Protect Your Season from Fraud
December is always filled with lots of extra activity, much of it related to holiday shopping and celebrating. But in the midst of a season of higher spending and hectic schedules, it’s also a prime setting for increased fraud manifesting itself in dozens of ways. As such, December is also National Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month – the month for increasing awareness and becoming more alert about identity theft, data breaches, cybercrimes and other fraud issues.
These days, it’s rare to find someone who has not been directly or indirectly impacted by identity theft. It is the most rapidly growing crime world-wide. Identity theft is more than “just” credit card fraud; it covers all forms of fraud and can happen to literally anyone. However, there are also steps everyone can take to protect oneself from being another victim.
Preventive Measures for Identity Theft
• Pass on new store (credit) card applications. These applications often ask for personal information on paper which is another level of vulnerability.
• Keep all personal (including) financial documents in a safe place. Consider fire-safe lockboxes, lockable file cabinets or safety deposit boxes. Do not leave documents out where others can see them, even in your own home or office.
• Limit what you carry with you when you go out, and especially take only the credit/debit cards you are going to need for that trip. Never carry your Social Security Card unless you absolutely must have it.
• Don’t be afraid to ask why information is needed when asked, even at your workplace, school or doctor’s office. Ask how your information will be stored and/or what happens if you do not provide the information. There may be other ways around giving out some information; for example, many doctors may ask for a social security number, but they may be able to issue you medical ID number instead.
• Look out for skimmers. These devices may look like part of the ATM/credit card processor/gas pump, but they are installed by thieves who will capture your card information. Check for loose parts, colors that don’t match, etc.
• Update your passwords regularly for all your online and banking accounts. Make your passwords are strong and unique by using different passwords for each account, and using a combination of letters (capital and lowercase), numbers and symbols. OR use a password manager that allows you to create and store any number of passwords or even generates new, complex passwords for you. You just have to remember one master password.
• Check your account statements frequently. The quicker you find something awry on your statement, the quicker you can put a stop to the fraud and possibly the culprit.
• Invest in a shredder for all papers you want to dispose that may have any contact or personal information on them.
• Cover the swipe machine, ATM or keypad while entering your PIN.
• Don’t click on suspicious links. Take a second look before you open emailed promotions, especially when there are so many promotional ads coming at you during the shopping season. Never respond to unsolicited emails requesting personal information.
• Keep things streamlined and organized. This makes it easier to notice when something isn’t right. For instance, it’s much simpler to track one credit card than to track six.
• Never provide personal information over the phone, especially without verifying the identity of the person on the other side of the line. Ask yourself who initiated this request. Did someone call you asking for information, or did you call them? And why?
• Be cautious when shopping online. Check for the “lock” icon on the left side of the URL (to see if it’s secured/trusted), and don’t shop using public Wi-Fi.
• When downloading, if you find anything popping up you weren’t looking for, stop the install. If you no longer need particular software, uninstall it. Only download material from trusted websites.
• Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your PC. Keep it updated and run a weekly scan.
• Make use of firewalls on your network.