Keep Your Identity Safe This Holiday Season

The Christmas shopping season is an active one for consumers – and for identity theft fraudsters. To keep your financial identity safe during the holidays, keep the following five tips on mind. Each could mean the difference between “Merry Christmas” and “Scary Christmas.”

First, know what’s at stake. According to Javelin Research’s 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report, the number of identity fraud victims in the U.S. rose 12% in 2009 from 2008. At about 11.1 million Americans, that’s not an easily dismissed number. Then there’s the cash involved. Javelin reports that the money lost to ID fraud scams climbed 12.5% to $54 billion.

The good news is that Javelin did find that consumers who took concrete steps to protect themselves reduced overall fraud, and significantly cut the time for resolving fraud cases if they did occur (by 30%, to 21 hours, the report states).

You don’t have to take extraordinary steps this holiday season, but you do have to act, experts say. “During the holiday season, especially, people need to know what to look out for and how to properly protect themselves,” said Lisa H. Robinson, senior vice president, Head of Risk Management, Wells Fargo Internet Services Group. “By taking simple precautions, shoppers can reap significant benefits when it comes to fraud prevention.”

Let’s get your holiday fraud protection program with these five easy – but effective – moves:

1. Take advantage of mobile banking. During the holidays, the more you check your bank account, the safer you are. That’s where mobile banking can help. A good mobile banking app allows you to take “snapshots” of your accounts while you’re on the go (especially when shopping). Sign up for transaction alerts so you can keep up with all of your holiday purchases.

2. Watch your purse. It might seem obvious, but snatching your purse is an old-time classic for thieves – it’s their preferred mode of action.

3. “Foil” your credit card. Credit card thieves have grown very sophisticated in the past few years. You may not know it, but every credit card has a radio frequency identification chip (RFID) embedded inside (that allows you to “wave” or slide your card over or through a scanner to complete the purchase). But fraudsters have perfected the art of RFID theft – by using a scanner of their own, placed nearby, that picks off card data from unsuspecting shoppers. To thwart RFID theft, wrap all of your key credit and debit cards in tin foil, and only take them out to make a purchase (the scanners need more time than that to record all of your data).

4. A new scam that's popping up. Police in Florida, Louisiana and New York are reporting that wait staffs at local restaurants and gasoline pump attendants are “skimming” your credit card covertly into a separate scanner for criminal use (they sell the card info to larger fraud groups who use the card numbers on the open market). Always keep your eye on your plastic. If you see a waiter or gas kiosk attendant swipe your card on two different scanners, ask why. You could be the victim of credit card theft.

5. Watch what you say on Facebook. Sure, you know enough not to give out your Social Security number or credit card number on Facebook – but how about your whereabouts, your birthday, place of birth, your home address, your phone number – even your kids’ names? All are great leads for identity theft artists who use the data to steal your identity. When you put too much of your face on Facebook, you’re at greater risk of an identity theft nightmare.

The more protections you put in place during the holidays, the more you can enjoy them. So take the above tips to heart and head, and keep ID grinches at full arms-length.

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