What in the world do we have to learn from Ebenezer Scrooge about protecting our identities during the busy holiday season? Plenty!
Scrooge was a miserly old git who wouldn’t share anything—his coal, his wealth, his love. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future scared him into realizing that giving generously is what the holidays (and life) are all about. But the ghosts forgot to mention that as he donated his wealth, paid for Tiny Tim’s medical care, and purchased gifts for all of London, he should continue to be miserly with his personal information!
Distraction is our worst enemy. During the holidays, in addition to spending more money, we tend to be busier, more stressed out, and less careful than other times of the year. Identity thieves take advantage of our distraction to perform information extraction. In the spirit of Charles Dickens, here are Scrooge’s top five holiday prevention tips:
- Protect your home. Your greatest risk during the busyness is all of the extra people that come into your home. It makes it very easy to pocket a checkbook that’s on your desk or a brokerage statement in your filing cabinet. We’d all like to believe that the people we know wouldn’t steal from us. Unfortunately, statistics prove that identity theft is committed by someone the victim knows approximately 30 to 50 percent of the time. I recommend that you shred every document you don’t need and buy a fire-safe to lock up your valuable identity documents. These make great gifts for people you care about!
- Use your credit card. Don’t use checks and don’t use a debit card. When you use either of these forms of payment, the money is drawn directly from your bank account. If fraud does occur, it’s harder to get the money reimbursed and in the meantime, you don’t have the money to spend. When you use a credit card, nothing is withdrawn from your bank account. In addition, credit cards generally give you a longer period (ninety days) to catch the fraud before you are held liable. Debit cards generally give you thirty days.
- Leave your purse at home. For women, take a wallet that fits in your coat pocket and leave your purse at home. It is too easy to steal a purse (40 percent of all identity theft) that is sitting at your feet as you pay or have lunch. The very best advice is to take your driver’s license and one or two credit cards with you shopping and store them in your front pocket. The chances that you will lose them decreases exponentially as you leave more at home. If you must have a purse, use one that zips and hangs in front of you.
- Watch your statements. Most forms of holiday identity theft can be caught simply by monitoring your checking, debit, and credit card accounts frequently. Remember, the pain of this crime gets much worse if you don’t catch it quickly. By monitoring your financial statements, you will catch credit card and check theft immediately. I recommend that you monitor your accounts online, which is fast, convenient, and smart. Even better, sign up for automatic account alerts when any transaction occurs on your account. If you spend $1 at a store, you receive an email notifying you of the purchase. If you receive an email for an amount you didn’t spend—bingo—you’re probably a victim of fraud. Visit your bank online to set up account alerts.
- Give yourself the gift of identity monitoring. It is impossible to track all of the ways our identities are exposed, which is why I use identity monitoring. To learn about the best way to monitor your online identity (credit reports, noncredit loans, cyber attacks, public records, etc.), read my review of identity monitoring services  and learn how to save almost 50 percent on the best service available.
Please remember that your private information is your property. Treat it with care and have safe and happy holidays.