Protecting Your Identity during the Holiday Season

by Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Family Finance Extension Specialist

The holiday season is in full swing! This can be one of the busiest times of year as we juggle office and school holiday parties, gift purchasing, and family celebrations. This is also the biggest shopping season of the year, making holiday shopping hot-spots, including brick and mortar stores and online retailers, primary targets for identity thieves. 

Here are six simple steps that you can take to help protect yourself this holiday season (and year-round):

  • Be aware of your surroundings while shopping.
    Is someone standing too close behind you in line? Are they taking pictures with their cell phone? These could be signs of “shoulder-surfers” who try to take a picture or write down your credit card information from behind. To limit the opportunity of shoulder-surfers only have your credit card out while your transaction is taking place and use your hand to cover important information such as your credit card number, pin number, and name.   
  • Limit what you bring and/or carry with you.
    When you are shopping, it is important to have your hands free. Limit what you bring with you shopping so that you are not constantly sitting down with a purse or other items that could be forgotten or left behind. It is important to carry your driver’s license, but do not bring extra credit or identity cards with you. Your Social Security ID card should definitely be left at home in a safe place. 
  • Protect your smart phone.
    Smart phones are designed to put information at our fingertips.  Many people use their smartphone for banking, online shopping, and to track personal information.  Be certain to have safeguards in place on your smartphone in case it is lost or stolen to prevent someone from instantly gaining access to all of your personal information. If your smart phone has an auto-lock, consider setting up a unique passcode. Automatic log-in on apps and the “remember-me” feature on websites can be very handy; however, they also allow a thief instant access to your personal information. 
  • Shop with cash or credit.
    Shopping with cash is a great way to limit your holiday spending and stay within your budget. However, some individuals may find it more practical to shop with their credit or debit card. Use your credit card instead of your debit card. Your credit card will offer additional protections if it is lost or stolen as compared to your debit card. 
  • Be mindful of your accounts
    It is easy to overspend during the holiday season. Being mindful of your accounts and transactions will help you stay both within your budget and aware of any fraudulent activity. Double-check your transactions to make certain that they match your purchases. Often credit card thieves will only make small dollar amount purchases to make it less likely for you to notice the transactions on your bill. 
  • Safety first, when online shopping.
    When shopping online, you are often entering a tremendous amount of personal information, including your name, phone number, address, etc., not to mention your credit card information. Always make certain that you are using a personal/home computer for online shopping. Public computers, like those at work or the public library, may store your information that someone could access later. Be certain the website you are using is secure. Once you enter into the shopping cart phase of a website, the web address should have an “s” after the http. The “s” indicates that your data will be transmitted securely. Also, be certain that you are on a legitimate retailer’s site. Knock-off websites do exist and at times it may be difficult to tell the difference from the real thing. 

Safeguarding your identity is important year-round. The strategies to protect your identity are easy and quick to introduce into your shopping routine.  

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