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Protecting Yourself from Holiday Identity Theft

Identity theft can happen to anyone at any time. However, people are more susceptible to identity theft during the holiday season. This is mostly because people are not only shopping more during this season, but also doing so in a distracted manner.  In this article, we will explore simple tips you can use to protect yourself from holiday identity theft.

Let’s dig in:

Use a secure network

Avoid using public Wi-Fi when shopping online or logging into your financial accounts. A network that is not secure puts your personal information, such as your credit card number, at risk. Consider using a VPN service when connecting to the internet using pubic Wi-Fi. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) encrypts your internet traffic and directs it through a secure and private network.

Only carry what you need

Are you fond of carrying all your credit cards and your social security card in one wallet? If you do, it’s time to start carrying only the essentials. While having everything with you might seem convenient, it’s the perfect set up for identity theft. Keep the documents you carry with you to a minimum.

Choose cash or credit over debit

Credit card companies monitor suspicious charges. This makes them more secure to use than debit cards, since debit cards only withdraw money from your account without offering the same level of protection.

Use trustworthy online shopping sites

There are signs that can help you gauge the security of a website. For instance, HTTPS in the web address and a locked padlock on the far left side of the website URL show that a site is secure.

To avoid phishing scams, you should also be careful about the promotional emails you receive in your inbox. Double check to ensure that the promotional links in such emails do not lead to altered links.  These altered links might at first sight appear to be legitimate websites.

Be vigilant when opening new retail credit accounts

Sometimes retail stores will offer you gifts and other incentives if you open a credit card account with them. However, you should be extra careful when giving out your information.

Ensure that no one is looking over your shoulder when writing down your details, and that there are no devices attached to the card reader that could skim your cards. You should also ask the sales assistant how they intend to discard your personal information once they have entered it into their system.

Keep your software updated

Software updates can seem like a drag, but they are meant to protect you from new security threats. If you see a message asking you to upgrade your software or operating system, do it right away. This way, you will always have the most up to date software, and will always be protected.

Final word

The holiday season means that people are on the search for the perfect gifts for their loved ones. Unfortunately, fraudsters are also on a hunting spree: for your information.  Although it’s not possible to completely protect yourself from identity theft, the steps we have discussed today can go a long way towards keeping your information safe.

 

 

 

5 Things To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen

 

While no one looks forward to identity theft, it is a reality that happens to at least one in ten people. This means that your personal details might fall into the wrong hands, and someone might use them to open new accounts and steal your money, among other fraudulent activities.

Fortunately, you can take steps to minimize possible damages and hopefully regain what you have lost. Here are five things to do if someone steals your identity:

1.     File a claim with your identity theft insurance

Perhaps you have insurance that protects you in cases of identity theft, either through an identity protection plan or through your employer. If so, your provider can help guide you through the steps you need to take. Once you notice that someone stole your identity, your insurance company or your human resource department should be one of the first places you call.

2.     Notify companies of your stolen identity

If identity thieves have taken over your accounts, they might have compromised your credit card number. However, this does not necessarily mean they already have access to your other personal information. You can quickly solve this issue by calling your credit card issuer and explaining that about the compromise of your identity.

On the other hand, if someone uses your identifying information such as your name and your social security number to open up new accounts, you may want to call as many companies as you can with which you have accounts.

If someone used your social security number to file false tax returns, you need to submit a form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit to report the crime to the IRS.

Similarly, you should notify your healthcare insurance provider if someone is impersonating you to obtain medical care under your name or policy number.

3.     File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Though the Federal Trade Commission cannot pursue criminal charges, law enforcement agencies such as the FBI can use the information it gathers about identity theft and fraud to track down identity thieves.

To file a report with the FTC, visit the website www.identitytheft.gov.  It will provide you with a reporting plan and even get some pre-filled forms that you can use to file reports and dispute fraudulent charges.

4.     Contact your local police department

Once you file a report with the FTC, your next stop should be your local police department.

Notifying the police about the theft of your identity creates a paper trail. This can protect you in the future. For example, if an identity thief uses your identity to commit a crime, it would be much easier to clear your name if there is documentation.

Please note that there is little that the police can do if someone from overseas stole your identity. However, your report can help them track down the perpetrator if it’s someone you know or a local.

However, it is still important to file a report with the police even if the identity theft happened online.

5.     Place a fraud alert on your credit reports

The next step is to call the major credit reporting agencies such as TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Request that they place a fraud alert on your credit reports. A fraud alert stays on your credit report for a year. It lets the institutions that pull your credit report know that your identity has been compromised.

Although you only have to report to one credit reporting bureau, because they will notify the other two, there is no harm in calling all three. Here are their telephone numbers:

Equifax: 1-888-766-0008

Experian:  1-888-397-3742

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

For added security, freeze your credit so that no one can access your credit reports. It’s also a good idea to freeze your children’s credit because they can also have their identity stolen.

Final word

These simple steps can go a long way in enabling you to stop identity thieves from causing further damage to your reputation. In some cases, they can help you recover what you have lost and even prevent you from paying for crimes you didn’t commit.

Don’t forget to monitor your financial statements and check for any payments or accounts you did not create. Also, make it a habit to thoroughly examine your statements from time to time.  It is also a good idea to financial institutions about how you can best avoid identity theft in the future.