To kick off the 2010 holiday shopping season, Intersections Inc. advises holiday shoppers to take extra caution to avoid damaging their credit or becoming a victim of identity theft.
“Identity theft peaks this time of year — wallets are stolen, credit cards are accidentally left behind, and online fraudsters are ready to prey on their next victims — but there are simple steps consumers can take to avoid making careless decisions that can have a long-term effect on their financial well-being,” said Steve Schwartz, Executive Vice President, Consumer Services at Intersections Inc. “Intersections has worked to educate consumers on the risks of identity theft for more than a decade, and we encourage consumers to use these tips to protect themselves as they prepare for the coming season.”
- Protect your computer from online threats including money-stealing Trojans. According to the Q1 2010 PandaLabs Report, Trojans accounted for 61 percent of all malware and continue to be the leading choice of cyber criminals for stealing personal information as well as bank and credit card details. Cyber criminals are using more sophisticated Trojans to grab your bank account and credit card login information, disable your security software, and sneak into your bank account by pretending to be you. The best way to avoid Trojans is to (a) not open attachments or click on email links; (b) be careful where you surf and stick to online “neighborhoods” where you really feel safe; and (c) regularly patch your computer and update your anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall software.
- Take a tip from online merchants and “trust but verify.” A study conducted by BIGresearch found that about 32 percent of online shoppers will make their purchases on the web this year. As more and more people turn to the Internet for their holiday shopping, it’s important to make sure the websites they are using are secure and legitimate. The best way to determine if a website is safe is to see if there is an “s” in the website address, i.e., https:// instead of http://. Another way to make sure the website is safe is by looking for a closed padlock in the bottom of the screen; an open padlock indicates an insecure site. In addition, tools like IDVault securely store and enter user log-in data, preventing the information from being exposed to ID thieves. It also verifies the IP address of the site you are logging into to make sure it’s legitimate.
- Be careful buying gift cards. Gift cards will remain the most requested holiday gift this year. One of the latest gift card scams to recently surface is the increase of fraudulent gift cards being sold on auction sites. Sellers on auction sites are also taking advantage of unknowing buyers by overstating the value of the gift cards so buyers don’t end up with the gift card amount they think they are purchasing. Be sure you are purchasing gift cards from a reliable source.
- Avoid Tweet Traps! Scammers fully understand the power and reach of social networks, and gathering places like Facebook and Twitter are a feeding ground for all kinds of thieves this holiday season. The biggest threat to be wary of this year is the “Tweet Trap” — a message that appears to be from a trusted friend or follower passing on some great news, a real bargain, or a worthy cause, but instead hides spam, phishing fraud, or a malicious download. Consumers should be cautious about Tweets or Facebook messages about great holiday deals, must-have gifts, or hard luck stories, even if they are coming from “friends.” If they sound interesting, do your own research to see if they’re genuine, but don’t click or download!
- If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This scam has focused on promising shoppers the hard-to-find gift at an irresistible price and in most cases, the gift doesn’t exist, doesn’t arrive, the seller demands far more for it, or simply steals the shopper’s credit card information. But this year, hackers are upping the stakes by hacking into the search ranking systems of the major search engines like Yahoo! and Google so that their fraudulent or malware-infected web sites appear at the top of shopper searches. And most shoppers still believe that if a Web site is at the top of a search engine’s list, it has to be legitimate.
- Do NOT give out your financial information over the phone or email. If your bank or credit card company sends you an email or even calls you warning you of insufficient funds or other problems with your account, contact them directly using the customer service numbers posted on their websites. Don’t respond to their emails or to any number they provide in an email or phone message.
- Do a post-holiday credit health check-up. After the holidays are over, be sure to check your credit reports, credit card statements and bank statements to verify all transactions. Each transaction you made, either in retail stores or online, could have been compromised, adversely affecting your credit and your credit score. Notify your bank or credit card company immediately if you see anything suspicious.