According to the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book,” identity theft was the most common category of consumer complaints in both 2021 and 2022.
In identity theft, a criminal has gained enough personal identifying information on the victim to take over their identity. With a full name, address, and Social Security number, the scammer can apply for loans and credit cards in the victim’s name.
Security experts say consumers are especially vulnerable during the holiday season when they spend more time online and may be distracted by the season’s frantic pace. Fortunately, there are five easy ways to avoid becoming a victim.
Say ‘no thanks’ to department store cards
You may be checking out at a department store and the clerk offers an instant discount if you apply for the store’s charge card. But experts say it’s best to take a pass.
The application is almost certain to require writing down highly sensitive and personal information. That creates an unnecessary vulnerability. Ask yourself if the discount is worth the risk.
Watch out for credit card skimmers
Scammers can always find a market for stolen credit card information but around the holidays, they receive a premium. One way they steal this data is through the use of “skimmers,” placed on gas pumps and ATMs.
Pay close attention to these self-service terminals before inserting a payment card. Be on the lookout for signs of tampering, such as loose parts or colors that don’t match.
Pay close attention to your account statements
If you’re like many consumers you might check your bank or credit card statement with a cursory glance each month. Around the holidays, especially, it pays to review each and every item.
The faster you can identify and report a fraudulent charge the better the chance you’ll resolve the issue in your favor. Experts say you should check online accounts several times each week looking for a charge you didn’t make.
Don’t click on email links
Phishing scams can easily lead to identity theft and criminals often accomplish their goals through emails, disguised as from a legitimate company, instructing the recipient to click on a link. Doing so might take the victim to a web page where they will be told to enter personal information.
Even if the email appears to come from a good friend or family member be suspicious if it contains a link. Check with the source to make sure it’s real before clicking.
Be careful when shopping online
If you are shopping at one of the major retailer’s websites you can be reasonably sure it’s safe. But when it is an unknown company that just happens to have that hard-to-find item at a great price, watch out!
Make sure the page is trustworthy by looking for the lock icon on the left side of the URL. And regardless of the time of year, never make an online purchase using public wi-fi. To stay completely safe, never send personal information in an email that could be intercepted.