Prevent identity theft during the holidays

It’s the holiday season and Wisconsinites are busy traveling, shopping, wrapping, decorating, cooking and more. And, while most folks will be filled with holiday cheer, there will be others who try to take advantage of shoppers this season.

“Criminals are lurking during the biggest shopping season of the year, waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of stressed and distracted shoppers – and identity theft is becoming a more lucrative crime,” says Ron Von Haden, CIC, Executive Vice President of the Professional Insurance Agents of Wisconsin (PIAW). According to the Wisconsin Office of Privacy Protection; close to 3,000 Wisconsinites reported being victims of identity theft in 2009. “The number of unreported thefts in certainly much higher,” Von Haden.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), identity theft affects ten million victims each year, costing individuals and businesses $52 billion. And that number is expected to increase as identity thieves become more sophisticated.

“The good news is that there are ways to keep identity thieves from stealing your credit card information and other personal data – you just need to be vigilant and be aware of any red flags or warning signs. If you think something is fishy, it probably is,” Von Haden notes.

  • When shopping at the mall or neighborhood stores; carry your wallet or purse securely. Also, purge your wallet or purse of unneeded credit cards. And be sure to leave your social security card and check book at home.
  • Write “Check Photo ID” in permanent ink on your credit card, near your signature. This will remind cashiers to check your identity before processing your cards.
  • Be aware of people standing near you when making purchases. Identity thieves have been known to take pictures of cards on cell phone cameras.
  • Before buying anything online, make sure the site is secure. Secure sites will have “https” instead of “http” in the web address.
  • Always review your credit card statements carefully to be sure that the charges listed are correct. Credit card companies only give consumers 60 days to dispute charges and they must be disputed in writing.
  • Be aware of phishing schemes or fundraising scams. “Unscrupulous thieves are very good at making emails look like they are coming from legitimate charities and other institutions,” says Von Haden. “Don’t click on a link in the email, type in the website address so you know you are being taken to the proper and legitimate website.”
  • Give to organizations your family has an existing relationship with or those that speak to a cause you believe in.

Many insurance companies are offering identity theft insurance. Coverage typically costs from $20 to $100 a year as a rider to a basic homeowner’s policy or as a stand-alone purchase.

“This insurance can be helpful to reimburse consumers for long-distance phone calls, legal expenses and more,” says Von Haden. “Your professional independent insurance agent can discuss the benefits and costs of identity theft insurance so you can determine whether it’s right for you.”

For more information or to locate a PIAW member near you, look for the PIAW logo or go to www.PIAW.org.

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