Consumers warned to watch out for identity theft this summer

The Connecticut Better Business Bureau is warning consumers that their summer vacation can become a nightmare if they don’t take special precautions. 

While consumers are aware of their exposure to the many risks of high-tech theft of personal and financial information, they may overlook the risks of crimes of contact, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching.

“Consumers can never let their guard down. The consequences of carelessness can be significant,” says Paulette Scarpetti, president of the Connecticut BBB.

According to Javelin Research’s 2014 Identity Fraud Study, more than 13 million Americans had their identities stolen last year, and it cost an average of $3,500 to fix related problems. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft has surpassed drug trafficking to become the most prevalent crime in the nation.

The Connecticut BBB advises consumers to be on the lookout for crimes of contact, as well as technology-based fraud:

Keep an eye on your credit cards – Whether you are standing in line at a ticket counter or restaurant, don’t leave your credit card in plain view. Someone can snap a photo of it over your shoulder and use it fraudulently.

Copy vital cards and documents – Keep a record of your credit card, passport and other important numbers in case your wallet is lost or stolen. Leave identity documents and cards that you don’t need at home. Make sure you keep a record of customer service numbers in case of a problem.

Check receipts during vacation and after – When you get home, go through your bank or credit card statement to look for any unauthorized charges. If something is amiss, contact your financial institution immediately.

Manage your mail online – You can go online to have the post office hold your mail while you are away at  the postal service’s website.

Be careful with social media – Make sure nobody in your family announces that you’re going away for an awesome vacation. Friends’ social media accounts can be hacked and other people would then have access to that information. Be careful when posting photos from out of town for the same reason. Information embedded in your photos can tell others when and where the image was taken.

Don’t get skimmed – Inspect the card reader slot before using a standalone ATM or gas pump. Law enforcement agencies warn that criminals can place a fake card slot cover on these machines to enable them to capture cards’ information.

Protect your smart phone – Though it may be possible that you are able to leave your laptop or tablet at home, it’s likely you’re still traveling with a smart phone. To be safe, create a password for your phone if you don’t have one already setup and consider downloading a GPS locator app to use in case your phone is lost or stolen.

If you need cash, use bank ATMs – Banks usually have daily monitoring procedures for their ATMs. Avoid using stand-alone ATMs placed in convenience stores or in crowded areas, which may have poor security or allow thieves to look over your shoulder. Protect pin pads when using debit cards by shielding the screen with your other hand to prevent any hidden cameras from catching your digits and if the keypad looks loose or strange in any way, consider moving on, as it may be a false keypad placed over the real one to capture your information.

Avoid putting your full name and address on luggage tags – Use only your last name and a phone number.  If your luggage gets lost, the airline can call you for delivery information.

In an effort to prevent losses from fraud, financial institutions may refuse some credit card transactions from out of state if they do not match your typical spending pattern. Let your credit card company and bank know when you are leaving town and returning, where you are going and whether you will be making any stopovers.

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