Watch Out for Credit Scams this Holiday Season
The holiday season can be a hectic one. Whether you're making a late-night drive for an extra carton of eggnog, getting family prim and proper for photos, or sending out the last batch of greeting cards, you'll likely spend a fair portion of the season just rushing around.
And keeping your credit information and other valuables safe from fraudsters is often the last thing on your mind during the holidays. But with all the seasonal commotion comes opportunities for personal information to end up in the hands of holiday Grinches.
So how do you make sure your information is safe? Well, you can take simple steps to ensure your personal identification is wrapped tighter than a present. Following a few simple precautions now can help ensure that your credit score and financial history are intact after the shopping season is over.
First, try not to leave your wallet or bank statements lying around in crowded areas. Identity thieves who get ahold of your information can pay for more than just their holiday shopping on your dime. Social Security cards also pose a risk, as do credit card receipts and duplicates, if they're accidentally left on a check-out counter or dropped on the mall floor.
Keeping vehicles locked up can also be beneficial. Parking garages are typically chaotic during the holidays, with car horns blaring as drivers rush to fill empty spots. With so many distractions, it can be easy to mistakenly leave your purchases next to your trunk or your wallet on top of your car.
And making it home safely doesn't mean your information is automatically protected. If you're expecting a package at the house, you may want to ask a friend or family member to be around to pick it up.
Proper phone safety is also important. You should be careful if you're asked for your credit card history or other information over the phone, especially from unsolicited callers. Chances are, if they're asking for suspicious donations, you should listen to your gut and withhold personal data, unless you're 100 percent certain it's the real deal.
Also, be wary of outside area codes, or of making return calls that could leave you with a heap of extra charges. If you're really getting spooked by unwanted callers, suspicions can always be forwarded to your state attorney general's Office, or you can register on the National Do-Not-Call Registry.
As always, remember that the Internet is a hotbed of illegal activity. One analyst says online shopping will rise 16 percent this year, The Wall Street Journal reports. Making use of proper Internet precautions is a must if you intend on skipping the lines at the local mall for digital check-outs.
When visiting websites, remember that a reputable company's security and privacy information should always be available and easily accessible on a secured website. Folks should also be careful about disclosing passwords and Social Security numbers — the vast majority of legitimate websites don't ask for (or need) that sort of information.
Proper virus protection can also be helpful, because viruses, malware, and spyware can infect your computer if you're not careful. In addition to ruining a functioning computer, these programs can steal your private data.
If your information falls into the wrong hands, you'll want to file a report with your local police immediately. Be sure to contact at least one of the credit bureaus as well. They can place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your files, which will help inform you of unauthorized use of your credit.
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