Ah, the holidays are here. Hopefully you’ve had time for family gatherings, friendly fights over the best leftovers, and a serving of identity theft on the side!
What’s that? You were hoping to avoid that last item? It’s true, being a victim of credit card fraud or identity theft would put a real damper on anyone’s holiday spirit. Unfortunately, fraud is a real risk: In 2014, 12.7 million consumers experienced identity theft, to the tune of $16 billion stolen, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, which analyzes these crimes each year.
U.S. laws and bank regulations go a long way toward protecting consumers, but identity fraud can be difficult to untangle, and even if you’re lucky enough not to lose a penny in the end, it will cost you lots of time and frustration to fix.
Fortunately, identity fraud is one of those issues where the best defense is a good offense. You can take active steps to protect your identity, and your personal and financial information, whether you’re shopping online or at the mall, or just enjoying the holiday season with friends and family.
Follow these tips to be a savvy consumer year-round:
• Password-protect your mobile devices and computers. Do not disable your password for ease of use! Remember how long it would take to deal with the consequences of a thief getting a hold of your personal data, and an extra second or two to get to your apps won’t seem very long.
• When you’re shopping online, make sure the site URL begins with https:// (not just http://), and make sure every page continues to use https://, especially when you’re entering payment or personal information. Many browsers indicate a secure site with a lock or other icon so you’ll know the page is using security protocols to protect the information you submit.
• Set your phone so that it doesn’t automatically connect to free, unsecured wifi networks. If you need to send personal or payment information while you’re out and about, use your phone’s data network, or use a password-protected wifi network if one is available. (WPA2 security is the strongest commonly available, and it will require a password.)
• Review each bank and credit card statement carefully, and contact the bank or your credit card company immediately if you see something amiss.
• Check your credit report at least once a year, and contact the credit bureau immediately if you see information you don’t recognize.
There are many more ways to protect yourself—check out the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s consumer information on identity fraud to make sure you’re buttoned up when it comes to security this holiday season.