Protect yourself from Identity Theft around the holidays

The holidays may be the time for sharing, but that doesn't mean everyone's in a giving mood. In fact, some people are much more likely to be taking. The holiday season is hunting season for identity thieves. These hunters will be out in full force waiting to get your personal information in their sights. Perhaps they'll open a credit card in your name and purchase some amazing gifts. Or maybe they'll drain your entire bank account, leaving you empty on New Year's Eve. But don't let the thought of becoming a victim turn you into a scrooge. Here's some practical advice to keep your private data out of the wrong hands.

Safeguard your belongings

Crowded sidewalks and busy department stores are the perfect places for pickpockets and purse snatchers. While you're busy buying presents, crooks are looking for the right opportunity to grab your handbag or wallet. And you'll never know until it's too late.

Tips:

  • Women should not leave their purses open or unattended.
  • Carry handbags with short straps and hold them securely.
  • Men should not carry their wallets in their back pants pocket
  • Be alert. Don't let yourself be too easily distracted by the festive decorations.

Going to the ATM

Like most shoppers, you'll probably make more than one trip to the ATM this holiday season. Unfortunately, so will sharp-eyed crooks. While you're getting cash, they'll be trying to catch a glimpse of your PIN number over your shoulder. Also, be wary of the machine itself. It may contain a device that captures the details of your transaction, a practice known as "skimming."

Tips:

  • Use your body to shield your ATM transactions.
  • Try going to a bank ATM in bright light, preferably one with a security guard.
  • If you see an odd-looking gadget attached to your ATM, try another machine.

The holidays may be the time for sharing, but that doesn't mean everyone's in a giving mood.

Retaining Receipts

Over the holidays, you'll probably accumulate lots of credit card receipts, often stapled to your shopping bags by diligent store clerks. Unfortunately, this makes it quite easy for others to discreetly snatch them off as you walk by.

Criminals have also been known to rummage through garbage looking for anything with personal data on it. So, just because your information is in the trash doesn't mean it is safe.

Tips:

  • Keep all receipts together in a safe place as you're shopping.
  • Either shred or tear up unwanted receipts.

Use the Internet Wisely

Like lots of people, you may take care of some of that holiday shopping online. But websites often leave personal information and financial data on your hard drive after a transaction. So avoid making holiday purchases from the computers at the public library. Many tech-savvy thieves use viruses and spyware capable of grabbing account numbers and passwords right off your computer.

Tips:

  • Install reliable virus protection and anti-spyware software on your PC.
  • Never open suspicious-looking emails. Delete them immediately.
  • Always use secure web servers for online shopping. Look for URLs that display "https" instead of "http"
  • Throwing away an old computer? Erase the hard drive first.

Giving to Charity

The holidays bring out a generous spirit. Many charities use this time to solicit telephone donations. While giving is good, just be careful. After all, you only want your money going to a reputable organization, not the fake fund of someone looking to make a dishonest buck.

Tips:

  • Never give out your personal or financial information over the phone.
  • Contact a charity directly to make a donation.

Following these simple tips can help you avoid being a victim of ID theft this holiday season. Being vigilant and safe helps ensure a stress-free holiday, at least until the relatives arrive.