Wrapping up your holiday shopping? Don't let the season's hectic pace keep you from guarding your personal information. If you're like most people, you're probably doing at least some of your shopping online — 3 in 5 of us plan on doing it this holiday season, according to a survey by Deloitte.
As safe and normal as online shopping feels, the world got another reality check just in time for Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month: Marriott announced that as many as 500 million guests had their identities compromised in a security data breach — and this exposure has been ongoing since 2014. It’s unclear what, exactly, the thieves have done with the information.
But security breaches like these can turn into costly problems for consumers. When identity thieves get hold of your information, they can plunder your bank account, open lines of credit in your name and run up debt. In the aftermath of having your identity stolen, it can take months or years to clear your name.
Even though the holiday shopping season is a busy one, it’s well worth setting aside an hour or so to safeguard your identity and personal information. Here's how you can stay safe and protect yourself from identity theft this holiday season.
Be wary of public WiFi: When it comes to public WiFi hotspots, hackers can have a field day. Before you use your personal devices to shop or check your account balance, it’s best to verify that you’re using a secure wireless network. Better yet, hold off on these activities when you’re on the go.
Don't take the phishing bait: Consumers will be busy shopping and confirming online orders, which is why phishing scams are a big concern this time of year. Before you click a link or download a file, verify the sender’s identity. Otherwise, you could expose your computer to a virus or spyware, either of which could be designed to capture credit card numbers and other personal details.
Update your passwords: One effect of living in a digital world is we all have so many passwords. Which is why most of us use the same password again and again. A word of advice: Don’t do it. Otherwise when the next security breach happens, the password on file will essentially give identity thieves and hackers a skeleton key to your money and your information. For solid tips on creating a secure, virtually hacker-proof password, follow these tips from the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team.
Safeguard your snail mail: While it’s important to keep our devices safe, paper is still a pathway to identity theft. Drop outgoing mail at a public mailbox. If you’re traveling this holiday season, have a vacation hold placed on your mail, rather than relying on a neighbor to bring it in — the holidays will be busy for them as well!
Check your statements twice: It’s always smart to review your accounts for unusual activity. If you’re sharing an account, don’t take your partner’s generosity for granted! Make sure each purchase is accounted for, and report breaches immediately to your financial institution. Remember, identity thieves open accounts in other people’s names, so if you see a piece of mail with an unusual return address, don’t assume it’s junk mail. Check it before you toss it in the recycling bin.
If you’re looking for a bank that views account holder security as something more than a buzzword, look no further than Minnwest Bank. To learn more about how to protect yourself online, check out our resources on personal security.