By Robyn A. Friedman
City & Shore Magazine
With the holidays just around the corner, you’re no doubt in the midst of the hustle and bustle of shopping for gifts. But don’t let that hustle and bustle distract you from being a vigilant shopper. After all, experts say the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft or credit card fraud increases during the holidays.
“The holiday season is a heightened time for fraud,” says Ayleen Alfonso, fraud and compliance manager for Sunrise-based BrightStar Credit Union. “While shoppers are out looking for good deals, fraudsters are targeting consumers.”
Losses resulting from scams or fraud can damage your financial security – and may take months or longer to resolve. So, diligence is key, especially for older adults, who are often targeted by criminals. The FBI reports that millions of older Americans fall victim every year to some type of financial fraud, and, according to AARP, total losses due to cybercrimes surpassed $4.2 billion in 2020, with those 50 and older representing losses of $1.8 billion.
The good news is that there are some basic steps you can take to shop safely, whether in person or online.
- Use caution when shopping online. Criminals use sophisticated schemes to trap unsuspecting shoppers. Shop from reputable sites, and use a credit card that offers fraud protection. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you shop only at websites that use encryption to protect your information during the transaction. These sites start with “https” at the beginning of the URL.
- Keep good records. When you purchase something, whether in person or online, retain the receipt and be sure to compare it to your credit card bill.
- Protect your mailbox. Many people still receive bank statements and credit card bills by snail mail. These documents can contain sensitive information that can be used to steal your identity. Other mail, such as tax or healthcare forms and pre-approved credit card offers, can be stolen from your mailbox as well.
- Implement two-factor authentication codes. These provide an extra layer of protection for your online accounts, as they require two pieces of information to access accounts – the password you use to sign in and a six-digit verification code sent to your phone or other trusted device.
- Review credit reports regularly. According to BrightStar, consumers are entitled to free credit reports every year from the three national credit bureaus. It’s essential to review your credit report because they frequently contain errors. You should also check for unauthorized charges or withdrawals and ensure that your address and other information is correct.
- Be careful on social media. Scammers know it’s common to create passwords based on a dog’s name, mother’s maiden name, birthday, anniversary or other personal information. First, avoid using such easily discoverable information for passwords. Second, avoid posting any of this information publicly on Facebook or other social media platforms. Max out your privacy settings, and avoid playing “games” posted online that ask you to respond with information that scammers can use to guess your account passwords.
If you do become a victim of a scam or identity theft, contact your financial institution immediately. Consider also placing a fraud alert on your credit report or freezing your credit. And don’t forget to change your logins, passwords and PINs for all bank, credit card and other financial accounts.