Updated November 2, 2020 . AmFam Team
There’s nothing like the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping season! While this year you may be doing most of your holiday shopping online, it’s still important to take precautions to protect your personal information from identity thieves any way you can. Thankfully there are ways you can help safeguard your identity while holiday shopping online — or offline.
Whether using your smartphone or personal computer, there’s a lot you can do to protect your private information from identity thieves when shopping online during the holidays. Keeping your tech up-to-date with the latest security and software updates and antivirus or anti-spyware software is a great place to start.
Always using strong passwords — that combine uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols — is an easy and effective ID protection measure too. Here are more ways to protect your personal data and avoid identity theft:
Make sure the URL of the websites you are shopping on begin with “https” and not just “http.” The “s” at the end indicates it’s an encrypted and secure site. Like making sure your antivirus software is updated, this is an easy way to help protect your computer from being infected by viruses or malware.
When possible, shop online using your home’s private, password-protected Wi-Fi network. Shopping on unsecured networks like public Wi-Fi hotspots can leave your personal info vulnerable and easier to steal. Avoid using a public computer as well. If you must use one, clear your cookies and browsing history before leaving. Don’t forget to log out of all your shopping accounts for different stores too.
Choose to pay with credit when shopping online. Debit cards usually pull money directly from your bank account, so if an identity thief gets a hold of your debit card’s number and PIN, they could easily start taking your money.
When you shop with your credit card, money isn’t taken directly from your bank account, and your credit card company will usually have robust fraud protection services to help avoid identity theft.
Watch your credit card and debit card accounts closely for unfamiliar charges. Several small charges from unknown vendors can be an early sign of theft. Signing up for a credit monitoring service can be an effective way to keep you updated if there’s any changes to your credit, personal or financial information.
During the holiday shopping season especially, you may receive spam or phishing emails disguised as promotional deals. You might also get emails claiming to be retailers requesting you reset your password. These emails are usually attempting to get your personal data, so brush up on how to avoid phishing or delete them. And remember, a good rule of thumb is never open attachments or links from unknown sources.
Like shopping online, always prioritize protecting your personal information when holiday shopping in stores. One of the best ways to do so is guarding your identity by keeping personal belongings like your wallet, phone or purse in your possession at all times.
This year, remember to make personal safety is a top priority as well — so be sure to wear your facemask and social distance from others when in public. Choosing contactless pay options when possible to avoid direct personal contact is a good idea too, and it’s typically a payment method with higher security. And don’t forget to bring portable hand sanitizer, and wear disposable gloves too.
Here are more ways to avoid identity theft while shopping in stores this holiday season:
When shopping in person, leave any unnecessary ID and credit cards at home. This way you’re less likely to misplace, drop or have something stolen that contains your personal information.
Always be cautious when taking out your credit cards or other ID cards that display your personal information. Shield your credit card info or PIN number with your hand while making a transaction, and never give your card to someone else while checking out.
A “skimmer” is a card reader that records data off a card’s magnetic strip. Skimmers make it easy for identity thieves to create cloned cards or go into your bank account to steal money. Skimmers can be difficult to identify, but they typically look like bulky, colored plastic inserts placed on top of a credit card reader’s slot. Always be cautious of credit card readers and keep an eye on your card at all times.
When withdrawing money, always use a bank affiliated ATM. Machines from banking institutions are typically well-maintained and more trustworthy than others, which may make them less-likely to be tampered with or fall victim to a skimmer. Always use ATMs that are in secure locations with video surveillance as well.
Keep your all receipts in a safe location, but safely dispose of any documents with personal information on them. Credit card statements and bills may contain your account number or home address, so prevent these from getting into the hands of identity thieves by using a paper shredder once you’re done with them.
With these tips in mind, have fun finding the perfect gifts for your friends and family and enjoy your holidays!
Following these and other data protection tips can help you avoid identity theft this holiday season. To continue proactively protecting your personal information, consider identity theft insurance. This added protection helps cover the costs related to recovering your stolen identity and credit rating if you fall victim to identity theft.
This article is for informational purposes only and based on information that is widely available. This information does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. You should contact a professional for advice specific to your situation.