Identity fraud—when a stranger uses your personal information such as your credit-card number for personal gain—is a big worry when we’re online shopping. Still, it’s not how most identity fraud happens: It happens when we’re out shopping in regular stores or just being out and about in our daily life, says Joe Reynolds, product manager for identity fraud at Travelers Insurance in Hartford, CT.
Citing a recent Travelers’ comprehensive identity fraud claims report, “75 percent of all identity-fraud claims were for theft of wallets, purses, and stolen personal information,” says Reynolds. (The insurance company offers a $25 identity-fraud rider on your homeowner’s policy for expenses incurred as a result of fraud.)
To prevent identity fraud, Reynolds recommends getting back to the basics and keeping these tips in mind during for your post-holiday shopping and the rest of the year:
Keep your wallet and purse close to you. “We’ve had so many instances in which customers had been a victim of fraud because they left their personal information unattended,” says Reynolds. Stopping at the friendly neighborhood grocery store on the way home? Don’t leave your purse in the car, even if it’s just going to be a minute. “At the gas station, take your purse with you when you leave your car,” Reynolds says. Bury your wallet in the bottom of your purse, too, and make sure all the zippers are zipped and the snaps are snapped.
Guard your card. Anytime you swipe your card or input your PIN number, be mindful of others around you and hover over the credit-card machine. “It sounds goofy, but anytime we’re in a position in which we have to share personal information, we should be inconspicuous about it,” Reynolds advises. We’re instinctively secretive when we’re sharing personal information in public, such as whispering what’s medically wrong when talking to the pharmacist at the counter. The same idea applies to swiping, which is when we’re sharing our credit and debit card info.
Review your credit report. Why not start off 2012 with a copy of your credit report? You’re entitled to one free report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies, and the weeks after you’ve done your holiday shopping are a good time to check it. Look your report over to make sure nothing has been added to your report without your knowledge. For more information, go to the FTC website.
Make a list of your personal information. Create a list of all your credit card and bank information and store it in a secure place (not in your wallet) so that if you are a victim of identity fraud, you’ll have the numbers, including the phone numbers of customer-service departments, handy to remedy the situation quickly.
When you are shopping online, always log out completely. Just minimizing your browser may not be enough to keep others from accessing your online info.
For more information on how to protect yourself from identity fraud, check out “Steps to take to avoid identity fraud."