With the holiday season coming up, you may be doing a lot of shopping to prepare. Whether you’re buying online or in stores, it’s important to protect yourself from identity theft. If your personal information is stolen, someone could use it to make fraudulent charges, open accounts or commit criminal acts under your name. Give yourself the gift of precaution by following some tips to make it harder for your information to be taken.
Some Ways to Protect Yourself
Shop Trusted, Secure Sites
When you’re looking for the perfect present, be sure to use sites from businesses that are established and that you know well. Look for signs that the website is secure before entering any personal information such as your email or credit card details. If you see a site offering an unbelievable deal or discount on the item you want to purchase, question the site’s legitimacy. If the offer is too good to be true, it mostly likely is.
Make your passcode hard to crack for internet scammers. Make it long, at least 8-10 characters, and use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. Avoid using obvious things like names and birthdays that are easier to guess. Help your password protect you and remember to keep it updated and change it for each site you use. Using the same password for everything only makes it easier for identity thieves to get more of your information.
Use More than One Authentication
Many websites and accounts now require or offer multiple ways to authenticate that it really is you logging on. In addition to a password, you could receive a time-sensitive code through a text or email. Entering this code is a second step to verify your identity. You can also have another process, such as entering a second password or answering a list of security questions you set up. The great thing about having multi-factor authentication is that, if someone were to steal your first password, they would still have to get past your other protections.
Review Your Accounts
Routinely check your bank transactions and credit statements. You know where you have shopped, so if you see charges for purchases you do not recognize, you can quickly alert your financial institutions. Unexplained charges are a red flag that your information has fallen into the wrong hands. Talk to your bank or credit card carrier to see what alert systems they offer. For example, you can set up notifications to receive a text every time a purchase is made with your card.
Check Your Mail
Cleaning out your mailbox daily will help reduce the risk of information being taken. Request a hold on your mail if you are going out of town or will not be able to check your mailbox for several days. Paper bank statements, pre-approved credit cards and bills are some items that could give away some of your information. Switching to online statements and billing where possible can be a good idea. Also, you can choose to opt out of receiving pre-approved credit offers. Remember, filing documents in a safe place or shredding them are the best ways to protect your information.
Don’t Give Out Sensitive Information
Emails and phone calls asking for personal information are usually suspicious. Don’t follow a link or give information like your Social Security number to claim a prize or pay money the message or caller is saying you owe. If a caller or email says you have won a cash prize (especially one you did not enter to win), remember the to-good-to-be-true premise. It’s most likely a scam. Also, be suspicious if a caller asks for secure information and says they are a representative of your bank or the IRS. Know the IRS will not call you asking for immediate payment. If you think the call may actually be from your bank, hang up and call the phone number listed on the bank’s official website or your bank statements.
Be Cautious of Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is a prime channel through which your information could be hacked. Choose a secure network and do not make transactions or enter personal information while using public Wi-Fi. Consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) as an option for further protection when you need to connect in public.
Upgrade Your Wallet
Consider using secure mobile pay when shopping in public or online. How does it work? An encrypted version of your credit card is stored in a mobile wallet app. These apps also use multi-factor authentication for extra protection, such as face recognition or a PIN. Mobile pay is convenient and contactless, and the app sends out a code to the card reader during purchase, not your actual card information.
If you are a victim of identity theft, make sure to report it. You can also contact your bank and credit card carrier for details about freezing your account, disputing charges, and being issued new cards and banking numbers. To place a fraud alert on your credit, you can reach out to one of three credit reporting companies.
Shop safer and protect your holiday celebrations from being dampened by identity theft. Once your presents are home and wrapped, learn these tips to protect them and your home from burglary.