How to Keep Your Info Safe When Holiday Shopping
The holidays are a beautiful time of year, full of cheer and giving. Unfortunately, though, it’s also prime time for theft… and that includes your personal information.
According to the latest study published by Discover, 55% of adults are concerned about having their information (or their money) stolen over the coming holiday season. And with good reason, too: identity theft and fraud tend to peak during last two months of the year. In fact, fraud attempts rose by a whopping 22% during the 2017 holiday season, and this year is expected to show the same.
So, if you are in the majority of Americans and have concerns about becoming a victim of fraud amidst the Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities, now is the time to take action. While there isn’t a 100% foolproof way to ensure that thieves never get ahold of your information, there are steps you can take to further protect yourself.
Use Secure Networks
I am writing this article in a coffee shop down the road, using their free WiFi. While their internet connection is great for work, I wouldn’t dare login to my bank or credit card account portals while on their network. Honestly, I don’t even think I would make an online purchase here.
Theft through unsecured networks isn’t as prevalent as other methods, but it does happen… especially around the holidays when everyone is shopping online. If you’re on a free or unsecured network – such as the free WiFi at a coffee shop or airport – you set yourself up for trouble. Thieves can easily access your data from the same network, stealing information like your address, credit card number, account logins, SSN, and more.
Using an unsecured network is okay for browsing the web and working. However, if you’ll be entering any sort of sensitive or identifying information, wait until you get home and can use your private network.
Monitor Your Credit and Statements Regularly
Let’s be honest: you should be monitoring your credit report regularly… not just during the holidays. However, this is a great time to be extra vigilant, to ensure that you catch any inconsistencies or errors, as well as fraudulent new accounts being opened in your name.
The same applies to credit card numbers, which are stolen all the time. This often results in fraudulent charges, which actually accounted for 1 in every 85 online transactions last holiday season.
If you’re not paying attention to your credit card or bank statements, you may be left footing the bill for those fraudulent purchases. By regularly monitoring your account statements and looking for duplications, incorrect charge amounts, or purchases that you didn’t make, you can report them on time. (Luckily, 62% of Discover respondents say that they already do this during the holiday season.) You’ll usually have the opportunity to cancel your card number and get a replacement sent out, so that the thief doesn’t have the chance to continue charging purchases in your name.
Use a Credit Card
Retailers are hacked all the time, with account numbers and customers’ information stolen and used. If you do wind up the victim of one of these breaches – and fraudulent charges or purchases appear on your account -- you’ll be much happier if you had used a credit card. They offer significantly better protections than debit cards, and cardholders are less inconvenienced by the theft in the end.
Banks offer customers the ability to report fraudulent charges, but the claims process can be arduous. The funds stolen are often held until the investigation is complete, and you may still be on the hook for some of the stolen funds.
With a credit card, however, you are better protected. Not only will credit card companies reverse the charge while the fraud is investigated – ensuring that the theft doesn’t force you to part with your cash, even temporarily – but you’ll usually be protected for the full amount stolen.
On top of that, many credit cards today offer optional alerts that can help you stay on top of your account over the holidays. You can set up notifications for all purchases, purchases over a certain dollar amount, etc., which can make it even easier to detect fraud as soon as it happens.
Freeze Reports Now
As of September, all Americans have the ability to freeze their credit reports for free. This makes it more difficult for thieves to open new accounts in your name, rendering your stolen information mostly useless.
When your reports are frozen, potential lenders cannot pull your credit to open a new account. So, if a thief is trying to open, say, a new retail credit card in your name this holiday season, they will be unable without unfreezing your reports (which only you can do, also for free).
To learn more about freezing your accounts and protecting your identity, check out our recent article here.
Thieves have always been active around the holidays, whether it’s stealing presents from under a tree or snagging your credit card number through a data breach. By being vigilant and keeping a close eye on your accounts, you can protect your identity and your money this holiday season.