T he holiday shopping season is here, and you’re likely running from store to store. If you’re like me, you whip out your debit or credit card without a moment’s hesitation. It’s easy in the frenzy of the season to lose track of what you’ve spent or where you used your card last. That’s why identify theft is so prevalent in December.
Take a minute to consider these suggestions to ensure your information doesn’t fall into the hands of thieves.
Pack lightly • Too often we keep all of our credit/debit cards tucked away in a wallet for safekeeping. However, if your wallet is lost or stolen, you not only have to notify each respective bank, but a fraudster who finds the cards has instant access to card numbers, security codes, and expiration dates. Instead, the Federal Trade Commission recommends taking only the card you need for that specific trip and stashing it in a location other than a wallet or purse.
Tag along • Whether dining at a restaurant or shopping at the mall, never let your card out of sight when paying for services. Ask waiters and clerks politely to let you tag along for the transaction rather than letting them walk off with your card. Card-swiping devices — even simple photos — easily record card info that can later be used to make fraudulent purchases.
Be sneaky • When using ATMs or other devices requiring your PIN, cover the keypad with one hand while typing your code with the other. “That way, if there’s a pinhole camera being used to catch your PIN, that picture can’t be taken,” advises First Tennessee Bank’s corporate banking director, Chris Van Steenberg.
Shop wisely • While Van Steenberg says the safest places to use credit or debit cards are major or well-known stores and websites, sometimes shoppers want to purchase specialty items they can only find at craft shows or smaller merchants. Van Steenberg says it’s best to use a credit card, rather than debit, in these instances. “If there is fraud on your account, you’re not going to have your personal funds at risk.”
Know the signs • Holiday shopping is full of online purchases. However, before typing in a credit card number, ensure the site is secure. Check for a closed lock at the bottom right of the screen or a web address beginning with ‘https.’ Clicking the closed lock should also display the same ‘https’ web address. Always use secure payment options such as Paypal or Google Wallet when available.
Monitor accounts • Regardless of time of year, Van Steenberg reminds shoppers to monitor statements and accounts at least monthly, if not more frequently. If fraud is suspected, contact your bank immediately to initiate a fraud claim.