Identity Theft: A Holiday Hazard

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Santa is generally happy to let you borrow his name during the holidays. But most cases of identity theft are a lot less innocent. They’re also more common than you might believe. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 27.3 million Americans had personal information stolen over the last five years.

Here are suggestions that may prevent thieves from ruining your holiday season.

  • Keep your wallet in sight. A Federal Trade Commission sponsored survey indicates that the most common way criminals gained access to personal information was through a lost or stolen wallet. Keep an eye—or a hand—on your wallet while paying for gifts or signing credit card receipts. You might also consider storing only one credit card in your wallet, and carrying your driver’s license or other identification in another pocket.
  • Learn your billing cycle. Do you know when credit card statements usually arrive in your mailbox? Identity thieves have been known to file change of address cards, diverting statements to a false address. Having a good idea of the billing cycles of your cards can alert you to a problem. In fact, 52% of the victims surveyed by the FTC discovered the identity theft by monitoring accounts.
  • Add a shredder to your Christmas wish list. Then use it before tossing any piece of paper that contains personal information such as account numbers, social security numbers, personal identification numbers and dates of birth.
  • Review your credit report. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, which becomes effective January 1, 2004, will let you obtain one copy of your report per year free of charge. Until then, you can order the report for a fee from the major credit bureaus.
  • Know what to do if the unthinkable happens. While identity theft insurance and credit monitoring services are available, they may not be worth the expense. Create your own list of phone numbers for the companies you have credit with. That way you’ll be able to promptly report stolen cards or suspect transactions and close affected accounts.

    The FTC recommends that you file a police report, as well as a complaint with the commission.

Protecting your personal information adds a bit more work to an already hectic time of year. But making vigilance a habit can keep the ho-ho-ho in your holiday—and may also serve as a year round defense against identity theft.

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