How to Avoid Identity Theft During the Holidays

Today is Cyber Monday, and for shoppers who prefer to skip the drama of Black Friday sales, it means online deals and the ability to shop peacefully at home without fighting crowds. It also means the risk of identity theft from unsecured websites. Of course, identity theft and credit card theft aren't limited to online shopping. Recent hacks have resulted in the large-scale theft of credit card information and "data breaches" from major retailers including Home Depot, Target, Kmart, Staples, Neiman Marcus, and more. Any time you use your credit card or debit card, that information may be available to hackers. Every time you receive personally identifying information or account statements in the mail, those documents could be vulnerable to theft. Obviously, there are risks whether you shop in person or online, whether you pay by credit card or PayPal or whether you pay only in cash. Armed robbery and muggings may be a risk if you shop at a brick-and-mortar store, but identity theft may be a risk if you use a credit card or shop online. The answer isn't to avoid shopping, but rather to take precautions to protect yourself from identity theft during the holiday season and throughout the year. An article published by the San Diego Union-Tribune (U-T San Diego) gives "6 Cybersecurity Tips for the Holidays." These include the following recommendations:

  • Avoid phishing scams that collect your personal information by being careful about which links you click. Avoid clicking email links that offer unbelievably low prices. Sometimes, these links appear to be from trusted retailers, but the actual email address from which the message generates is not the official business email address. Reputable businesses will not solicit personal information in an email.
  • Read the fine print of any deal to be sure you are not getting more than you bargained for in the form of recurring monthly charges. Also check the site's privacy policy to make sure they don't collect and save your payment information.
  • Take a close look at your social media profiles to make sure you aren't giving out more information than you intended. Giving a full name, birthdate, and hometown can allow information thieves to piece together partial information to steal your identity and create false accounts.
  • Only shop from secure websites. Make sure the URL for the site from which you are buying begins with https://. If the 's' is missing, the site is not secure.
  • Always log out of payment accounts and close your browser after purchasing online. Staying logged into accounts allows people to access your payment information, even on a private computer.
  • Don't allow e-commerce sites to store your credit card information. Often, this can seem like a time-saving technique for online stores you frequent, but it makes your credit card information vulnerable to hacking.
Learn more about preventing identity theft at USA.gov.

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