When you think of identity theft, chances are you probably think of it happening due to technology. Credit cards can get skimmed at restaurants, debit cards can get skimmed at ATMs, and fake websites find ways to lure you to enter your information which they can use for nefarious purposes. But all of these scary scenarios don’t mean that you should avoid digital at all costs – in fact digital devices and services, if used properly, can be a great way to prevent identity theft.
This holiday season everyone’s bank accounts, debit and credit cards, and checkbooks are all going to get a workout as people scramble to purchase gifts, food, and clothing for events from Thanksgiving through the New Year. Read on to learn a few best practices that will help you save time and money using digital to make payments – and how doing so can help you protect your money.
Have Your Receipts Emailed Instead of Printed
When it’s time to check out during the holidays, the sheer amount of purchases you have to make at one store could end up in a mile-long receipt. And if you’re already carrying multiple bags from other stores, your chances of losing or misplacing one or more receipts shoots up. This isn’t just bad for your budget tracking, but it means your personal information could be lying around just waiting for thieves to scour the malls and take advantage.
According to Kiplinger, a credit card thief doesn’t always need your whole account number so the often small amount of information on a receipt could still be enough to start digging for your whole credit card number. Luckily, many retailers are now offering to send receipts via email rather than printing them out. If your retailer offers this, you can carry fewer receipts and more easily track your budget when you get home to log your purchases.
Afraid that giving your retailers your email addresses will lead to a million spam emails? Unsubscribe from marketing emails by scrolling down to the bottom of the email and clicking on the “Unsubscribe” or “Manage Email” preferences link. If that doesn’t work, use services like Unroll.me to unsubscribe.
Password Protect Your Phone or Tablet
Taking your smartphone or tablet out with you when you shop can be a great way to search for coupons on the run or even shop price comparisons on an item you’re about to purchase. However, if you don’t password protect your device and you happen to misplace it during a manic mall episode, your personal and financial information will be seriously at risk. Don’t step foot into the mall until you’ve first password protected your device – then you can reap the benefits without worrying about your information getting stolen.
Don’t Carry Unnecessary Paper
While there are many ways to steal financial information through credit cards and websites, carrying paper with your personal information can be far more dangerous. If you were to lose your checks, social security card, passport, or even a notecard with your passwords on it, then a thief can have a field day with your identity. Not just with purchases either, these items (especially a social security card) offer an identity thief countless ways to spend money from your accounts or spend money in your name.
These items should all be kept in a lockbox in your home. When you shop, you should only bring your driver’s license or state ID along with the debit or credit card you plan to use with one backup. Any more than that puts you in more danger than necessary. Don’t want to carry more than one card for payment? You could explore signing up for sites like Square to make payments, although not all retailers are on this bandwagon yet so check with your retailers before you go.
Of course you can also carry cash as a backup if you don’t want to go fully digital, but the downfall is that it’s harder to track purchases with cash and, if your wallet gets stolen, there’s no way to get that money back. Digital items like a credit or debit card provide fraud protection in case your card is stolen or even if someone manages to steal the number only and make purchases in your name.
Check Your Accounts Nightly
Last but certainly not least, utilize the free websites from your banks and lenders to check your accounts nightly. While not all transactions will be reflected in your account balance (banks) or balance due (credit cards) right away, you can at least see the amount charged with each retailer while these transactions are pending. Compare the amount owed to each retailer with what you see on your receipts to know for sure that all purchases listed are purchases you made. Do this each night throughout the holiday season (even on days when you don’t go shopping) to ensure that your financial information is safe and sound.
If you do see something that’s fraudulent, contact your lender or bank right away. They can walk through each purchase to verify what you spent and what you didn’t (so keep your receipts handy) and close your account and send you a new debit or credit card with a new account. For good measure, go ahead and change your passwords to their websites. The sooner you act, the sooner you can nip any fraud in the bud.
Digital has its dark sides, just like anything else created to make life easier, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it at all costs. More often than not, using digital to make payments (such as debit and credit cards) is safer than cash or checks and any problems encountered can be dealt with more quickly and easily. Stay vigilant and you’ll save time, money, and your financial information!
Image Credit: Hugger Industries