For many, finding the perfect gift for a loved one is one of the most beloved aspects of the holiday season. But as everyone gets excited about holiday shopping, it’s easy to forget that there are people out there waiting to take advantage of what should be a joyful season.
According to the myFICO holiday spending survey, 62 percent of those surveyed were concerned about fraud or identity theft during the holidays last year, and for good reason—identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the country, now accounting for more than 15 million victims per year.
But identity theft does not have to ruin your holiday season. In fact, it’s relatively easy to prevent if you take the right precautions. These holiday shopping safety tips can help ensure that this season really is the most wonderful time of your year.
Protect your devices. Don’t let criminals use your smartphones, tablets, and laptops against you! If you can, set each device to auto-lock. Even more importantly, ensure each of your email, bank, credit card, and other financial accounts all have a strong and unique password that only you know. Make sure your devices don’t automatically log you in to important websites so that if they’re stolen, the thieves will have a harder time wreaking havoc.
It’s also important to keep your Internet browser and computer’s malware-protection software updated. By continually installing the latest versions, you can ensure you’re getting the most up-to-date security to protect your information from malicious attacks.
Stick with trusted sites and secure Internet connections. Online shopping offers many benefits, like allowing you to do all your shopping from one spot and compare prices instantly, but with these conveniences come a major disadvantage: an increased risk of identity theft. To minimize this risk, buy only from secure websites, like those verified by TRUSTe and those whose URL is preceded by https://. This safeguards your privacy by ensuring only you and the online retailer have access to the data being transferred — no one else.
Likewise, never conduct financial transactions over a public WiFi connection. It may be more convenient for you to pay your bills as you’re sipping on your coffee at the local Starbucks, but it’s not worth the security risk. Passwords, credit card numbers, and other forms of financial information are less secure on public networks, so do yourself a favor and save your financial transactions for a secured home connection.
Use credit, not debit. By paying for your purchases with your credit card, you not only probably have a better chance of disputing fraudulent charges, but also limit your responsibility for the erroneous charges to $50 under the Fair Credit Billing Act. On the other hand, your purchase liability on a debit card usually depends on how long it takes you to report the fraud.
For an extra layer of protection, you can also consider using virtual credit card numbers, which are one-time numbers you can use in place of your bank account or credit card numbers. Each virtual account number is tied back to your actual account, so any transactions you make still appear on your statement. According to FoxBusiness.com, your credit card issuer can give you a set of alternate digits, often for one-time use, that you can use instead of using your real credit card number when you check out online.
Sometimes called “disposable,” “temporary” or “one-time use” numbers, a virtual credit card number links to your account, and whatever you buy will show up on your credit card bill. Once you’ve used the temporary number, it expires and is useless to hackers.
Monitor your accounts and transactions. One of the reasons criminals target people during the holiday season is because shoppers are so busy spending money that they’re less likely to notice fraudulent purchases. To prevent this, go through your account balances and new transactions regularly and mentally check off each purchase you (or your joint account holder) made. Doing this will allow you to quickly catch and stop any fraudulent activity that may occur.
Shred your bills and receipts. Many people opt to do all of their shopping and banking online nowadays, but if you have any physical credit card bills, ATM receipts, receipts for items you’ve purchased, or any other documents that include your signature, account number, Social Security number, or other personal information, shred it. If you’re unsure about a document, shred it anyway. Better to be safe than sorry!
Don’t let identity theft ruin your holiday season! By being proactive, using common sense, and following these simple guidelines, you can really enjoy this season, knowing your identity is safe. Happy holidays!