Identity theft claimed 10 million victims in 2008, a 22 percent increase over 2007, according to a report from Javelin Strategy and Research. Better Business Bureau warns that the holiday season provides many new opportunities for identity thieves to ply their trade and offers the following advice on how to keep your identity safe and secure both online and off.
“Identity theft can happen to you whether you’re shopping online or shopping at the mall, making it critical that we all take specific steps to fight both low and high-tech ID thieves,” said Alison Southwick, BBB spokesperson. “Having your credit card numbers stolen or your computer maliciously hacked will put a damper on anyone’s holiday cheer.”
BBB recommends taking the following steps to fight identity theft this holiday season:
Online Shopping Tips
Forty-four percent of holiday shoppers make purchases online and every year scammers devise online schemes to trick them into divulging personal information such as credit card numbers. BBB recommends that online shoppers:
• Confirm the legitimacy of all “trust marks.” You can confirm that certification from organizations such as BBB, Versign or TRUSTe is legitimate by clicking on the seal. A legitimate seal will direct you to the certifying organization’s Web site.
• Make online purchases with a credit card. If the credit card number lands in the hands of ID thieves, remember your Fair Credit Billing Act protection which allows you to dispute the charges with your credit card company.
• Only pay on a secured site. Always look in the address box for the “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol before paying. If there are any doubts about a site when using Internet Explorer, BBB recommends right-clicking anywhere on the page to select “Properties.” This will let you see the real URL (Web site address) and the dialog box will reveal if the site is not encrypted. If using Firefox, click on Tools in the menu bar, then Page Info.
In-Store Shopping Tips
Increased traffic at malls and retailers means more opportunity for ID thieves. When fighting the crowds, BBB offers the following advice for shoppers:
• Prevent pick pocketing. Keep your purse tucked securely under your arm and your wallet in a front pocket or other safer place than a back pocket. And don’t bog yourself down by too many shopping bags.
• Keep receipts in your wallet. Retailers are required to maintain the privacy of all but the last four digits of the credit or debit card used to make a purchase but it is still a good idea to keep all your receipts together in safe place rather than in your bag.
• Review your credit card statement regularly. Check your credit card activity weekly during the holiday season—rather than waiting for the statement at the end of the month—in order to catch suspicious charges as quickly as possible and immediately report any irregularities to your credit card company.
Fight E-mail Phishing Attempts
Many holiday scams can be found in your email in-box. BBB recommends the following steps to protect your computer from hackers:
• Purchase anti-virus software from a business you trust. Make sure you update your computer’s operating system, browser program, and antivirus software and install all security patches.
• Be wary of emails from retailers, banks or shipping businesses. If you receive an e-mail from your bank, retailer or a shipping company claiming that there is a problem with your account or delivery, do not click on any links in the email or reply with any information. Instead contact the business directly to confirm the issue.
• Be extremely cautious when viewing e-cards. In the past, scammers have created fake e-mail notices that claim generically that a "friend" or "family member" has sent them a card. In some cases, victims have clicked on a link that has installed a virus on their computer or their computer caught the virus when the victims installed supposed software needed to view the e-card.
For more advice on keeping your identity safe over the holidays, visit bbb.org.