But with more credit cards in circulation now than at any other time of the year and online shopping increasingly seen as a better alternative to marching through the crowds in search of gifts, a refresher course in ID protection is in order.
Despite secure Internet networks and the growing availability of insurance coverage for identity fraud, a new study by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners shows 57% of Americans are worried about becoming a victim of identity theft this holiday season. Here are four reminders to help you safeguard your personal data:
Know what's in your wallet.
Do not carry your Social Security number or any credit cards you don't need. Instead, you would be wise to keep the customer-service phone numbers for your checking account and the cards you do use so you know exactly how to reach your bank and request a stop on the account should anything get stolen. Keeping your Social Security card in a home safe or safety deposit box is a good idea, advises Catharine Weatherford, CEO of NAIC, the agency that conducted the survey.
Treat junk mail with caution.
Most people instinctively toss it away, but remember that if impostors harvest your trash, some of your discarded correspondence may contain enough personal information for them to apply for a loan. This is especially true for preapproved credit offers. "It's even more important to shred if you live in a big city," says Weatherford," because it's much easier for someone to get into your trash bag." Those bags tend to be more exposed in big cities than smaller towns.
Consider joining a credit-monitoring service.
It will track your credit activities and alert you when someone applies for credit in your name or when account information is altered. One leader in this complicated field is LifeLock, which promises to give you up to $1,000,000 to recover your good name if you become a victim of credit theft while you are their client. WalletLock, a new product, will even replace lost or stolen items from your wallet or purse.
When damage is done, act quickly.
If you notice a new account has been opened in your name without your authorization, immediately contact one of the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion -- and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your record. Once the alert is placed, future creditors will be required to contact you directly before opening new accounts or making changes to existing ones. In addition, file a police report and submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission.
By Marshall Loeb