Safeguard your credit this holiday season
With billions of dollars of sales about to be tallied during the 2013 holiday season, both in stores and online, credit and debit cards will get a workout between now and the New Year. It’s a good time to remember a few rules for keeping these financial tools secure from credit thieves.
Agencies that monitor and rate consumers’ credit have substantial resources allocated to preventing credit fraud and ID theft. We spoke with Becky Frost, senior manager for Experian’s ProtectMyID.com program, about how to protect credit cards — and your financial identity — during the holidays. Frost offered a number of tips.
- Streamline your wallet. Leave anything you don't need, such as your Social Security card and excess credit cards, at home.
- If you’re paying with a debit card — and many credit pros recommend that you use a credit only card — use your hand to cover the pin pad when you key in your PIN.
- One bit of credit theft Frost talked about was the practice of “shoulder surfing.”
- “Don’t take out your card until it’s time to pay,” she warns, “a determined thief will watch you and can take a snapshot with a cell phone or a video of your card or pin entry if you expose your card or pin code to someone standing behind you.”
- Likewise, if the “15% off if you sign up for our credit card today” offer tempts you to go for it, Frost advises that you fill out your application away from prying eyes — in the changing room or somewhere private where your personal data entries cannot be observed.
- Never shop on a public wi-fi connection. Hackers can easily tap into wi-fi connections at public hot spots to steal your identity and credit card information.
- Use a secure website. The following items shown on your web browser will indicate a connection to a secure web site:
- https:// The “s” that is displayed after “http” indicates that the website is secure. Often, you do not see the “s” until you actually move to the order page on the website.
- A closed yellow padlock displayed at the bottom of your screen. If that lock is open, you should assume it is not a secure site.
- Look for online merchants who are members of a seal-of-approval program that sets voluntary guidelines for privacy-related practices. TRUSTe and BBBonline are two such programs.
- Pay attention to those January credit card bills. Check the purchases recorded to make sure they’re all yours.
- “The holidays are a great time to check your credit report,” says Becky. All three credit services — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — provide one free report per year.
- “Many consumers question the various email solicitations they receive for a ‘free credit report,’” she notes. “The place to go is annualcreditreport.com. It’s a basic way for you to check that all the information that credit services have about you is correct and up to date.”
For more tips on protecting your credit and financial ID, go here.