In case you havent noticed, the holiday shopping season is here again. But others have noticed, too those who arent looking for the perfect holiday gift. Among the hustle and bustle of getting the perfect presents at the lowest possible prices, often, consumers will let their guard down and give thieves in stores and online chances to steal their identities, information and money.
Amy L. Welch, communications director for the Oklahoma Society of Certified Public Accountants (OSCPA), said there are a number of ways consumers can be more cautious with their personal information and protect themselves during this (or any) shopping season.
Carry identification Consumers should always carry an ID and be prepared to show it with their cards at the time of purchase. While all card users are instructed to sign the backs of their credit and debit cards, some instead print See My ID Card to tell cashiers to verify a customers identity. Regardless, Welch said a buyer should beware.
Technically, if you dont sign your card, it isnt valid anyway and I have actually heard of merchants refusing to accept a card if you take it back and sign it in front of them, Welch said. I sign my card and put SEE PHOTO ID on the back, but they dont always ask to see my photo ID and I dont have any false sense of security by having it on there.
Welch said that monitoring your bank statements and credit reports will not prevent ID theft or forgery but it will mitigate damages if someone does get a hold of your credit or bank card.
Most liability is limited depending upon when it is reported, she said.
No major retailers have announced any beefed-up customer security procedures this year.
I would hope that, despite presumably long lines and the holiday rush, clerks take a little bit of extra time and ask for photo ID, Welch said. I certainly hope store owners and managers have taken a little time to educate their employees and taught them what to look for so everyone will keep a watchful eye.
Check statements While retailers continue to work on protecting their customers credit/debit card security, customers should always be vigilant.
Thieves and hackers will find ways to build a better mousetrap, so consumers should be proactive and check their bank statements and credit reports regularly.
It may give you peace of mind to subscribe to a service that will alert you if something comes up in your credit report, Welch said. I subscribe to one that charges about $10 a month, and I get an email and text any time my credit report changes.
Also, check a retailers information-sharing or -selling policies. They vary from company to company, but a customer buying a product from a given company especially an online company might inadvertently be giving away personal information, like a mailing address, phone numbers or email addresses.
Additionally, disputing bad purchases or theft can vary between banks and credit card companies. Credit cards usually offer the most protection, Welch said, but shoppers should keep their budget in mind when shopping.
Working with local banks is much easier because you can walk in and speak to a personal banker and that person generally walks you through what to do right then and in the following days.
However, while the process of challenging purchases with credit card companies is time-consuming and stressful, Welch saw those companies making strides in working with defrauded customers.
I believe major credit card companies are getting better at fraud resolution, and most have teams dedicated to helping card holders with those issues, Welch said.
Paper or plastic While security measures have improved, Welch said those who want to avoid having their information stolen might consider using pre-paid credit or debit cards.
[Buy and use one] that only has the amount of money that you budgeted for holiday shopping, she said, instead of using your debit card from your primary checking and savings account.
Regarding cash-only shopping, old-fashioned security precautions come into play for Welch. If you have a big-ticket item on your list, Welch does not advise walking around with a wad of cash.
Call for backup If you have been victimized, you should call the financial institution and immediately cancel the card and then call all three credit bureaus and report possible identity theft.
Go to ftc.gov and follow the consumer complaint and identity theft tabs, and that will offer helpful tips and instructions, Welch said.
Print headline: Shop safe, Dont let your credit or debit cards buy other peoples gifts this holiday season.