With Christmas quickly approaching, U.S. consumers are making their lists, checking them twice, and preparing to head online and to the shopping malls to find the best deals and the best gifts for this holiday season. But while the holiday season is merry for most, many Americans are also concerned that some of their fellow shoppers may actually be identity thieves looking to parlay the season's hustle and bustle into an opportunity to steal their personal information and, ultimately, their money.
According to a recent Google Consumer Survey conducted by TransUnion, nearly half (47 percent) of Americans surveyed said they are very or somewhat afraid of having their identity stolen while holiday shopping this season.
"The holidays present a wealth of opportunity for identity thieves," says Julie Springer, vice president at TransUnion. "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."
Consumers should keep the following tips in mind this 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. The additional attention to your bill 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 the emblem of a lock on the page, typically next to the address bar.