10 Ways to Avoid Identity Fraud This Holiday Shopping Season

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Did you know that the holiday shopping season is prime time not only for shoppers but also for identity thieves?

And why wouldn’t it be?

Fraudsters and thieves aren’t stupid. They know that around the holidays, shoppers are out in droves – both in stores and online. They also know that during this hectic season, consumers may be more lax with their personal information, leaving thieves a great opening for swiping everything from credit card numbers to personal identities.

According to John Buzzard, FICO Card Alert Service product manager and consumer fraud expert, “Fraud activity increases at this time of the year, often leaving consumers and their financial institutions exposed to a disproportional amount of danger that isn’t seen the rest of the year.”

And that “disproportionate danger” during the holiday season is added on top of the major increase in credit card fraud in the past few years. According to the FICO Falcon Fraud Manager consortium, which provides fraud protection for about 85% of US-based credit cards, showed that credit card fraud incidents increased by 17% between September 2010 and September 2012.

That 17% increase includes a 25% increase in fraudulent card-not-present transactions – like sales conducted over the phone or over the Internet. Fraudulent card-not-present transactions now account for nearly half of all fraudulent credit card transactions!

But it’s not all bad news. As thieves get smarter, so do consumers, and the tools they use to protect themselves from fraud. Take these 10 tips to keep yourself clear of credit card fraud this shopping season:

  1. Check your accounts often. If you haven’t already, sign up for online banking with your financial institution. Check your debit and credit accounts often to ensure nothing is amiss.
  2. Sign up for alerts. Many of today’s financial institutions will offer mobile alert services that let you know when a large or otherwise suspicious purchase has been made with your debit or credit card. These services help you catch fraud faster, which makes remedying the situation that much easier.
  3. Be aware of your surroundings. Credit card skimming at physical locations is becoming more common, so pay attention to your surroundings. Buzzard says, “It you have misgivings about your safety, it’s best to go elsewhere to perform your ATM transaction or purchase.”
  4. Keep track of your smartphone. If you’re like most smartphone owners, your phone contains tons of information about your financial habits and accounts. To protect this information, enable “find my phone” functionality, keep your phone on your person when out at about, and protect your phone with a strong passcode.
  5. Be careful of using public WiFi. Wireless hotspots are great, but they’re not the place to make purchases online or to log into your financial accounts. Fraudsters can set up or tap into unsecured public networks to siphon off your unencrypted data.
  6. Use spyware and malware on your computer. This is one of the simplest ways to prevent your information being stolen through your computer.
  7. Only enter personal information on websites with a secure socket layer. You can tell if a website has some security protocol in place by checking the address. Sites with ah HTTPS address have a stronger security protocol than sites with the regular HTTP address.
  8. Avoid too-good-to-be-true deals. If an online deal looks absolutely too good to be true and isn’t from a trusted retailer, it’s likely just a way to get hold of your credit card information. Avoid deals like these.
  9. Talk to your credit card/debit card issuer right away about suspicious transactions. The sooner you get in touch with your card issuer about a suspicious transaction, the more likely you are to resolve the situation without major financial pain.
  10. Monitor your credit score. Services like MyFICO’s FICO Score Watch are inexpensive and totally worthwhile investments for staying on top of your credit score. If your personal information is stolen and used to open fraudulent accounts, the sooner you know about it, the better. Check your credit during or just after the holidays to ensure that all is well.

Have you ever dealt with identity theft or credit card fraud around the holidays? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

Published or Updated: December 9, 2013
About Abby Hayes

Abby is a freelance copywriter and blogger who writes on everything from personal finance to health and wellness. She spends her spare time bargain hunting and meal planning for her family of three.

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