With the business of the holidays pulling us in several different directions at once, it’s all too easy to push thoughts of identity theft to the backburner. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to minimize your risk of having your identity stolen while developing good habits that can carry over all year long.
The following holiday checklist is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good starting point for securing your personal data and being mindful of where your identity may end up.
1. Traveling and booking travel – Safeguarding your data while traveling starts with the moment you get online to book your travel and accommodations. Be sure you’re only using legitimate, trustworthy sites before you enter any personal details, and avoid the too-good-to-be-true offers and flashy sidebar ads.
2. Entertaining – The holidays can mean hosting people in your home who otherwise wouldn’t be there, such as distant relatives, co-workers, or their “plus ones.” Make sure all of your identifying documents are locked up, and that your mail and important papers aren’t left out.
3. Shopping – It can be a struggle to shop for everyone on your list while getting the best deals, but it doesn’t have to be a portal to identity theft. If you shop online, make sure you’re only using sites with an HTTPS security designation, and that you use a trusted payment method that offers you consumer protections. When shopping in stores, be careful of your wallet and your mobile devices; make sure your smartphone is passcode protected and that you’ve logged out of any sensitive apps, just in case your phone falls into the wrong hands.
4. Banking – It’s tempting to throw those receipts in a drawer and vow not to think about them until after the holidays. But it’s far better to routinely log into your banking and credit card accounts from a secure computer, just to browse around for any signs of suspicious activity. Heading it off early will save you a lot of headaches down the road, and the ongoing glimpse at your accounts can actually help you stay on budget.
5. Gift giving – If you’re shopping for a child this year, be mindful of the “latest gadgets” on everybody’s wish list. Those hot high-tech items could hold potential identity theft dangers, especially if they connect over wifi, rely on an app to power them, or require the user to create an account. Think twice about buying gifts that gather too much information on the young user.
6. Purchasing new tech – While the holidays are a great time to invest in some new tech for your home, think carefully about how the device operates and what kind of information you have to share in order to power it. If you purchase Internet of Things-connected devices like smart home appliances and entertainment systems, make sure your home network is password protected and that your wifi router is secured.
7. Social media – Using social media at the holidays can be a lot of fun, but oversharing is never a good idea. Watch out for pictures of your family members that others post online, and be careful about posting photos of you and your family while out of town (which alerts a would-be criminal to your absence).
8. Giving to charity – Scammers know that many of us feel the urge to help others in need at the holidays. But while low-level scammers just want to steal your funds, more sophisticated thieves know that the real money comes from stealing permanent information about you, like your birthdate and Social Security number. Check out any charities you give to before you donate, and make sure you don’t hand over important personal details.
9. Gearing up for the New Year – When you think of New Year’s, you might envision a champagne toast at midnight, but tax return thieves are thinking of filing your return with the IRS as soon as the clock strikes midnight on 2017. Use some of the downtime before January 1st to get your paperwork in order so you can be ready to beat a thief to your filing.
10. Relaxing with family – Ultimately, the holidays are supposed to be a time of peace and togetherness but don’t think that means you can let your guard down. Identity thieves and scammers work through the holidays, and your work of reducing your risk has to go on year ‘round.
If you believe your personal data has been compromised, connect with the ITRC through our toll-free call center at (888) 400-5530. Find help on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.