Identity Theft & The Holidays

The holidays are upon us. If you’re like me, you are making a list and checking it twice to find the perfect gift for your loved ones. This is a great season that unfortunately harbors some financial crimes that we all should be aware of.

Be aware of your surroundings. Even though we live in a high tech society, low tech crimes such as pick pocketing still occur. Another crime that we see this time of year is “shoulder surfing.” Some criminals are known to watch the information that you put into the pin pad while you are making your purchase. This information can be used in turn to access your accounts. It is important to watch your wallet and/or your purse while you are shopping and watch those around you to make sure your information is not being surreptitiously intercepted.

Be cautious about to whom you provide your personal information over the telephone. Identity thieves can and will use the telephone to take advantage of the unsuspecting consumer. Be suspicious of calls from major retailers, banks and government agencies that request your personal identifying information to take care of some emergency or problem. Be informed about the charities that will solicit donations from you during this season. Take time to research the charity and make sure it is legitimate prior to giving the charity any information.

Be careful with the ATMs that you use. As a rule, I try to avoid freestanding ATMs because of the risk of “skimming.” Skimming is the practice where credit card information is lifted from a legitimate card and put onto a fraudulent card through use of software or hardware installed by criminals at ATMs and/or points of sale. You are generally safer to use ATMs at banks or other financial institutions where security cameras monitor the ATMs. This may not be so with ATMs at freestanding sites giving the criminal an opportunity to set up their skimming apparatus. For this reason, I would only use ATMs at banks or other financial institutions.

In closing, we should not be afraid to enjoy the season and shop for our loved ones. We should be smart and aware while going about our holiday season.