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Prevent identity theft during the holidays

As the holiday shopping season approaches, consumers are once again preparing to do a significant amount of their holiday shopping online, while many others will rely on debit and credit cards to make their in-store purchases. Though banks and online retailers have made holiday shopping easier in many ways, that convenience has also made shoppers more vulnerable to identity theft.

The hectic nature of the holidays season can make it harder for holiday shoppers to recognize if their personal information has been compromised. As a result, many men and women do not realize that they have been victimized by identity thieves until after the season has come and gone.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, identity theft affects 10 million Americans each year, costing individuals and businesses $52 billion. But Americans aren’t the only ones at risk of identity theft, which can victimize holiday shoppers whether they’re shopping at the nearby mall or from the comforts of home. When shopping this holiday season, shoppers should consider the following safety measures to reduce their risk of identity theft.

* Confirm the legitimacy of online retailers. Many online scammers masquerade as legitimate businesses. Some may even steal logos or information from real businesses to make their scam appear more legitimate. When shopping online, stick to well-known retailers or verify with the Better Business Bureau or another watchdog organization that a Web site is operated by a reputable business. * Check for a secured browser. Reputable online retailers encrypt their customers’ personal information. Look for a “locked” icon on the browser before entering payment information, or check to see if the URL has an “https” prefix, which means the site is secured.

* Beware of credit card skimmers. Skimmers are devices that read the information on the magnetic strip of a credit or debit card. Some are planted on ATM machines or self-service kiosks at stores. They can be hard to detect. Certain skimmers can even skim the information off a card while it is still in a wallet or purse. Some devices can block the capture of signals from the cards. But even consumers who have such devices should still check their bank and credit card statements to determine if their cards have been skimmed.

* Promptly check credit and debit balances for accuracy. Routinely check purchases against the records of credit card companies and banks. Log into online accounts to verify any purchases and report any inaccuracies immediately. Recognizing fraudulent activity early on can help consumers recover their money quickly and prevent any further problems.

* Opt for credit over debit. Credit cards come with zero liability policies, which means consumers will not be held responsible for fraudulent purchases. Debit cards do not always offer the same level of protection, and debit cards linked directly to a bank account could put consumers at greater risk.

* Keep receipts. Being cautious with receipts doesn’t just facilitate potential returns. Receipts often include a lot of personal information, including the shopper’s name, signature and credit card number. These receipts could be the doorway to identity theft.

* Password protect everything. A lost smartphone or tablet could provide a thief with a lot of personal information if it is not locked down with a password. Also, always use a secured wireless signal when shopping online or accessing personal account information.

* Don’t carry extraneous information in a wallet. A lost wallet is less problematic when it isn’t filled with scores of credit cards and a social security card. Consumers should limit the amount of personal information stored in their wallets.

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