HOW TO HAVE A HOLLY JOLLY, ID THEFT-FREE HOLIDAY SEASON
Consumer Federation of America’s ID Theft Website Provides New Tips for Keeping Personal Information Safe During the Holidays
Washington, D.C. – The holiday season is a joyous time, but it’s also a prime time for identity theft. Consumers can reduce the possibility of becoming ID theft victims by following the tips on the Consumer Federation of America’s www.IDTheftInfo.org website. “Consumers share a lot of personal information during the holidays as they shop for gifts, online and offline,” said Susan Grant, CFA’s Director of Consumer Protection. “Many people also chat about their holiday plans on social networking sites. It’s important to remember to guard your privacy, during what can be a frantic time for many people.”
At www.IDTheftInfo.org Mark Pribish, Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader at Merchants Information Solutions, Inc., a member of CFA’s Identity Theft Service Best Practices Working Group, outlines ten easy steps that consumers can take to keep their personal information more secure.
1. Keep your computer safe. Regularly update the security software (e.g. anti-virus, firewall and anti-malware etc.) on all of your computers to keep identity thieves from stealing the account numbers and other personal information that you use online. Use smart passwords, not your date of birth or other personal information that might be easy for someone else to guess.
2. Take care with contests. Online contests to win cash, cars, computers, and tickets, etc. can be a source of computer viruses. Many contests, online and offline, are designed to collect your personal information for marketing purposes.
3. Check your credit reports. The end of the year is a good time to request your credit reports through www.annualcreditreport.com. Under federal law, you’re entitled to a free report from each of the credit bureaus once a year. Review your reports carefully and inform the credit bureaus if there are any inaccuracies or signs of fraud.
4. Beware of email scams. Don’t even open emails and attachments from individuals or organizations that you don’t know and trust. Many unsolicited emails are for bogus products or services, or come-ons for fraudulent foreign business deals. Some are “phishing scams” in which the senders pretend to be from financial institutions, retailers or organizations you know and trust asking for personal information. Remember: No legitimate company or organization will ask for your personal information via email.
5. Keep an eye out for your holiday packages. Thieves follow delivery trucks and grab the packages before the real recipients can retrieve them. Not only will you lose your package, but this can lead to identity theft if the contents of the package contains personal information, account numbers, or a personal check from relatives. Consumers should require a signature upon delivery or have a neighbor accept packages on their behalf if they won’t be home.
6. Get off marketing lists for pre-approved credit. Crooks may steal these offers from your mail and use them to obtain credit in your name. You can opt-out of receiving pre-approved credit offers for no charge by going to www.optoutprescreen.com.
8. Shred it and forget it. Buy a holiday gift for yourself – a cross-cutting shredder – and use it to dispose of any documents you no longer need that contain your personal information. (For those types of documents that you do want to retain, keep them in a locked drawer or cabinet.)
9. Be careful what you share. Using social media is a great way to keep in touch with friends and relatives, but don’t post your address, Social Security number, birth date or other personal information. And be aware that digital photos may have geocoding features that reveal the locations where they were shot (such as your home). Use the privacy settings on the social networks that you use to limit the personal information that you share.
10. Be wise when you use wireless Internet connections. Identity thieves can hack into unsecure wireless Internet networks and see what you are viewing, like your bank account information. Only connect to wireless networks that require a network security key or certificate. The information sent over these networks is encrypted, which can help prevent from unauthorized access. You will know this by the text indicating if a wireless network, such as a free Internet connection at an airport, is security enabled or not. If you use a wireless Internet connection at home, be sure that the security features are turned on and set your own password, rather than using the default password.
Finally, to stop pickpockets from stealing your personal information while you’re doing your holiday shopping, tuck your purse under your arm or place your wallet in a front pocket rather than a back pocket. And be extra careful when you need to set your purse or wallet down.
The Consumer Federation of America is an association of nearly 300 nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.
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