By Nathan Erb
The holiday season can be a hectic time. Crowded malls, busy sidewalks, and long lines were once just a nuisance while you were out shopping. But these annoyances can actually put you and your privacy at risk if you don't take extra precautions to protect your personal information and identity during the holidays.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million¹ Americans have their identities stolen each year. Additionally, experts suggest that there is a rise in identity theft around the holidays because there are more opportunities for thefts to occur unnoticed. Pickpockets and other identity theft criminals are in full force during the holidays. Wherever you go, you could be at risk. Make your holiday season safe and enjoyable by following these helpful tips wherever you are.
Out and About
Crowded malls and busy sidewalks provide the perfect opportunity for pickpockets to steal your personal information. Here are some tips to avoid a costly shopping trip:
- Protect your belongings. With all of the distractions in a busy store, it's easy to forget to secure your wallet. Pickpockets thrive in a crowd, so limit the amount of personal data you carry with you. This includes not carrying around your Social Security number and checkbook.
- Keep an eye on your credit cards, PIN numbers, and those around you. Keep these personal numbers out of sight from the people in line behind you, especially in places like the ATM machine.
- Make sure you get all your cards back after making a purchase and watch that your credit card is swiped only once.
- Keep all of your receipts in a safe place.
Want to avoid the long lines, traffic, and sold out items at stores? Shopping online can be extremely convenient, but you should remain cautious. Keep these tips in mind before surfing the net to find your holiday deals:
- Shop only from companies you know and trust.
- Ensure that the website you are on is secure and legitimate. Phishing scams are one way identity thieves can try to steal your personal information online. Learn more about how you can protect yourself.
- Update all your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs and avoid doing your online shopping at wireless hotspots where your network might not be secure.
- To see how GEICO protects you, and how you can protect yourself, see our security policy.
Even when in the privacy of your home, you can be susceptible to identity theft. An identity theft criminal needs little more than your Social Security number, bank information, or a pre-approved credit application to steal your identity. Here are a few tips to safeguard your personal information while at home.
Mail - Your inbound and outbound mail has more personal information than you may realize. To protect yourself, always be sure to:
- Remove your mail from your mailbox daily. If you are going to be away for a period of time, have the post office hold your mail or have a trusted friend or neighbor pick it up. If possible, you should also consider having a lock on your mailbox.
- Shred all unwanted documents. Bank statements, credit card bills, and pre-approved credit card applications can get lost between all of the other mail you get during the holidays. Dumpster diving is a common way identity thieves can get access to these documents, so simply throwing them in the trash is not enough.
- Take all checks and mail with account information directly to the post office, or a secure mailbox to prevent a thief from taking it from your mailbox.
Phone calls - The holidays are a common time for charities to ask for donations over the phone. But not all calls are from legitimate sources. An identity thief could pretend to be soliciting a donation for a charity, or act as a representative from your credit card company. You should never give out your financial information over the phone when someone calls you. If you'd like to make a donation, contact the organization yourself to ensure your gift is getting to those it was intended for.
¹ source: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/about-identity-theft.html as of August 15, 2011