December is the biggest month of the year for shopping and when consumers are the most risk for identity theft, particularly given more deals are completed online.
Arvest Bank warns that consumers take nothing for granted and proactively work to protect themselves from identity thieves. A typical identity theft event can take months to unravel the damage done to credit card and bank accounts.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said identity theft is the No. 1 type of consumer fraud in the U.S., resulting in about 9 million people annually having their identity stolen.
“We are concerned because our customers are concerned about how to best protect themselves while shopping for the holidays,” said Gaye Wilcox, Sales Manager at Arvest Bank in Fayetteville. “Having your identity stolen can happen at any time but the holidays offer more opportunities and more options for identity thieves. Since a greater number of consumers are out shopping all at once, dishonest people looking to prey upon those consumers are active at the same time.”
Experts said the financial losses resulting from identity theft exceed $50 billion annually. On a case-by-case basis, that means approximately 7% of all adults have their identities misused with each instance resulting in approximately $3,500 in losses.
December is Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month and the FTC shares the following consumer tips for avoiding attacks to steal their identity.
• Keep tangible personal information documents secure. Lock financial documents and records in a safe place at home. Likewise, shred all documents that show personal, financial, and medical information before you dispose of them.
• Limit what you carry. When you go out, only take the necessary documents – usually one form of identification and one credit or debit card. Leave other documents, including your social security card, in a safe place at home.
• Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, make sure the web address begins with “https.” Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.
• Don’t respond to email, text, and phone messages that ask for personal information. Legitimate companies don’t ask for information this way. Delete the messages.
• Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall on your computer. Also set your computer’s operating system, web browser, and security system to update automatically.
• Create passwords that mix letters, numbers, and special characters. Don’t use the same password for more than one account.
• Before you dispose of a computer, get rid of all the personal information it stores. Additionally, never store personal information on a public computer and always log out of anything that requires a password.
• Encrypt your data. Keep your browser secure. To guard your online transactions, use encryption software that scrambles information you send over the internet. A “lock” icon on the status bar of your internet browser means your information will be safe when it’s transmitted. Look for the lock before you send personal or financial information online.
• Read your credit reports. You have a right to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. Order all three at once, or order one report every four months. To order, go to annualcreditreport.com.