‘Tis the season to prevent holiday identity theft

The holiday season is not only a prime time for shopping and gift giving, but also a prime working time for hackers and identity thieves. To help keep your clients from falling victim to credit card or identity theft, share some important ways they can prevent holiday identity theft.

In recent years, nearly 30 million consumers’ records have been compromised in 818 data breaches with no warning. Studies have shown that consumers have a tendency to overlook the potential threat of their identities and accounts being stolen as the holidays near, because they’re preoccupied with finding that perfect gift for everyone on their list.


Provide these tips for online shopping safety

This year, Cyber Monday sales outpaced Black Friday sales for the third year in a row. Deloitte found that 22 percent are using a mobile wallet app in the store, and 40 percent are using retailers’ apps on their smart phone. With the increase in credit card and wallet app purchases during the holiday season, your clients are at a greater risk for identity theft.

These online shopping precautionary steps from USA Today can help your clients safeguard their assets and prevent holiday identity theft:

  • Verify the address bar contains a padlock or has a URL that starts with a “https” instead of “http.” The “s” in “https” is a security indicator.
  • Use a secure payment method when shopping online. Credit cards and PayPal are more apt to provide protection in the case of a dispute. Well-known security labels are DigiCert and VeriSign.
  • Think outside the box when creating a new password: consider a passphrase, a long sequence of strung-together words, with a symbol and number as well. The longer, the better.
  • Be well-informed: Research the product and read the reviews from previous buyers to learn about the reputation of the seller.
  • Beware of downloading counterfeit apps. Instead, make sure the app is legitimate by downloading it from the company’s website, not via an email, a Pinterest post, etc.
  • Don’t shop online using a public Wi-Fi network. Private information can be easily tracked and logged without one’s knowledge. A better and safer alternative to free Wi-Fi is using your smartphone as a hotspot or shopping with gift cards because they require no personal information to be provided.

For the past four years, between the months of November and January, there has been a higher-than-normal increase of fraudulent financial activity reported to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) call center.

Although fraud is reported daily, the holiday peak in financial transactions is optimal for theft because consumers are spending more and perhaps paying less attention to their transaction records. The 2017 Identity Fraud Study, released by Javelin Strategy & Research, found that $16 billion was stolen from 15.4 million U.S. consumers in 2016. In the past six years, identity thieves have stolen more than $107 billion.

Related: Cybersecurity and data protection in our new reality


Account takeover fraud

Over 13 million Americans are affected every year by identity theft via hacking events, direct security compromises, and data breaches. Account takeover means utilizing another person’s account information to obtain products and service using the person’s existing accounts.

In all too many instances, funds are extracted directly from a person’s bank account. Remind clients to shred sensitive information, review credit reports periodically and and consider adding fraud alerts in case data is stolen and used to open new credit.

Related: Workplace violence: Create a safer environment


Checklist for victims of holiday identity theft

If identity theft occurs, in spite of your client’s best efforts, take the following steps to mitigate any losses. These tips are provided by Bankrate.

  • Notify affected creditors or bank; close out affected accounts immediately.
  • Put a fraud alert on your credit report with any of the three credit reporting agencies listed below. By doing so, a fraud alert will be put on all three of your credit files.
    • Equifax: (800) 525-6285
    • Experian: (888) 397-3742
    • TransUnion: (800) 680-7289
  • Check your credit reports and make note of the unique number assigned to your account.
  • Consider putting a credit freeze on your reports if you know that you are a victim, to prevent credit agencies from releasing your credit report to new creditors.
  • Contact the FTC (877) 438-4338 and fill out the ID theft complaint and affidavit form.
  • Go to the police to report the crime and take the cover letter provided by the FTC.
  • Send creditors a copy of your ID theft report; notify them in writing and get documented copies of fraudulent activity.
  • Contact credit reporting agencies by sending them a copy of your ID theft report.
  • Change all account passwords and avoid using easy-to-guess or obvious ones.
  • Contact the Social Security fraud hot line through the Office of the Inspector General and ask for a copy of your Personal Earnings and Benefits Statement to check for accuracy.
  • Get a new driver’s license from the Department of Motor Vehicles to change the number on the off chance that it has been compromised.
  • Contact your telephone and utility companies in case a utility bill is being used as proof of residence to open a new account.
  • Get additional help from these sites to minimize the damage if your client’s identity is stolen:

Identity Theft: How To Protect Yourself Or Resolve It, Forbes
USA.gov: Identity Theft
13 Tips to Prevent ID Theft During the Holidays
What to Do if Your Identity Is Stolen

This blogpost originally appeared on Arrowhead’s corporate blogpost; it is used with permission and has been updated and modified to better fit the needs of our PGCS claims clients.