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All I Want for Christmas Is My Identity Back

Written By Gary S. Williams, CFP®, CRPC®, AIF® and Nicholas Ibello, CFP®, AIF® February 5, 2019

Travel and Mobile Phones

The holiday season is a time to be with family, take time off work, and relax and have fun, no matter what holiday you celebrate. But just when you’re relaxing, identity thieves are working overtime to get at your information. We are all particularly vulnerable to ID theft during the holidays. Here’s why and how to protect yourself.

When we travel we open ourselves up to ID theft by using unsecured airport, restaurant, and bus terminal internet connections. When browsing on unsecured networks, you risk “sidejacking.” This is when someone steals your access to a website, typically on wireless public networks. A program allows that person to capture cookies transmitted over the public Wi-Fi connection and use them to gain access to the unsecured email and social networking accounts of anyone using the network. Once they have access to this, they can see the financial information you’ve provided to the sites you’ve visited. Make sure to use encrypted sites to prevent this and be aware of when your phone switches from its network to a wireless hotspot. To add protection, turn on your phone’s encryption settings.

 Temporary Retail Workers

Those stores you love to shop in are hiring temporary workers by the dozens to handle the surge in shoppers. Those workers may or may not have had background checks. So the person checking you out and handling your credit card may have a history of identity theft crimes.

 Your Credit Card is on Fire

Many of us use our credit cards much more during the holidays, which opens us up to more chances that the number is seen or taken by a thief. There’s also an increased chance you may accidentally leave your card somewhere or get pickpocketed in a crowded store.

 Opening New Accounts to Save Money

Almost every time we purchase something in a store, the store offers us a 10 or 20 percent discount to open an account with them. This can be pretty tempting when you’re spending more than you normally do on all those gifts. But it puts you at risk for identity theft because you are filling out personal information right there at the store and handing it to the clerk to get approved. If that sensitive information is not fully protected or destroyed, it can be copied, leaving you open to identity theft.

 Finding Good Deals on New Sites

What to do when your child or grandchild wants the Hot Wheels Ultimate Garage—yes the one with real working carwash. You look for the best price by shopping around the internet to find who’s offering it for less. If it’s a site you’re unfamiliar with, make sure it is legitimate by checking it out before making the purchase. Do they have trust seals to confirm they are legit? These can be found either at the top or bottom of the page and normally have a checkmark or a lock icon on them. Click on the trust seal to see the expiration date of their certification. Also check to make sure they are using SSL, which allows sensitive information such as credit card numbers and login credentials to be transmitted securely. Look in the web address line for a lock icon that comes with an SSL-secured website. Sometimes the address bar is green; another sign of an SSL-secured website. Secure websites also begin with https rather than http. Beware if the site is asking you for unusual information that most sites don’t ask for. You can also search for reviews of that website to see what the feedback has been.

If all of these things check out, then the site is likely safe to use. If anything doesn’t check out, or you just don’t feel right about it, it may be worth paying a little more somewhere else.

If you’re worried about online identity theft, some credit card companies can generate a temporary number that can only be used for one transaction, which protects your real credit card number if a thief manages to get it. This is particularly useful if you’re purchasing a subscription and don’t want it to auto-renew. Not all banks offer this, but it may be worth asking.

You can also regularly check your credit reports and sign up for a credit monitoring service for added peace of mind while you’re shopping for stocking stuffers, computers, or jacked up Hot Wheels.