2008-11-06 / Local & State

Financial Focus

Guard Against Identity Theft During Holiday Season
By Edward Jones Investments

By Edward Jones Investments

This may be the season for giving, but for identity thieves, the holidays are a pretty good time for taking - and what they take may belong to you. However, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of being victimized - if you take the right steps.

To help prevent identity theft, you first need to realize the "hightech" component involved in this type of crime. Agile thieves can now use camera cellphones to take photos of your credit cards while you're making purchases, your PIN number while you're at the cash machine and your bank's routing number when you're writing a check. To make matters worse, dishonest temporary employees can steal your credit card numbers by using new card readers that look like pagers.

These are certainly creepy scenarios, but they don't mean you need to resort to the barter system for your gifts. In fact, despite their security vulnerabilities, credit cards actually offer you significant protection; most credit card companies won't hold you liable if someone steals your card or number, provided you report the theft right away. Of course, that doesn't mean you should be careless with how you use your credit card. Don't pull it out from your wallet or purse until the moment you're going to use it, pay close attention to how it's used and get it back right away after it's used. And try to shield it from all other shoppers.

Apart from these basic credit card safety tips, what else can you do to avoid identity theft or rectify it after it occurs? Here are a few ideas to consider:

Use secure sites when shopping online. Before you give out your credit card number to make a purchase on the Internet, make sure you're on a secure site - one that begins https://. (The "s" stands for "secure.") Also, the site should display a small lock or other security seal.

Guard your personal information. Some studies have found that nearly half of all consumers carry their Social Security cards in their wallets. Don't make that mistake. Also, it's not a bad idea to periodically change the PIN number on your cash card.

Don't carry around extra cards. Carry only the credit and cash cards that you will need for any given shopping trip. The more cards you carry around, the greater the risk that one of them could fall into the wrong hands.

Check your bank statements. These days, it's easy to check your bank statement online - and you should do so at least a few times a month. If you find a transaction that looks unfamiliar or questionable, don't hesitate to call your bank to find out more details.

Contact a credit reporting agency. If you think you've been the victim of identity theft, contact one of the major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Once you contact one of these agencies, all three will add a fraud alert to your record. This alert may make it more difficult for identity thieves to open a credit card in your name; however, fraud alerts usually only last about three months, so you will need to regularly monitor your credit report for suspicious activity.

By following these suggestions, you can go a long way toward protecting your identity and enjoying a safe, secure holiday shopping season.

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