While Holiday Shopping, Guard Against Identity Theft

Frenzied shopping and a tidal wave of phone, mail and Internet marketing create just the right environment of distraction for crooks.

Watch your credit and debit cards like a hawk. Protect yourself from “credit card skimming”, which is when a clerk slides your credit card through a second machine (other than the one being used to process payment for your purchases) that scans your information from the card’s magnetic strip and stores it until it can be downloaded onto a counterfeit card. Whenever possible, shop at stores that allow you to swipe your own card, so that it never leaves your hands. If that is not an option, keep your eyes on your card from the time you let it go until the time it is returned to you. When making any transaction, whether at an ATM or with a sales clerk, do not be distracted by anything until the transaction is complete. Many experts even recommend getting a relative or hiring a sitter to watch your kids while you are holiday shopping, so that you can keep your undivided attention on handling your business.

5. Keep track of your credit card receipts. Federal law now requires that receipts conceal everything but the expiration date and last five digits of your credit card number. If your receipt shows more information than that, keep it concealed—put it in your wallet, not your shopping bag. Carbon copies (as well as the messy black or dark blue ink sheets) of your receipts should be destroyed.

6. Don’t carry your checkbook with you. In addition to your social security card, this is the jackpot for identity thieves, containing everything they need to pretend to be you, including your account number, your banks routing number, and your name and address. Your family’s social security cards and your checkbooks should be locked away out of plain sight at home when not in use.

7. Finally, constantly monitor your bank and credit card accounts for fraudulent transactions. If you really want to stay on top of things, arrange to track your accounts on line. I do this with all of my bank and credit accounts, checking my transactions for errors or theft as often as I want to—even several times a day. Why wait weeks (or longer) for your statements to arrive in the mail to discover that crooks have arranged for them to be forwarded to your “new” address?

The bottom line: It’s hard enough keeping your spending under control during the holidays without getting “help” from identity thieves checking off their Christmas shopping list using your money. For more information on how to protect yourself from identity theft and what actions you should take should you be victimized, check out the following organizations and web sites:

Federal Trade Commission: http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft or 877-438-4338

The Identity Theft Resource Center: http://www.idtheftcenter.org

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