Letting your guard down amid the bustle of the holiday season, whether in pursuit of that perfect gift for a special someone or chatting excitedly about plans to visit a new ski resort, can be a recipe for disaster, according to the Consumer Federation of America. Identity thieves resort to everything from picking pockets to deciphering location codes in digital photos to see where the house is with that brand-new home theater system or the diamond bracelet adorning the wrist of the lady of the house.
CFA offers a dozen caveats and suggestions to keep you and yours safe this holiday season, both physically and in cyberspace.
12) Let’s Get Physical
Hold tight to purses and put wallets in a front pocket while shopping and browsing. If you must set either one down, be sure you keep an eye on it while it is out of your hands. Otherwise, Light-fingered Louie may be enjoying all those lovely holiday gifts you planned to buy—on his all-expenses-paid (by you) vacation in Aruba.
11) Take Your Security Blanket
Shopping online for Cyber Monday deals and using apps to seek out the best store deals may be exciting, but be sure that your transactions and even basic communications are conducted over an encrypted connection. Otherwise, when you go to your bank account to transfer funds for that giant-screen TV, Stealthy Steve may be watching to abscond with your account number and password.
10) Loose Lips Sink Holidays
Don’t let everyone in on your plans for the holidays, especially the trip you’re planning to Aunt Martha’s or the cool new electronics you know will be under the tree. Don’t publish photos on social networking sites, either, lest they contain geocodes that give thieves your address—something else never to post—so they can relieve you of your holiday plunder. Ditto for birthdays, Social Security numbers, and other personal info—all clues to lighten your wallet and ruin your credit.
9) Rip, Tear, Burn
Simply tossing old papers is not safe. Trashy Tom will be only too happy to sift through your garbage to find old bank and credit card statements and other documents that may be outdated but still contain valuable personal information. If you can’t burn ’em, shred ’em!
If you don’t know an online merchant, check it out first before shopping there—everything from complaints to privacy and return policies. Make sure their site is encrypted before passing over your credit card number—and use credit, rather than debit, cards or checking accounts; they offer more protection if the purchase turns out to be a Nightmare Before (or After) Christmas.
7) If It’s Not Santa’s List, Get Off
Take your name off pre-approved credit lists, lest those offers disappear from your mailbox and end up in Devious Dave’s hands. Don’t know where to opt out? Go to www.optoutprescreen.com.
6) Please, Mr. Postman
Watch your mail (and your porch) for packages, checks from relatives or businesses and important deliveries, or have a neighbor accept parcels for you. Failing that, make sure deliveries require a signature. Otherwise, they could vanish into Peter’s Pouch, along with personal information like account numbers, and never be seen (by you) again.
5) Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Don’t open e-mails unless you know they are from someone you trust. ’Tis the season, even more than usual, for phishing and other scams, and if you click on links in an e-mail and/or provide personal information in response to a request, even from what appears to be your bank, it will likely end up in Nigeria instead, along with your bank balance. Always type in Web addresses from known sources, and remember that legitimate businesses won’t ask for your information via email.
4) Credit Where Credit Is Due
Ask for the free credit reports you’re legally entitled to each year, and make sure there’s nothing on them that is inaccurate or indicates fraud. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com and check today.
3) No Contest
Beware of online contests, even if the prizes sound terrific. Lots of them are contaminated with viruses and even if they aren’t, they will suck in your personal information and expose you to yet more spam and marketing. You don’t really want that, do you?
2) Knight in Shining Armor
That’s what your security software should be, all shiny and up to date with the latest protection against viruses, Trojans, malware and hacking. Make sure you have good, strong protection against identity thieves.
1) Watch by the Chimney (and Front Door) With Care
Remember to set burglar alarms and leave lights on when going out to visit, and ask local police to keep an eye on your home, lest you return to find that your visitor was not St. Nick. Also be wary when opening the door if not expecting visitors, and ask for identification from anyone claiming to be a technician or repairman seeking to enter your home. Impostors and home invaders are also a fact of modern life, and personal security is just as important as online security.
If you do all this, you will be far more likely to be able to relax when you finally settle down for that long winter’s nap.
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