The official start of the holiday shopping season is just around the corner.  Yes, I am one of those crazy people who go out “Black Friday” shopping, and any of you that have ventured out on Black Friday know how crazy it can be.  By the end of the shopping day, I’m bleary-eyed and my legs are about ready to give out on me (all in the pursuit of a good deal).

 

I am also one of those people who only shops with plastic. I hardly ever have cash on me, and amid the craziness of the day, it can be easy to lose track of your belongings – especially your purse (which contains all the plastic)! The few times I have left my purse somewhere, I’ve been lucky enough to have an honest person return it to me or have the store call and tell me they’ve found it.  However, on Black Friday, with all the hustle and bustle of the day, an unattended bag or purse is an easy target for thieves.

To help safeguard your plastic, your accounts, and ultimately your identity, this Black Friday, and the rest of the holiday shopping season, follow these simple rules:

  1. Cut the cards. Minimize the number of credit and debit cards you use. Carry only one or two at a time.
  2. Cancel unused accounts. They’re additional targets for identity thieves.
  3. Carefully review your accounts, including financial statements, bank and credit statements.
  4. Keep a list and/or photocopies of all accounts. Be sure to store that information in a secure place (not in your wallet or purse). Remember to include credit and debit card accounts, bank accounts and investment accounts. List account numbers and phone numbers for customer service and fraud departments so you can contact them quickly if cards are stolen or accounts are abused.
  5. Avoid using a PIN-based debit card for purchases when traveling or in any place where you aren’t completely familiar with the personnel.
  6. With unfamiliar merchants, use a credit card, which is better protected, or elect to use a non-PIN-based transaction. PIN-based transactions are easily “skimmed,” making your checking account vulnerable to theft.
  7. Run debit card purchases as credit. Never use a card as a debit unless it’s absolutely necessary, say at the bank or ATM.  Why? Because more protections exist for credit cards, and credit card fraud claims are less likely to get declined.

Despite your best efforts, it’s still possible a hacker could uncover your private information. What should you do if you suspect someone has hijacked your identity or stolen your credit or debit accounts?

  1. File a detailed report with local law enforcement.
  2. Place a fraud alert on your credit file with any one of the three major credit bureaus. An alert signals to potential creditors that you may be a victim of identity theft.
  3. Review your credit report thoroughly for any unusual activity.
  4. Consider placing a security freeze on your credit report. A freeze locks access to your credit, so no one will be able to open a new account in your name. When you’re applying for credit, you can lift the freeze temporarily.
  5. Contact existing creditors—your bank and credit card companies—to tell them you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
  6. Victims of debit card fraud should do two things:
    1. Notify their financial institution immediately. The time frame to dispute debit card fraud is narrower than it is for credit card fraud.
    2. Shut down the card and ask for a new one. This avoids future fraud committed on the same account.

Identity theft can happen to anyone. 

I hope you have a safe and happy holiday shopping season!

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