A new iPhone? Or perhaps a shiny blender/jacket/snowblower. Yes, please! Those are things we’d love to unwrap this season, but a stolen identity is something we’d rather not tear into this Christmas or any other time of the year.
In this blog post, I will share some simple things on how to avoid identity theft this holiday season:
Avoid mail theft
There’s a reason your friendly postal worker looks a bit harried lately — the U.S. Postal Service estimates it will deliver more than 15 billion pieces of mail this Christmas season. Of course, you don’t want that coveted holiday gift you ordered from Amazon to end up under a mail thieves’ tree, but that’s really the most benign thing that can happen as a result of mail theft. According to this CBS story, 400,000 people had their identities stolen as a result of mail theft last year. How does it happen? Think about it — your mail provides access to credit card bills that likely contain your full credit card number, checks with your bank account numbers, tax forms, medical insurance statements, and more. Mail theft is very common, as is a criminal forwarding a victim’s mail, according to LibertyID Restoration Specialist Suzanne Ford (Read more instances of mail theft leading to identity theft here). Ford recommends buying a lockable mailbox and going paperless, among other things. Don’t put the red flag on your mailbox up if you’re sending out a check or important piece of mail, as it alerts mail thieves there’s outgoing mail ready to snag. Read more tips on how to avoid identity theft. Don’t forget — if you’re traveling this holiday season, put your mail on hold or arrange for a trusted family member or friend to collect it for you daily while you’re away.
Credit instead of debit
You can read all about the ins and outs of why credit vs. debit in our blog post, but it basically comes down to one word: liability. The same liability protections that cover credit card fraud do not always apply to debit cards. Federal law limits consumer liability for credit card fraud to $50, and it’s zero if your card number is stolen as a result of a breach or hack. Your liability with a debit or ATM card that’s been stolen or compromised is much higher, especially if you don’t report it right away. Beyond what you’re liable for in the end, if your debit card is compromised and a thief empties your checking account, you could be without much-needed funds to pay your bills while you unravel the mess.
Monitor your accounts
If there was ever a time to be watching your financial accounts, it’s now. Be sure you’ve really made every purchase that shows up. Find out if your banking institution or credit card company offers an alert system for when purchases are made. Some banking apps, like Bank of America, even allow you to turn on mobile notifications that can help you keep track. You might also consider using just one credit card to make purchases so if something goes awry, only one card has been compromised rather than multiple.
Less really is more, especially when it comes to what you share on social media. If you’re traveling this holiday season, don’t share photos of your boarding pass and be sure and shred it and other documents that contain personal information. Also, be sure and skip telling everyone in your social media network that you’ll be in Aruba (no fair!) for the holiday. Even if your security settings are set to the max, sharing such plans could leave you vulnerable to a break in. For other things you should never share on social media, visit our blog post.
Check out as a guest when shopping online
When purchasing items online, try to check out as a guest whenever possible so that the site doesn’t store your information. Yes, it might take a little more time, but it’s worth it in light of the all the big box data breaches over the last few years.
Use a unique password AND username for each site
If you can remember your password, chances are it sucks when it comes to security. The best passwords are long and random; a passphrase is even better (visit this post to learn how to create a strong passphrase). And while you might be used to hearing the advice about passwords, you might not know that usernames are important as well. Even using StoreName+YourName is better than just your name. Whatever you do, don’t reuse passwords across sites. If you do, and one site is breached, hackers would then be able to access more of your accounts.
Beware of phishing emails
Experts, like Bob Bunge, a cybersecurity specialist and engineering professor at DeVry University, who was interviewed for a Consumer Affairs story about online shopping identity theft risks, says phishing attacks are more rampant over the holidays. Don’t click on links sent in an email, instead, type the address directly into your web browser. There are plenty of bogus websites out there posing as leading e-commerce retailers. Be sure you are actually on Walmart’s website, and not some imposter, before inputting credit card information or any other sensitive info. Be sure the URL begins with https and includes the lock sign, signaling that it’s encrypted. Bad web design and glaring spelling errors are other indicators something isn’t right.
Skip purchases on your mobile device or while on a wireless connection
Think twice before hitting “buy” on your iPhone. According to RSA, a computer and network security company, the number of fraud attempts on mobile users increased 173 percent between 2013 and 2015.
And whatever you do, don’t make purchases while using public WiFi as the connections are an easy target for hackers since they’re unsecured or often have shared passwords. Instead, use your phone’s cellular network as a hotspot for your laptop. Some experts, like Bunge, think you should be wary of using wireless even on your home network and recommends placing your order while your computer is hard-wired to the network. To read more about WiFi vulnerabilities and how to protect yourself, read our blog.
Did you know that 15.4 million Americans had their identity stolen last year? With the Equifax breach and dozens of other data breaches this year, security experts agree it’s very likely your personal information has been compromised. Who would you call if you learned your identity had been stolen?
LibertyID provides expert, full service, fully managed identity theft restoration to individuals, couples, extended families* and businesses. LibertyID has a 100% success rate in resolving all forms of identity fraud on behalf of our subscribers.
*Extended families – primary individual, their spouse/partner, both sets of parents (including those that have been deceased for up to a year), and all children under the age of 25