of identity theft.
The My Alerts summary appears first. This is a list of changes that have been reported to your credit history. That includes things like paid tradelines and credit score increases or decreases, as well as any new lines of credit that have been opened recently.
If you check your alert summary and see a new account that you don’t recognize, that could be a tip-off that an identity thief is at work. When you click on the details for an alert, you can find out when and where the account was opened. From there, you can move on to using Credit Sesame’s other free identity theft protection tools.
The first is identity restoration services.
If you think you’ve been a victim of identity theft, a specialist can help you with things like:
- Notifying financial institutions and credit institutions that your identity’s been stolen
- Making follow-up calls to your bank or credit card companies
- Notifying the credit bureaus of an identity theft
- Notifying law enforcement and appropriate government agencies
- Disputing or resolving inaccuracies in your credit file relating to identity theft
That can be a big help if you find out your bank or credit card account has been hacked and you don’t know how to deal with it. The other benefit Credit Sesame offers is identity theft insurance.
As a member, you’re covered up to an aggregate limit of $50,000 for certain expenses resulting from fraud, embezzlement, theft, data breaches or a stolen identity.
Having these kinds of protections in place can go a long way towards easing your peace of mind if an identity thief tries to put a damper on your holiday cheer.