Keep an eye on your wallet this week as you scour store sales for great discounts this holiday season. Black Friday marks the kick-off for holiday shopping, and with it, an increase in identity theft.
Identity theft occurs when someone “steals” your identity in the form of a credit card, social security number or debit PIN, and then uses this information for personal gain. Many people mistakenly believe that identity theft is only a problem when shopping online. In reality, identity theft is much more likely to happen in the “real world,” especially at a crowded shopping mall.
Unfortunately, in the rush to score seasonal discounts, holiday shoppers may be putting their financial security at risk. Here’s how to guard against identity theft and enhance your holiday shopping safety.
In the rush to hire seasonal help, some stores end up with unscrupulous part-time employees who take advantage of holiday shoppers and steal credit information. When a salesperson swipes your credit card through a card reader, this reader can capture your card’s magnetic information, allowing the data to be used for fraudulent purchases.
Protect Yourself: Whenever possible, swipe your own credit card and never let your card out of your sight.
Only use one card for holiday shopping; this will make it easier to scrutinize your billing statement and check for identity theft. Federal law limits your liability to $50 for any charges disputed within 60 days. You can also use a prepaid card and limit any potential loss to the amount of money you have on the card; this way you won’t have the added holiday headache of disputing charges with your credit card company.
Even with PIN codes, debit cards are not always a safe alternative to credit cards. The next time you’re making a debit purchase, take a closer look at the stranger in line behind you. In fact, that stranger may not be making a purchase at all—he may simply be “shoulder surfing” to gain access to your PIN.
Protect Yourself: Always cover the keypad when entering your PIN.
Watch out for strangers who are getting too close in line behind you. Check for identity theft on your bank statement each day; unlike credit cards, unauthorized debit charges must be disputed within two days, or your liability increases from $50 to $500.
During the holiday season, your average suburban shopping mall is ground zero for holiday pickpockets.
Protect Yourself: Only carry one form of payment and identification; leave the extra credit cards and debit cards at home, and never ever carry your Social Security card with you.
Be aware of your surroundings, especially in a crowded mall. Pushing and shoving to grab a coveted toy? When we’re distracted, we’re vulnerable to pickpockets. Pickpockets often work in teams; watch out for shoppers who bump into you or otherwise create a commotion; while your attention is elsewhere, an accomplice may be grabbing your wallet.
Remember, credit card fraud does not just happen on Black Friday. Be a cautious shopper every day of the year to guard against identity theft. Visit Allstate.com for more information about identity theft and Identity Restoration Coverage. Have you been a victim of credit card fraud? Share your story with us below.
[originally published 11/22/11]