Be wary of identity theft this holiday shopping season

Be wary of identity theft this holiday shopping season
Eileen St. Pierre, The Everyday Financial Planner

thiefI was in Walmart the other night and they had signs all over the store reminding everyone how many days until Christmas. Yes, I know I have a lot more Christmas shopping to do, but can I at least enjoy Thanksgiving first? Now is the time to start thinking of your holiday budget and stocking up your food pantry. But it is also the time to think about outsmarting thieves who want to spoil your holidays. It is the time to be wary about identity theft.

There are many forms of identity theft.

The ones you need to be the most concerned about during the holiday shopping season are:

Account Takeover – This may first show up as a bogus transaction on your credit card. If your debit or ATM card number gets stolen, thieves may try to extract funds from bank account.

  • Let your credit card issuer and/or bank know as soon as you spot the fraud.
  • They will issue you a new credit or debit card.
  • If your debit or ATM card is stolen, the bank will freeze your account. Follow the steps below on how to proceed if the bank does not give you further instructions.
  • Read my column New Credit Cards Reduce the Risk of Fraud to learn about the new credit cards with embedded chips.

New Account Fraud – Thieves may steal your Social Security number and use your good credit standing to open up new accounts in your name.

Report identity theft immediately.

If you just had bogus transactions on your credit card, and you receive a new credit card, then you probably do not have to do anything else. But if the identity theft goes deeper than that, here are the basic steps you should follow:

  1. Contact companies where fraud occurred. Freeze or close accounts. Change logins, passwords, and PINs.
  2. Place a fraud alert on credit report (this is free). You just need to contact 1 of the 3 credit reporting companies.
  3. Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.gov. Fill out the online complaint form or call 1-877-438-4338. You will receive a FTC Identity Theft Affidavit. Print and save this Affidavit.
  4. File a report with your local police department. Take your Affidavit with you, along with a government-issued ID, proof of address, and any other proof of identity theft.

Here are some tips to prevent identity theft:

  • Secure your Social Security Number.
  • Don’t respond to request for personal identifiable information (PII) by phone, email, or online.
  • Watch out for “shoulder surfers” by shielding key pad on computers and ATMs.
  • Avoid using public computers to pay bills.
  • Collect mail promptly – ask your post office to hold your mail when you are away from home.
  • Pay attention to billing cycles – if bills are late, contact the sender.
  • Review your receipts.
  • Shred documents to avoid dumpster divers.
  • Store PII in a safe place at home and work.
  • Install firewalls and virus protection software on home computer.
  • Create strong computer passwords.

One of the best ways to continually check for identity theft is to check your credit report annually at www.annualcreditreport.com. Don’t let identity thieves bring you a Ho-Hum holiday.

Visit my Basic Financial Management page to listen to my Controlling Your Holiday Spending and Basics of Money Management webinars.