The holidays should be a joyous time of celebration and not a time of worry. But identity theft is a problem that affects us all. It was just one year ago that sophisticated cyber thieves accessed Target’s computer system and stole 40 million credit and debit card numbers and personal information on 70 million customers. It was a huge wake-up call for retailers and consumers alike. Consumers vowed to be more careful with their personal data, and retailers redoubled their efforts to make every customer transaction failsafe Unfortunately, despite companies spending more than $4 billion so far this year to combat the problem, cyber attacks have not only continued but have escalated. According to information compiled by the Identity Theft Resource Center, major data breaches are up about 25 percent over this time last year. Home Depot, J. P. Morgan, Kmart, ebay, Neiman Marcus, Walgreens, and the U.S. Postal Service all experienced security breaches in 2014, exposing data on tens of millions of customers. No wonder 60 Minutes recently dubbed 2014 “the year of the data breach.”
While safer days are ahead of us as banks and retailers gear up to roll out the more secure pin and chip credit cards in 2015, shoppers can do their part this holiday season to keep their identity as safe as possible.
10 Tips for Safer Shopping—Online and in Stores
1. Strengthen and Protect Passwords
“123456” is not a legitimate password, yet 60 Minutes reports it’s one of the most common ones used. A strong password consists of a combination of at least 8 letters, numbers, and symbols. Store passwords in an online password safe, never in a desk drawer or wallet.
2. Vary Emails
Do not use the same password for multiple email accounts, and always keep your banking emails separate from other email accounts.
3. Use a Credit Card Rather than a Debit Card
Credit cards are generally more secure than a debit card, which links directly to your
bank account. If you absolutely must use your debit card, be sure to have the cashier run it as a credit card so you won’t have to input your pin number.
4. Review Bank and Credit Card Statements
Review your statements each month and question any suspicious expenses, no matter how small. Cyber thieves sometimes “test” a card with low-cost purchases first.
To ensure the website is safe for transactions, make sure “https” is part of the address in the URL, and look for the padlock icon, typically found in the bottom right-hand corner of your browser. Use a credit card rather than a debit card, and under no circumstances give out your social security number.
6. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
With so much emphasis on cyber security, we forget sometimes about the still very real threat of pickpockets. Pocketbooks and backpacks should be kept closed and when possible carried in front of your body. Men should keep wallets in a front pants or jacket pocket. Limit the amount of cash and number of credit cards in your wallet, and never carry your social security card.
7. Treat Your Social Security Number Like Gold
You’d be amazed at the damage an identity thief can do with just your name and social security number. Memorize the number so you don’t have to carry the card with you, and share it only with employers and banks.
8. Guard Your “Snail Mail”
If paying bank and credit card bills by mail, put the envelopes directly into a secured U.S. post box, rather than in your door slot where anyone can grab it and access your account numbers.
9. Sign Up for Alerts
Ask your bank to alert you via email or text for any transaction over a certain threshold amount, such as $250.00.
10. Use Two-Factor Authentication
More and more banks and websites are offering this service, which requires an additional security step above and beyond your username and password. Typically a passcode is generated anew and sent to your phone each time you want to log on.
Follow these tips to ensure your identity is protected throughout the holidays, and all year long. From all of us on the IdentityForce team, we wish you and yours a joyous, magical, and secure holiday season.