By Michael Bruemmer, Vice President of Consumer Protection at Experian
When you are looking for the perfect gift, it is important to remember a few safe holiday shopping tricks to ensure your money’s safety.
- Streamline your wallet. Leave anything you don’t need, such as your Social Security card (you should never carry it in your wallet), your library or wholesale club card, and excess credit cards at home. Only take the credit cards you know you will use.
- When paying with a credit card, never let the clerk take the card out of your sight. The swipe should take place in clear view.
- Paying with a debit card? Use your free hand or your body to obscure the key pad from the view of others around you.
- Be aware of who’s around you and what you’re saying when you talk on your phone in public. Is someone listening in while you share potentially identifying information such as your home address?
- Never leave packages, briefcases, purses, luggage, or other types of bags in plain view inside your car. If you must leave something in your car, conceal it in the trunk, and place it there before you arrive at the mall parking lot. Thieves have been known to watch parking lots to catch people storing things in their trunks.
- Don’t sign up for store credit cards at the checkout counter. Take the application home and fill it out in privacy. Completing a credit application in a public place potentially exposes identifying information to prying eyes. No 10-percent discount is worth that risk!
- Keep an eye on your credit report. Identity theft will show up on your credit report, often sooner rather than later. By monitoring your credit, you stand a better chance of catching fraud quickly and preventing things from getting worse.
- Never Shop on a Public Wi-Fi Connection – Although you may trust the baristas at your local coffee shop, you can’t always trust the person sitting next to you. Hackers can easily tap into Wi-Fi connections at public hot spots to steal your identity information. This can be especially dangerous when you are making purchases with your credit card on unsecured connections. Options: surf at home or set up Internet Tethering between your smartphone and laptop or tablet so that you are always surfing on an encrypted connection.
- Monitor Your Accounts – While you are doing a lot of shopping – online and in the store – it is good to keep an eye on your bank and credit card accounts. Match your receipts up to your statement to make sure that they are correct and there are no fraudulent charges. Keep an eye out for small charges, sometimes that is how crooks test to make sure they have a good card. For convenience, set up credit card account alerts that automatically email or text you every time you make a purchase. It makes detecting fraud a snap.
- Only Shop on Trusted Websites – Don’t just let the search engine pick the site for you, make sure you are using a trusted and well-known website. Type in the direct web address for the stores you are familiar with, and don’t shop on price alone.
- Read the Reviews – When shopping online, read the reviews of the actual seller, if available. While the site may be credited with security, purchasers may have had problems in the past that you want to know about before you buy from them.
- Look for Signs Shopping Sites are Protecting Your Data – On the web page where you enter your credit card or other personal information, look for an “s” after http in the Web address of that page and a secured padlock (https://). Encryption is a security measure that scrambles data as it travels through the Internet.
- Keep Your Web Browser Updated – The latest versions of the most popular browsers (FireFox, Safari, Internet Explorer) provide another layer of protection with web sites that use Extended Validation (EV) Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Certificates. The address bar turns green and has both https and the closed padlock. Make sure that when your computer is asking you to update your software you don’t ignore the requests.
- Check your Credit Report – You can identify signs of possible identity theft if there is inaccurate information on your credit report. Check your credit report at each of the three credit bureaus frequently. You can obtain a free Experian credit report at freecreditreport.com.
- Get Help – Why not have someone else also keeping an eye on your accounts? Consider enrolling in an identity theft protection product such as Experian’s IdentityWorks. You will be alerted if there is activity such as a new account opened in your name as well as if your personal information is found on the Dark Web.