|11/14/2006 – MARSHALL LOEB’S DAILY MONEY TIP
Protect yourself from identity theft this holiday
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Last Update: 12:01 AM ET Nov 14, 2006
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or so the song goes. But it’s also the time when Americans, full of holiday cheer, are most susceptible to identity theft.
“Identity thieves see the holidays as a potentially lucrative time of year,” says Kirk Herath, the chief privacy officer for Nationwide insurance and an expert on identity theft. “More activity equals more opportunity for fraud. The more you buy, the more times your financial information is put at risk.”
Herath offers his tips for avoiding the most common scams as you embark on holiday shopping this season:
– Raiding your trash. Commonly known as Dumpster diving, “it’s still the No. 1 avenue for identity theft,” says Herath. He recommends shredding anything that has your personal information on it. Unsure of what to give someone this Christmas? “A great gift is a shredder. Every house should have one — it’s right up there after your home alarm and carbon monoxide detector,” says Herath. You can get high-quality, affordable shredders for around $40 to $50.
– Shoulder surfing. It’s not a sophisticated scam, but it’s one that people fall prey to often: You’re standing in a long check-out line to pay for your goods, while a thief steals your personal information just by looking over your shoulder. And with the prevalence of camera phones, it’s even easier to snap a picture without you ever knowing. So be aware of your environment and shield your credit cards, checks, IDs and PIN numbers while waiting in line or completing a transaction.
– Skimming. This occurs when a dishonest clerk slides your credit card through a second machine that stores the information from your card’s magnetic strip. The information is then transferred to a counterfeit card. So keep your eyes on your card at all times, and monitor your statement for fraudulent charges. “The professional fraudsters often don’t make huge purchases, they make small ones that go under your radar,” says Herath.
– Online fraud. The Web is a convenient way to shop, but stay vigilant while using it. “Once you become an online shopper, you typically remain one. There’s a familiarity and casualness about the Web that lures people into trusting too much,” says Herath. “You just need to know how to take precautions. Don’t give your personal information via unsolicited e-mails. Use secure Web sites only.” He also suggests shopping online with trusted brands, such as Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and Target.com. These companies “spend a lot of money [on security] to protect their brands. You might get a slightly better deal from Crazy Bob’s Emporium Dot Com, but you don’t know who he is, and you might be paying less because he doesn’t have the same security measures in place.”
Marshall Loeb, former editor of Fortune, Money, and The Columbia Journalism Review, writes “Your Dollars” exclusively for MarketWatch.
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