Most thieves aren’t lurking in dark alleys this holiday, but instead sitting comfortably at home drinking hot cocoa while stealing your identity. In 2020, the most by-category complaint filed with the FTC was identity theft, and the annual case rate and losses are expected to increase for 2021. Here are three big tips on how to keep your identity safe this holiday shopping season:
A recent study found that 47% of Americans experienced financial identity theft. Knowing that this is a concern is the first step, but there are many more that follow:
- Set alerts for your checking account and debit and credit cards. Download apps for your financial institutions so that you can check transactions and balances from anywhere.
- Check all devices you use for your cards and sensitive information. Gas pumps can have attachments known as “skimmers” that steal information. Update your home computer or tablet anti-spyware.
- Beware of scammers using emails and texts ‘phishing’ for your sensitive information. The FTC has online tips for how to recognize and avoid phishing scams.
- Filter phone calls within your phone carrier’s app. Many have features that allow you to send unknown calls, or likely scam calls, to voicemail or block them altogether.
- Monitor your credit. The FTC advises to not call the three credit bureaus individually, but to instead access your credit report for free once a year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
The best protection involves forethought. Think now about these following items, and have a plan:
- Your social security number needs to be used with extreme caution. Ask why this number is needed before giving it, and do not carry your social security card in your wallet.
- Create strong passwords with authentication steps that further ensure it is you trying to access your information.
- Shred sensitive documents.
- Ask your insurance agent about identity theft protection as a rider on your home insurance policy.
- Freeze your credit. This is free and can last until you remove it. No one can access your credit report, not even you, avoiding any fraud. Just contact one of these three credit bureaus- Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion- to freeze and eventually unfreeze your credit.
If you suspect someone is using your sensitive information, consider taking the following steps swiftly:
- Notify your financial institutions. Put them on high alert, and consider canceling any cards as lost or stolen.
- Place a Fraud Alert on your credit report by contacting one of the aforementioned three credit bureaus. This makes it harder for anyone to open a new credit line in your name. Fraud Alerts are also free, last for one year, and are renewable.
- Report. According to the FTC, you should “visit IdentityTheft.gov to report and recover from identity theft” and look for identity-theft resources in your community by visiting ftc.gov/idtheft.
Everyone is at risk for identity theft, so being alert and knowing what to do will help mitigate the risk but also possibly soften the blow. Speak with your financial advisor or insurance agent on the latest scams and how to best protect yourself from identity theft.