Protecting Your Identity During the Holiday Season

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Target made the news after 40 million credit card numbers were stolen between Black Friday and mid-December. This theft is being listed as the second largest credit card breach in United States history. Reportedly, the card information is being sold off in batches of one million cards at a time to anonymous buyers over the Internet.
We use credit and debit cards every day and most of us do not think twice about it. With the holiday season upon us, it seems like everyone is doing last minute shopping at places like Target to pick up last minute gifts. When we shop at these large stores, the last thing we want to worry about is whether our important information will be safe. There is nothing worse than thinking about your credit card information being sold to the highest bidder.

While it is almost impossible to completely protect your pertinent information (and subsequently your identity) if you are using a credit or debit card, there are some steps you can take to increase the odds of keeping your information safe.

1. Guard your account numbers, passwords, PINS, and social security number. Try to avoid having your social security number printed on your checks or driver’s license and never keep your social security card in your wallet. Additionally, PIN numbers should be committed to memory and not written down anywhere that may be accessed by strangers.
2. Pay close attention to credit card and bank statements. Looking at your statements regularly is the best way to catch suspicious spending as soon as it happens. By checking your statements regularly, you will be able to notify your bank or Credit Card Company quickly and hopefully prevent further unwanted spending.
3. Shred financial documents. Be sure to shred any documents that have personal information on them, such as mailings for pre-approved credit cards.
4. Make sure websites are secure. There are two indicators that will tell you if a website is secure. The first is a yellow lock at the bottom right hand corner of the screen. The second is the “s” at the end of the http: in the URL line of your browser. If you do not see these two indicators, it would be wise to find another, more secure, website to shop at.
5. Be careful when sharing a computer. This is especially important for young adults that are living with roommates. While it is convenient to have your browser save your username and password, this feature makes it even easier for someone sharing your computer to access your bank and credit card accounts. Be sure to never safe passwords and to clear cookies on your browser occasionally to keep your computer secure.
6. Protect your cellphone, tablet, and laptop from theft. These items are hot targets for thieves. Besides the fact that they are costly items, most people also keep important identification information on them. Be sure to always use passwords that contain upper and lower case letters, as well as numbers and symbols.
7. Keep copies of documents and cards. Keeping a copy of all cards will be particularly useful if your cards are ever stolen. If this happens, you will still have the 1-800 number on the back of the card so that you can quickly call and report the card stolen.
8. Treat mail with care. Always deposit mail with identifying information (such as an account number or social security number) in a secure drop box at the post office instead of your personal mailbox. Another step to protect your information is to switch to paperless billing. This prevents sensitive information from being deposited in your mailbox and made available to the public.
9. Avoid phishing scams. Avoid giving out your personal information over the phone, Internet, or by mail unless you are absolutely sure you know whom you are dealing with. Identity thieves will pose as bank representatives to get you to reveal personal information. If you feel unsure, call the bank directly and speak to a representative.
10. Be careful when using a free standing ATM. Whenever you are using a walkup ATM, be careful of the people around you and be sure they are not looking as you enter your PIN. Also, be sure to properly end the transaction and take all receipts when you are finished.

Merrida Coxwell is the managing partner of Coxwell & Associates, PLLC. Merrida has practiced law for over 33 years and focuses his efforts and attention on helping people who have suffered serious, long-term catastrophic injuries from the result of another person or business who has not followed the rules of safety and he represents people charged with criminal offenses.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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