Question: Any holiday shopping tips?
Answer: With Halloween just behind us and the balance of the holiday shopping season ahead, it’s the worst time of all for any credit or identity problems.
So beware, identity thieves are working overtime as consumers are spending more and using their credit and debit cards more at this time of year. “While ID theft is obviously a threat any time of the year, it is particularly devastating during the holidays,” said Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
The hustle and bustle of shopping that accompanies this time of year, unfortunately, means an increase in the kinds of criminal activity that takes advantage of unsuspecting consumers. Now is the time to increase your awareness of fraud, scams and identity theft.
To help minimize the risk of any of these, here are a few prudent precautions to take this holiday season:
When shopping online, look for safe and secure websites displaying a closed padlock that should appear on the status bar of the browser. Look for URL addresses that have "https" which indicate that the websites are secure and your purchase information has been encrypted. Also, look for other symbols that denote trustworthy sites such as TRUSTe, Verisign, The Better Business Bureau and McAfee Secure. And avoid shopping on unsecured wireless networks or shared computers. Of note, the URL address is the key security safety and security item to look for.
Keep your receipts separate from purchases and in a safe place. Leaving them in your car or on your desk can give others access to information that can be helpful to thieves.
Monitor your checking account, credit card and loan statements. Be on the lookout for any bogus charges or unexpected spikes in your interest rates. If you see any, contact your creditor immediately. Also, if you are expecting a bill that doesn't arrive, contact your account holder.
Be careful this busy shopping season of people peering over your shoulder at crowded checkouts when you enter in your PIN. Using a busy aisle as an excuse to get close, they may be trying to steal your PIN. And don’t carry your PIN in your wallet or with your credit or debit cards. If lost or stolen, thieves would have all the information needed to make fraudulent purchases with your cards.
If possible, try to use credit cards rather than debit cards. If there is a problem or wrongful usage, credit card companies can suspend payments to sellers, get the money back for you and remove fraudulent charges. Debit cards, on the other hand, are essentially used like cash, which leads to a greater likelihood that a thief can access your account and clean you out. Above all, make sure your credit and debit cards are kept in a safe place and that you always know where they are.
You can help protect your accounts and credit standing by using an identity protection service, particularly one that monitors your credit history with all three major credit bureaus; provides alerts via email or text any time there is suspicious activity on your credit reports; and, offers personal assistance in the case of fraudulent use of your personal information. Such services often are available through your financial institution.
By taking a few basic precautions and monitoring your accounts frequently, your holiday shopping experience should be a pleasant and joyous one.
Michael Batemen is vice president of marketing at Fort Knox Federal Credit Union.
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