The month of November typically brings to mind Thanksgiving gatherings, Black Friday shopping, Cyber Monday deals, traveling near and far, and giving back to charitable organizations. However, it’s also a time of increased identity theft and fraud as thieves attempt to take advantage of this hectic season when consumers may let their guard down when it comes to securing their personal information. While sensitive data is unfortunately targeted by thieves year-round, below are some ways – physically and digitally – that your information might be at an increased risk over the holidays.
If you’re hosting any holiday events this year or letting people stay in your home, you could be unintentionally exposing your personal data. It may seem unlikely that such trusted loved ones would steal your identity but unfortunately, family members account for more than 30% of identity theft criminals. If your sensitive documents, a stack of mail, a doctor’s bill, or even things like your child’s school paperwork are left out in the open, they could be enticing for someone who needs extra cash or a new credit card. In addition, your computer or tablet often contains a treasure trove of data, so if it’s not password protected, it also could be a gateway into stealing your personal information.
Tips to Stay Safe:
- Secure all personally identifiable information (PII) and documents as well as your wallet or purse.
- Make sure your computers, tablets, and other devices are password protected to prevent unauthorized access.
- If you don’t have a locked mailbox, and plan to travel during the holiday season when mail delivery is especially heavy, consider placing a hold on your mail so you’re not leaving PII vulnerable to thieves.
- Keep all bills, statements, and receipts out of sight, and consider tucking them away into a small safe.
- Shred any sensitive paperwork before discarding, including bills, account statements, health insurance paperwork, and more.
Given the chaos that typically ensues on Black Friday, thieves often find this to be an opportune time to steal personal information and/or money. From stolen wallets and purses to skimming credit card numbers, thieves are hoping to take advantage of your distracted mindset during this holiday season. They are also hoping that you might not be paying as close attention to your bills and statements with the influx of gift buying.
Tips to Stay Safe:
- Be mindful of others looking over your shoulder at the register, or following closely as you go about your shopping.
- Protect your payment cards just as you would your cash or other valuables.
- After you’ve made your purchases, check all bank statements regularly and determine if all of the purchases belong to you.
Cyber Monday often means an increase in online spending activity, which inevitably heightens your risk of having your information compromised. With so many websites offering great deals and scrambling for your attention on this particular day, it’s hard to decide which ads are legitimate and which ones are not. In addition, thieves might also be typosquatting, in which they publish fraudulent websites that appear legitimate on URLs that are misspellings of trusted sites in order to trick you into sharing your information. Thieves may also target you with an increased number of phishing emails and texts offering the latest deals.
Tips to Stay Safe:
- Only use reputable sites that have an HTTPS designation in the web address, and check the URL spelling carefully for typos.
- Install and/or update antivirus software.
- Monitor all of your online accounts carefully for signs of anything suspicious.
- Make sure your accounts are secured with a strong, unique password.
The holidays are an ideal time for giving and while there are many worthy causes to donate to, there are also scammers who are looking to take advantage of your goodwill. Things like high-pressure tactics to get you to donate immediately, only being able to donate using cash or a wire transfer, and/or the inability to show proof that the contribution is tax deductible are just a few red flags that might indicate it’s a scam. Thieves may also use this opportunity to steal your personal information. Therefore, when making any donations, especially during the holidays, make sure that you’re dealing directly with the charity of your choice and not with a copycat.
Tips to Stay Safe:
- When in doubt, look up the charity with Guidestar or the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance to confirm its legitimacy before making a donation or providing any personal information.
- Never send cash donations. If you choose to send a check, verify the best address to send a check to.
- Take your time. Charities always need your support so if you aren’t certain about the validity of an organization or are feeling pressured to donate immediately, it’s best to wait and donate after you’ve thoroughly researched them.
The power to protect your information is within reach, and it starts with securing both your online and physical data using the tips above. Additionally, if you have the financial means, you might consider purchasing identity theft protection from a reputable provider who may have tools to help you monitor more of your information than you would be able to by yourself and offer additional features to help you identify potential scams and further strengthen your protection. Give yourself the gift of peace of mind this holiday season by keeping identity-related crimes at bay.
Generali Global Assistance proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.