Holiday shopping means lots of extra trash, some of which might likewise help an identity thief. So Battison suggests you shred everything that contains personal data. You can buy shredders at any office supply store, though you may want to look for an upgrade from the model used by the Nassau County (NY) police, who found that some of their investigative records containing Social Security and telephone numbers ended up as easily decipherable bits of confetti in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!
Other “credit-safe” steps to take include:
- Only shop online with merchants whose websites have built-in security features. Before you provide any personal information, look for a URL that begins “https,” not merely “http.” This extra letter indicates important security features. Also look for the emblem of a lock on the page, typically next to the address bar.
- Keep an eye on your credit card bills. Checking your monthly statements carefully can help you catch any charges you don’t recognize.
- Ditto for bank statements, especially now that nearly everyone uses debit card and ATM transactions frequently. The added bonus here is that you can easily look up credit and bank statements online.
- Consider changing your PIN numbers after a heavy bout of online shopping. Yes, it could be a hassle; however, every victim of identity theft would happily trade that small extra effort for the herculean task of restoring their identity to its former “clean” status.
- Monitor your credit. You might enroll in a credit monitoring service that will alert you to changes to your credit report. This could tip you off immediately when someone tries to open a credit card in your name, for example.
You can buy credit monitoring either as a stand-alone service or, in some instances, simply as an add-on to your homeowners’ policy. Farm Bureau Financial Services, for example, offers Identity Services and Fraud Expense Coverage for just $ 25 extra per year on home, ranch, farm, or liability policies that the Iowa-based insurer sells. From its perspective, Farm Bureau Services also advises that if you’re in a charitable mood, you should be aware that not all of the emails, letters, and telephone calls you get asking for money are from legitimate sources. If you want to give, you should contact the charity directly.
Farm Bureau Financial also reminds us that identity thieves are a clever lot – they keep up with the latest changes in security and technology. Here’s one scam you may not be aware of: these crooks are using scanners that can grab your personal account information from a “contactless” smart card you use to make a payment at a cash register. “How?” you might ask. Your card emits a radio frequency, which is open to wireless access. Since most credit card companies now issue contactless credit cards, you should make sure the one you get has a sleeve that blocks radio-frequency identification.
None of these tasks should burn up too much of your time, but more important, taking these simple precautionary steps will let you enjoy a happy, safe-money holiday!