Before you start your Black Friday shopping madness, protect yourself against ID fraud. Here are a few simple tips to protect yourself this holiday shopping season:
Watch for fake deals and fake websites: One of the most common tricks for Grinchy scam artists is to offer you a great holiday deal or coupon that is simply a way to steal your personal information. “Be wary of messages delivered to you by e-mail or text message even if they appear to come from a company or person you trust,” says Lucas Zaichkowsky, enterprise defense architect at Resolution1 Security. “The process known as “phishing” involves creating fake websites that look like the real thing, Zaichkowsky said, so you should always be on your guard and be very wary of handing out account info. And if you do get an e-mail with an offer that seems real, “look closely at the address to make sure it goes to the exact Web address you would expect,” Zaichkowsky says.
Watch the point of sale: While some identity theft happens behind the scenes, “skimmers” are physical devices that scammers can place on card readers to steal your information as you swipe your card at the gas pump, checkout line or ATM. A good rule of thumb is to never use a card reader that appears to have been tampered with or looks like it has been simply added on to the other systems. Also, always keep your PIN number out of sight when using your debit card; simply cover the number pad with your free hand or your body to prevent others from seeing your access code.
Use credit cards, not debit cards or checks: As a consumer you have protection guaranteed by U.S. Federal law when you swipe a credit card, says Adam Ghetti, CTO and founder of Ionic Security. “Under the Fair Credit Billing Act and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, you are not liable for fraudulent purchases with a credit card. Also, you often get your money back quickly from your credit card provider and they take the dispute to the merchant on your behalf. The last thing you want to do around the holidays is see your checking account frozen or fight with your bank over how much money you really have to pay the bills this month. “Protect yourself by always using a credit card and not a debit card,” Ghetti said, particularly when shopping online.
Travel light: If your purse or briefcase is a mess, consider the risk of identity theft as a great reason to clean things up. Carrying around bills, extra credit cards or checkbooks only increases the risk that thieves may get their hands on them. Try to only carry checks and credit cards you intend on using, and never carry documents with sensitive account information.
Check your phone’s apps: Before engaging in any e-commerce on a mobile device, “delete the apps you rarely use and then take a closer look at the permissions of the ones you think you want to keep,” said Gary S. Miliefsky of mobile anti-spyware company SnoopWall. Miliefsky then recommends checking permissions on apps you keep, preventing the software from accessing your personal information. The access some apps have may surprise you, he said. “For example, if you installed a scientific calculator that needs GPS, WiFi, reads your phone logs, SMS messages and sends data to another country, you should probably delete it immediately.”
Check Your credit come January: Beck Frost of Experian notes that it’s crucial to review credit reports and bank statements during and after the holidays to watch for potentially fraudulent transactions. You’re entitled to one free credit report every 12 months under federal law, provided by major credit agencies such as Experian, Equifax or Transunion, and checking in after your holiday shopping is as good a time as any. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com for information on obtaining your free report.