(ARA) – While you’re trekking through the malls or cruising websites looking for great holiday bargains, it may be difficult to remember that not everyone around you is as caught up in the holiday spirit as you are. Some of your fellow shoppers may actually be identity thieves looking to parlay the season’s hustle and bustle into an opportunity to steal your personal information and, ultimately, your money.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that identity theft – the unauthorized use of your personal identifying information, like your name, Social Security number or credit card number, to commit fraud or other crimes – is approaching 10 million incidents per year.
According to the FTC, on average, it takes a victim an estimated $500 and 30 hours to resolve each incidence of identity theft. No one wants to lose that kind of money at any time of year, but those time and monetary costs can be even more stressful during the holidays.
“The holidays present a wealth of opportunity for identity thieves,” says Heather Battison, TransUnion‘s senior director responsible for consumer education. “The hectic holiday season can potentially expose our personal information to theft in both high-tech ways like phishing scams, and in traditional ones, such as a stolen wallet or mail theft.”
Fortunately, there are proactive steps you can take now, that will help minimize your exposure to identity theft. While these tips from TransUnion are useful year round, they’re especially important during the holiday season:
* When holiday shopping, only carry essential documents with you. Only take your driver’s license and the credit card or cards you intend to use that day. Do not carry your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport, and consider leaving at home other types of cards that may have identifying information on them, like wholesale club cards or library cards.
* The holidays mean plenty of extra trash. Shred everything that contains personal, identifying information before throwing it out.
* Keep a close eye on your credit card bills. This is especially important during the holidays, when close attention can help you catch any charges you don’t recognize on your statement. An added bonus – you’ll also be more aware of how much you’re spending and be better prepared to stay within your holiday spending budget.
* Monitor your credit. Consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service that will alert you via email to changes in your credit report. This way you will know quickly if someone else has tried to open a new credit account in your name.
* When shopping online, only do business with websites that have security measures in place to protect you. Before you provide any personal or payment information, look for a URL that begins with https (not http) and a lock emblem on the page, typically next to the address bar.
* Before you surf the “Net” on Cyber Monday, consider changing your account passwords and keep a list of them in a secure place. Passwords and PIN numbers should be a random mix of letters, numbers and special characters, which makes it harder for identity thieves to guess.
Preventing identity theft is important year round, and especially during the holidays. By taking steps to protect yourself, you can help ensure your holidays remain bright – and secure.