Archive for November, 2015

5 Ways to Avoid Identity Theft Online During the Holidays

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

‘Tis the season to lose your identity online. As Internet sales become a bigger part of holiday shopping, the risk to your identity and financial information also grows.

Online sales are forecast to increase between 6 percent and 8 percent this holiday season to as much as $105 billion, or almost 17 percent of all holiday sales in November and December. Shoppers say they expect to do half of their holiday shopping, either browsing or buying, online.

But four out of five retailer websites don’t meet the minimum secure password threshold, and almost a third accept the 10 most common passwords, including “password” itself.

Related: Which Credit Card In Your Wallet Is Offering Holiday Deals?

That doesn’t mean you should avoid online shopping altogether. Instead, here are five ways to safeguard your identity while you shop, according to Marc Boroditsky, vice president and general manager of Authy, a developer of two-factor authentication methods.

1. Change your passwords on all sites where you regularly shop or bank.

“It’s reasonably likely that your account names and passwords are already in existing databases,” Boroditsky says. More than 176 million records have been exposed already this year through database breaches.

Passwords should include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and punctuations. The word should not be in the dictionary or a name of a place. The trendy way to generate a password is to use phrases and swap out letters for numbers and punctuations. “You want one as random and as complex as possible,” he says.

2. Always turn on two-factor authentication.

In addition to username and password, two-factor authentication offers another level of security to complete the sign-on process, such as entering a code sent to your email or phone. Start with Amazon, says Boroditsky, which rolled out two-factor authentication this month. “It’s a great place to start, since Amazon is a big target,” he says.

Related: 4 Credit Cards That Can Save You Money on Gas and Groceries

3. Know who you’re buying from.

When visiting a retailer’s website, type the name into the URL line carefully or select the top result from a Google search. Boroditsky says many spoof versions of popular websites exist to capture your information. These phony sites often have URLs that are one letter or number off from the real version and take advantage of people who enter misspelled names. Also, look for the “https” in the URL, which indicates a secure interaction, he says.

4. Don’t respond to email offers that look too good to be true.

Don’t click on links or fill out forms in emails to get to an once-in-a-lifetime deal. Most likely, it’s just bait for thieves trying to get your data. “It’s one of the biggest attack methods out there,” says Boroditsky. If you think the deal may be legit, visit the store’s website to verify its existence.

5. Monitor your credit card and debit card transactions.

Don’t wait for the statement showing your holiday purchases. Regularly monitor your account for any suspicious transactions, no matter how small they seem. Thieves will first test a stolen card or card information by making a small transaction, Boroditsky says. If it works, they will move onto larger and more damaging purchases.

Article source: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2015/11/27/5-Ways-Avoid-Identity-Theft-Online-During-Holidays

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Shoppers using credit cards can reduce risk of identity theft

Friday, November 27th, 2015

WASHINGTON — Consumers will face a slew of hidden threats as they pour into stores and scour
retailers’ websites for holiday deals over the next couple of days.

Retailers are moving to use more-secure technology that is expected to cut down on credit-card
fraud, but credit experts say identity thieves will still attempt to steal data that they can use
to commit fraud in stores and online.

Nothing shoppers do can protect them fully from having their credit-card information hacked or
their identities stolen, said Nick Clements, co-founder of credit-comparison website
MagnifyMoney.com. (The Target hack in 2013, he said, was an attack on a large retailer that
consumers could not have prevented.) But shoppers can take small steps to make it more difficult
for identity thieves to go on a shopping spree under their name.


Use a stricter log-in.

Use a different password for each of your online shopping accounts so that if someone grabs your
username and password for one website, they won’t be able to go on a shopping spree for other
accounts. Some merchants such as Amazon also have introduced multifactor authentication, which
requires users to enter a code that is sent to their email or phone number when they try to log on.
The added step can make it harder for thieves with stolen user names and passwords to take over
people’s accounts. Shoppers can ask retailers to remember certain devices, such as their phones and
home computers, but require the codes whenever someone tries to log on from a new device.

• Choose credit over debit.

Although debit-card users are also protected from fraud, identity thieves who go on a shopping
spree with your debit card would be tapping into the cash you need to pay your everyday bills. In
contrast, fraudulent charges on a credit card would take up only part of your credit limit. “It’s
not fun when all of a sudden that cash you need to get through the month is gone,” Clements
said.


Use a chip card.

This will be the first holiday shopping season where most retailers are required to have
credit-card terminals that read the more-secure chip cards. The chips, which generate a new code
every time they are used, are supposed to be safer than the magnetic stripes on cards, which send
the same information for every transaction and are easier to copy. About 7 in 10 Americans have at
least one chip card, according to Visa. People who don’t have a chip card yet can call their banks
to request one.


Consider mobile pay.

New mobile payment options such as Apple Pay and Android Pay let consumers shop with their
cellphones at retailers and through certain apps. Instead of swiping or dipping their credit cards,
shoppers tap their phones, which transmit a unique code to the retailer for each purchase. The code
is useless to fraudsters, said Mike Cetera, a credit analyst with Bankrate.com. In the case of
Apple Pay, shoppers have an added protection by requiring that their fingerprints be used to
complete the transaction.


Monitor transactions.

Most banks will refund consumers for fraudulent charges made with their debit or credit cards as
long as they report it in a timely matter. Consumers should check their transactions every day or
every other day to scan for unauthorized purchases, especially when they are using their credit
cards frequently. If you don’t have time to monitor transactions every day, then you can set up
alerts to have a message sent to your phone or email every time your card is used.


Stick to one card.

Using one card for most of your holiday purchases can limit the number of cards you need to
track closely. It also cuts down the chances that more than one card will be compromised. (Although
you should still check transactions on all of your cards periodically.) Try to use a card that is
different from the one you use to pay your monthly bills. That way, you can avoid having to reset
all of your payment settings if your card is stolen.


Watch for phishing scams.

Fraudsters often send emails that promise consumers a phony promotion if they enter their
personal information or click a link. The messages can include logos that closely resemble those of
the legitimate retailers. And the links might download malware on your computer that gives thieves
access to your personal information. Shoppers should check the Web address included in the messages
and avoid clicking on links. Visit the retailer’s website directly before making a purchase.

Article source: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/business/2015/11/27/shoppers-using-credit-cards-can-reduce-risk-of-identity-theft.html

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7 ways to protect yourself from holiday identity theft – Las Vegas Review

Friday, November 27th, 2015

The holidays are a great time for buying gifts — and also a prime time for thieves. But having your purse or wallet stolen in a busy mall might be the least of your worries this year when it comes to holiday shopping and identity theft.

Here are the best ways to protect yourself from different types of identity theft this holiday season.

1. Stick With Familiar Retailers and Brands
Popular holiday products are often similarly priced among reputable companies. Big brands monitor their competitors so that their prices are not undercut. Some immoral companies might advertise a product at an amazingly low price to attract your attention, but any deal that looks too good to be true probably is.

Cleveland 19 News reported that one consumer bought an RCA tablet from Walmart as part of a very cheap Black Friday deal. She was later disappointed because the product didn’t function well. She sent the products back, but only one was returned — and that tablet still malfunctioned. RCA is a name licensed to several Chinese electronics makers.

Robert Siciliano, an identity theft prevention expert with BestIDTheftCompanys.com, said to avoid any seller who appears to offer a vastly different product or price. He advised choosing brand names that you know rather than choosing the cheapest provider. “Stick with familiar retailers,” he said. “Unbelievably low prices are a red flag because competitors are always checking each other’s prices.”

2. Beware of Customer Reviews
Online shopping and Google searches increase exponentially during the holiday season. In 2014, Think With Google reported that over 92 percent of holiday shoppers intended to research gifts or make purchases online. But you shouldn’t always believe what you read online.

Online customer reviews can be written by anyone and might not be genuine. Siciliano says, “An unscrupulous seller may hire people to write favorable reviews. Although one clue is that the same reviewer has reviewed tons of products, other reviews are crafted more cleverly. Identical reviews on different sites are suspicious.”

Rather than trust online reviews, ask your friends for recommendations on products. You can use your own social network to find more trustworthy information.

3. Watch Out for Phishing
Scammers will be more active this holiday season, and email traffic confirming online orders and deliveries will exponentially increase. Never give out personal information online unless you initiated contact. For example, ordering online from a reputable store is typically safe, but if you receive an email asking you to go to another site to input personal information, you’re probably being scammed.

“The crook sends you the bait: an e-mail that looks like it’s from a reputable company with a malicious link to a site that looks like the company’s requesting you turn over your username, password or credit card number,” said Siciliano. “Do this and the thieves will spend your money.”

Avoid scams by watching for emails that appear to be from a shipper or retailer. Check the email address and domain name of any sites and make sure they match that of the shipper or retailer exactly. Remember that no established company will require an email or password to be divulged by email or over the phone. Finally, don’t donate to charities until you have checked their legitimacy on sites like CharityNavigator.

4. Watch Your Credit and Debit Cards in Crowded Malls
Even if your transaction takes place in a store, it’s processed online. Therefore, your information is accessible to hackers, and your credit card number can be used by hackers for purchases. Always check your statements for any unauthorized purchases.

Philip Lee, chief financial planning officer with Modera Wealth Management, recommended freezing your credit reports with the three bureaus Equifax, Experian and Transunion. “No company — other than who you deal with — can look at your credit report,” said Lee. “Creditors will not open new accounts, so this is the best protection against someone opening an account in your name.” Lee added that there is a small fee to freeze or unfreeze credit reports.

Not using a debit card at all during the holiday period could be another smart option, explained Elle Kaplan, CEO of LexION Capital Management. “Thieves can do everything from stealing your card information online to … creating a duplicate at a retail store,” said Kaplan. “[Y]ou have legal rights that defend you from being liable for these fraudulent charges [with credit cards], which is something you won’t see with a debit card. Also, the credit card provider will frequently refund your money quickly, and then dispute the fraudulent charges on your behalf.”

5. Understand the New Chip Cards
The new EMV chip cards introduced in October 2015 will be used heavily this holiday season. These cards use a personal identification number (PIN) instead of a signature. “While this makes EMV-equipped cards less susceptible to the hacking of transactional data between point of sale … they are still not fully secure and open the door to online fraud and identity theft,” said Srii Srinivasan, co-founder of Chargeback Gurus and a certified e-commerce fraud prevention specialist.

“Chip cards can be counterfeited using information obtained on the black market, and the chips are especially unlikely to stop the use of such counterfeited or stolen cards in purchases where a card is not physically present, such as over the phone or internet,” explained Srinivasan. Sign and activate your credit cards as soon as you get them and make sure the package hasn’t been tampered with in any way. If so, contact the bank immediately.

6. Be Cautious With Craigslist Sellers and Buyers
Buyers and sellers on Craigslist are an unknown entity and can present particular risk when it comes to holiday shopping. Avoid carrying cash when you arrange a potential face-to-face transaction. “Meet only in safe, public places,” Siciliano advised. “Inform the seller you’ll first meet without any cash, just to inspect the sale item. If you want to buy it, get your money from an ATM.”

There is also no guarantee that what you buy on Craigslist is genuine or even functioning. “Similarly, don’t purchase stolen products,” added Siciliano. “Request proof of ownership. Or request the serial number and see if your state keeps a database of stolen items.”

7. Update Browsers With the Newest Security Patches
The devices that you use for your online shopping are targets for hackers and scams. “Think about how much financial data you have in cyber space,” said Daniel Conroy, chief information security officer for Synchrony Financial. “How many sites store your credit card information? If you can minimize the amount and ensure that your profiles and accounts are deleted for sites you no longer use, it will minimize your digital footprint.”

“No matter what device or operating system you use, your data is only as secure as its hardware and software,” said Siciliano. “That means updating everything and locking everything up … Each device’s manufacturer provides frequent software updates with critical security patches designed to patch any vulnerabilities that were discovered by researchers or criminal hackers. Set critical security patches to update automatically.”

“Your browser needs to be updated to its latest version for the same reason an operating system does. Only enter credit card numbers in sites that have HTTPS in the address bar. That means there’s encryption on that page,” said Siciliano. “Always use an encrypted wireless connection [for your wireless devices] using, at a minimum, WPA or WPA2 encryption. Otherwise, use a virtual private network software.”

For the best identity theft protection, your holiday shopping will require extra diligence. Remember to check your mail and destroy any documentation offering you a new credit card. Also check your credit and debit card statements in detail, stick to reputable retailers and don’t give out any personal information. “Remember, you are your first and best defense,” said Conroy.

From GoBankingRates.com: 7 ways to protect yourself from holiday identity theft

Article source: http://www.reviewjournal.com/business/money/7-ways-protect-yourself-holiday-identity-theft

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Colorado consumers urged to protect against identity theft

Friday, November 27th, 2015

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

The Colorado attorney general’s office is urging holiday shoppers to exercise caution before pulling out their credit cards this season.

Identity theft — a crime that takes just minutes to commit — can leave victims dealing with consequences months or years after their information is stolen. For many victims, recovering lost funds is the least of their problems.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman released the Consumer Holiday Guide on Wednesday that provides shoppers with tips on how to protect their information during the busy season. But, she warned, identity theft is a year-round threat and consumers should always be vigilant when using their credit or debit cards and when giving out any information.

Despite new protections, identity thieves are continually a step ahead, Coffman said.

“As soon as we pick up on something and let people know to be careful, the bad guys up their game and change it,” Coffman said.

In some cases, it can take months for someone to realize their information has been stolen. In other instances, banks or financial institutions quickly alert consumers about problems.

Preventative measures have led to a reduction in identity theft cases handled by the Denver district attorney’s office, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Joseph Morales, who works in the economic crimes unit. But even with the decrease, the office receives 10 to 20 new cases every month.

Prosecutors always try to recover stolen funds from people convicted of identity theft, Morales said. That can be difficult, however, if the person is unable or unwilling to pay back the money.

“Sometimes there are defendants that take so much money it’s impossible for them to pay the money back,” Morales said.

But for some victims, recovering funds is just part of a years-long process of clearing their records. Morales has handled cases in which victims’ information was used to take out credit cards that were later defaulted on. Stolen information has been used to obtain jobs or driver’s licenses.

In some cases, defendants provide someone else’s information to law enforcement during an arrest, essentially creating a false criminal record for the person whose information was stolen.

“Identity theft can happen to almost anybody,” Morales said. “It can have a really big impact on people and it’s hard to clean up.”

Monitoring bank accounts and regularly running credit reports are good ways to monitor accounts. People should make sure they are on secure websites before entering any kind of information, Coffman said.

Some of the most common online targets for identity theft are websites people use every day, said Pam Dingle, senior technical architect for Ping Identity, which works to consolidate and strengthen passwords for corporations. E-mail accounts are one of the easiest targets for people trying to steal information.

People will attempt to reset passwords by guessing at security questions prompted by clicking on the “Forgot Password” option, Dingle said. Old passwords should never be reused, and each important account should have a different password.

Identifying information — such as a Social Security number or postal codes — are seldom necessary, and people should decline to provide them.

In addition to the new consumer guide, the attorney general’s office also has the Stop Fraud Colorado website with information on ways to avoid and report charity fraud, identity theft and other scams. There is also a “Repair Kit” available, which contains advice and steps to take if your identity has been stolen.

Jordan Steffen: 303-954-1794, jsteffen@denverpost.com or @jsteffendp

Article source: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_29170632/colorado-consumers-urged-protect-against-identity-theft

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This holiday season, be vigilant against scams and identity theft

Friday, November 27th, 2015

The holiday season is upon us, and it’s a good time to remember to be vigilant against scams and identity theft. Every year, criminals steal billions of dollars and millions of identities from unsuspecting consumers.

portraitIt’s important to pick up on the warning signs of a telephone scam, as telemarketers are trained to draw you in. If the offer seems too good to be true, it most likely is. You should be suspicious of a call if:

• the caller claims to be working for a company that has a name intended to sound like a government agency or a well-known company;
• the caller says you must act on the offer the same day;
• the caller is unwilling to send you written information about the offer;
• the caller asks you for a credit card number or your Social Security number; or
• you have to pay a fee before you receive complimentary services.

Telemarketing scams can range from bogus vacation awards to charity appeals. Fraudulent promoters have access to telephone directories, mailing lists and other resources to target potential victims. In New York, you can use the Do Not Call Registry to stop unwanted calls. To be added to the Do Not Call Registry, call 888-382-1222.

Identity theft poses the same financial risk as telemarketing scams. Victims are often left with damaged credit reports and are forced to spend money to repair the damage caused. Identity theft can happen when someone steals a credit or debit card number, or obtains a Social Security number or any piece of personal information. The thief can then use this information to purchase items or open new accounts in your name.

You can prevent identity theft by:

• avoiding carrying your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport in your purse or wallet and never keeping your ATM pin number on your card;
• never giving out your credit card number over the phone unless you initiated the call and trust the business;
• being careful when disclosing personal information online like passwords and Social Security numbers. Check website links to make sure they are legitimate before typing in your information; and
• using passwords on your credit cards, bank and phone accounts. Never use easily available information such as birthdays or the last four digits of your Social Security number for passwords.

If your identity is stolen it’s important to immediately contact the fraud department at each of the three major credit bureaus and freeze your credit reports; this can prevent thieves from taking out new loans in your name. It’s also important to close the fraudulent accounts, file a police report and obtain a copy for your records. And don’t forget, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each credit reporting agency once a year. You can order your free report by phone at 877-322-8228 or online at annualcreditreport.com.

If you have any questions regarding this issue or another community matter, please feel free to contact me at santabarbaraa@assembly.state.ny.us or at 518-382-2941.

Article source: http://blog.timesunion.com/santabarbara/be-vigilant-against-scams-and-identity-theft/1144/

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IRS, e-tax companies clamp down on high-tech identity theft

Friday, November 27th, 2015
IRS

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – The IRS and tax software companies are cracking down on high-tech identity thieves in 2016 with a slew of new security precautions.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen announced the “Taxes.Security.Together.” initiative in Washington on Thursday, along with 17 state tax commissioners and executives from companies like HR Block, TaxSlayer and Intuit, which owns TurboTax.

The public-private partnership institutes several new safeguards ahead of the 2016 tax season to head off the mounting problem of thieves stealing taxpayers’ identities and returns.

For customers preparing their own taxes online, that will mean jumping through a few additional hoops before hitting “file.”

The IRS encourages companies to implement checkpoints similar to those used in online banking programs, including:

  • Check for repetitive use of IP addresses
  • Limit unsuccessful login attempts
  • Stricter password complexity, including length and special characters
  • Require three security questions
  • PIN double verification through text or email

Koskinen says the IRS prevented three million cases of identity theft last year. But they did not catch them all.

Thieves stole 2.7 million taxpayer identities in 2015, according to CNN. “Taxes.Security.Together.” is aimed at dramatically reducing that number in 2016.

Through metadata accumulation and public-private cooperation, the IRS is taking proactive security to the next level. Koskinen describes the problem of identity and refund fraud as “a more serious and growing threat,” explaining that organized crime syndicates have gathered “almost unimaginable amounts of personal data from sources outside the IRS.”

Alabama State Revenue Commissioner Julie Magee played reporters a voicemail she received just the day before, phishing for her personal info. The woman’s recorded voice informed Alabama’s top tax official: “The reason of this call is to inform you that the IRS is filing lawsuits against you.”

FILE - In this April 13, 2014 file photo, the Internal Revenue Service Headquarters (IRS) building is seen in Washington. The IRS says thieves used an agency website to steal tax information from as many as 220,000 additional taxpayers. The agency first disclosed the breach in May. Mondays revelation more than doubles the total number of potential victims, to 334,000. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)
FILE – In this April 13, 2014 file photo, the Internal Revenue Service Headquarters (IRS) building is seen in Washington. The IRS says thieves used an agency website to steal tax information from as many as 220,000 additional taxpayers. The agency first disclosed the breach in May. Monday’s revelation more than doubles the total number of potential victims, to 334,000. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

Of course, the IRS is doing no such thing, but Magee worries other Americans could be bullied into turning over private information and inadvertently expose themselves to identity and tax theft.

The people behind these crimes, by and large, are no longer petty thieves plucking discarded pay stubs out of garbage cans.

Rick Reames III, director of the South Carolina Department of Revenue, explains there is “more comprehensive organized crime doing it; a lot of it is from Eastern Europe,” making prosecutions all but impossible.

When asked about privacy concerns, given past attacks on porous government databases, Virginia Tax Commissioner Craig Burns says the public-private alliance will share large scale concerns, not individual taxpayers’ personal records.

For instance, if an IP address or bank account number shows up multiple times, a red flag will be raised and coalition members notified.

At the state level, Burns insists, “We receive the return, we process it, we deal with it, we keep it. It’s ours.”

Tax and business leaders were quick to remind taxpayers the are doing their best, but ultimate success will require the public’s vigilance and compliance.

“Criminals rapidly change their tactics, just as we all must rapidly change our defenses,” implored Intuit VP Bernie McKay. Part of that evolution is adherence to new safety standards which could add several minutes to the filing process, but save hours of headache on the back end.

With “Taxes.Security.Together.” now in motion, McKay predicts a smoother 2016 filing season, saying, “It’s the industry, it’s the federal government, it’s the state government, and it’s the taxpayers themselves — together, we can beat this.”

More information on “Taxes.Security.Together.” available here.

Follow National Correspondent Chance Seales on Twitter.

Article source: http://wjhl.com/2015/11/26/irs-e-tax-companies-clamp-down-on-high-tech-identity-theft/

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Holiday shoppers warned about identity theft

Friday, November 27th, 2015

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Article source: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2015/11/26/cuomo-warns-holiday-shoppers-identity-theft/76413952/

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Woman suspected in month-long ID theft run

Thursday, November 26th, 2015



Posted Nov. 25, 2015 at 12:51 PM
Updated Nov 25, 2015 at 3:14 PM


Article source: http://www.mailtribune.com/article/20151125/NEWS/151129742

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Airport Identity theft

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

Are you vulnerable to identity theft at the airport?
Greg Scasny with Cybersecurity Defense Solutions says you may be more vulnerable than you think.
He tells FOX 4 holiday traveling is a prime time for hackers to try to get a hold of your personal information.
Two items he says hackers can easily use to steal your identity are your credit card and your boarding pass.
“There are devices out there that can steal credit cards just by being near them,” Scasny said. “Steal the magnetic information off and then go up to a thing and replay it.”
Anne Curulli spent more than 12 hours traveling to RSW airport to make it home for Thanksgiving. She says she isn’t too surprised what hackers can do.
“I’ want to know hackers can’t do – with all this technology it’s hard to keep up.”
Hacking expert Scasny says the barcode on a boarding pass is another easy way for hackers to steal a traveler’s identity. It’s a piece of paper often thrown out or forgotten but contains very valuable information unbeknownst to the eye.
“There’s information encoded in the barcode that hackers can use to then gather more information to steal your identity.”
Scasny says the barcode on boarding passes reveal a very useful piece of information that easily lead hackers to find more personal information.
“It’s things like frequent flier numbers that looks innocuous,” Scasny said. “But if I can piece that together with other pieces of information maybe I can find your social media profile – I can put a profile of you and try to steal your identity.”
Scasny says the best way to avoid falling victim is by properly disposing boarding passes by shredding them instead of just throwing them out.

For more traveling tips this holiday season click here .

Article source: http://www.fox4now.com/news/airport-identity-theft

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Nip Identity Theft in the Bud This Holiday Season by Following 7 Simple Steps

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

Hacker
Image source: Flickr user Ivan David Gomez Arce.

As recently as a few years ago, the major perils of the holiday shopping season included bumper-to-bumper traffic to get to your local mall, packed parking lots once you got there, and perhaps even inclement weather as icing on the cake.

Today’s nightmare is far different for the American consumer.

The biggest threat could be thousands of miles away
The advents of the Internet and mobile shopping have made it easier to bring consumers and their merchandise together than ever before. They’ve also given criminals considerably more opportunities to steal your identity or account information from the comfort of their own homes.

According to a 2011 report by PNC Bank, credit card fraud rose by an average 19% during the holiday season. Criminals know shoppers will be out and about, so it’s certainly prime time for them to attempt to catch unsuspecting victims off guard.

We certainly don’t have to look very far to understand just how smart criminals have become. Since the 2013 holiday season, we’ve learned of data breaches at retail giants Target, Home Depot, and Michael’s, insurers Anthem and Community Health Systems, and banking giant JPMorgan Chase. Even the IRS has been a target: Nearly 15,000 fraudulent returns were submitted by sophisticated identity thieves who made off with a total of $50 million in refunds. This is just a sample — there are far more instances we could detail.

Seven ways to nip identity theft in the bud this holiday season
The point here is simple: It’s up to you to protect your identity, data, and money this holiday season. Following these seven simple steps should substantially lower your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft or credit card fraud.

1. Use your credit card instead of your debit card
One of the best moves you can make this holiday season is to shop with a credit card, not your debit card. Debit cards pull money directly out of your account, and your bank may not offer you protection against identity theft or fraudulent purchases. Even if your bank does, it could take days or weeks to sort everything out, potentially leaving your money frozen in your account.

Images

Image source: Flickr user Wimena Kane.

The advantage of a credit card is that most credit card companies cover their consumers from fraudulent activity. Lenders do require consumers to report fraudulent activity in a fairly timely manner (within 90 days), but using a credit card will keep money from coming directly out of your bank account.

According to Bankrate, MasterCard (NYSE:MA) and Visa (NYSE:V) both offer purchase protection, with Visa offering to “replace, repair, or reimburse cardholders for eligible purchases bought entirely by Visa Signature cards.” Visa sets a maximum amount of $500 per claim and $50,000 per cardholder.

2. Focus on retailers with EMV-capable terminals
It’s perhaps the most significant change we’ve witnessed in the credit card industry in some time, but issuers such as Visa and MasterCard have rolled out the EMV credit card, which stands for Europay MasterCard and Visa, to better protect the consumer this holiday season and beyond.

Credit Card Pixabay

Image source: Pixabay.

Instead of relying solely on the magnetic stripe on the back of a credit card, which can leave you vulnerable to skimming machines that can steal your vital information, EMV cards have embedded chips that transmit and receive data to safely complete your purchase, when used with an EMV-capable terminal. Utilizing an EMV card with EMV-capable terminals will drastically reduce your chances of having your card data stolen this holiday season, since it takes skimmers out of the picture.

3. Check your credit card statements regularly
This is something you should be doing regardless of the time of year, but pay extra close attention to your credit card statements during the holiday season.

Save your receipts and scrutinize each purchase on your bill, because credit and identity thieves don’t always make major purchases on your dime. Thieves understand that consumers are much more likely to overlook a small purchase than a large one, so they may keep their fraudulent purchases below a certain amount in the hopes that they’ll be able to defraud you repeatedly over an extended period. This is especially true for joint accounts where one spouse may just assume the other spouse made a purchase. Having your receipts handy will make it a lot easier to compare your activity to your printed or online statement. If you find any discrepancies, report them to your credit issuer or bank immediately.

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Image source: Covered California.

4. Beware of phishing
“Phishing” is a scam where a criminal attempts to impersonate a trustworthy business through email in order to get you to reveal your vital information, and it’s one of the more successful tactics criminals use to get people’s credit card and Social Security numbers, especially during the holiday season.

For example, you may have purchased a number of gifts online from a major retailer. A few days, later you receive an email that suggests there was a problem with your order, and asks you to supply your credit card information to help the seller locate your order. Voila! The thieves now have your credit card information. The reason this scam works so well during the at this time of year is that retailers are blasting consumers’ email boxes with offers on a daily basis, making it easier for phishing emails to blend in. 

The easiest way to avoid being a phishing victim is to really scrutinize the source of the email, and if there are concerns, to speak with a customer service representative based on the contact information found on a company’s secure home page. Never assume a phone number in an email is legitimate.

Internet Cafe Pixabay

Image source: Pixabay.

5. Be wary of public Wi-Fi
Consumers should also be wary of where they’re sitting down to do their online shopping this holiday season. Regardless of whether you place an order from your desktop, laptop, tablet, or mobile device, if you don’t have a firewall in place to protect your data, it could be compromised by thieves.

What’s the easiest way to secure your data? Simple: Try to limit your online purchases to the comfort of your home where you (hopefully) have a firewall protecting your devices. Making an online purchase in a public mall or coffee shop exposes you to Wi-Fi that is likely not protected. It’s an invitation for sophisticated thieves to steal your account information.

6. Keep your purchase history off social media
This one especially goes out to teens and millennials: Keep your purchase history, holiday “loot,” and personal information off social media.

Facebook Pixabay

Image source: Pixabay.

Identity and credit card thieves thrive on information; the more they can gather on you, the better the odds they can convince your bank, a retailer, or a credit lender that they are in fact you. Even simple information such as your date of birth, phone number, or address, which can easily be found on some social media profiles, can give a criminal enough information to open a fraudulent credit account in your name. Lock down your privacy settings on social media and keep your purchase history off sites like Facebook and Twitter this holiday season.

7. Minimize opening new accounts
Finally, be wary about opening too many new credit accounts this holiday season. Any time you have to hand out your Social Security number, along with other important personal information, you’re giving criminals an opportunity to pounce. Sometimes criminals may gain access to your information via an online application, while others may use the tried-and-true method of simply eavesdropping as you tell a retail worker your personal information. You should be focused on protecting this information year-round, but busy stores can make it difficult to tell who’s honest and who’s not. Do yourself a favor and hold off on opening a new charge account to save 10% on the new outfits, tools, or toys for those special people in your life.

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Article source: http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/11/26/nip-identity-theft-in-the-bud-this-holiday-season.aspx

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