Holidays are joyous and fun times of the year unless the Identity Theft Grinch visits you. With retail sales up 5% already swarms of people in public places and retail settings are a boon to pickpockets this and every holiday. Identity theft can start with a lost or stolen wallet or purse. Although it is disputable whether stolen wallets are the main route to becoming a victim of identity theft, victims frequently attribute a stolen or lost wallet or purse as the cause of identity theft.
You can avoid becoming a victim of identity theft during the holidays with a few prevention tips that apply to your wallet or purse.
Prepare for the worst by cleaning out your wallet. Remove unnecessary credit cards, identification and anything containing your Social Security number. Most experts recommend not carrying more than one or two credit or debit cards. You need your driver’s license, and maybe a health insurance card, if it does not contain your Social Security number. Avoid carrying your checkbook, especially in a purse.
The more identification and credit information that you carry, the higher the risk that you will have a complicated and time-consuming identity theft restoration process if your wallet or purse is stolen.
Beware of children too. Thieves come in all ages and sizes. Children of thieves can be exploited. Pickpockets and thieves often work in teams of three to five, one or more distract you, while another lifts your wallet.
While social engineering scams can involve the use of children as pickpockets have done, more commonly it occurs through the Internet or the telephone. These thieves catch people off guard and get them to turn over sensitive information such as Social Security numbers and credit card numbers. For example, and email or telephone call may request a charitable donation payable by credit card.
Last week, a young man contacted me explaining how he was “social engineered” out of his Social Security number. He explained that two foreign sounding men called him and offered a free cell phone. It sounded too good to be true, all they wanted was his name, Social Security number, date of birth and shipping address. They told him to have his Social Security card available for the UPS delivery. After thinking what he did, he attempted to call them back to find the telephone number they gave him was not in service.
He called me and I suggested he immediately do one of the following as well as to consider one of the identity theft risk mitigation services.
- Immediately report the loss or theft to local police.
- Immediately contact any one of the three major credit reporting agencies to request a fraud alert (see “Preferred Links” below-right)
- If your credit cards or accounts are compromised, immediately notify each institution corresponding to cards and identification that were lost or stolen. (Immediately means do it now, not tomorrow or next Monday. The police, credit card fraud departments and the credit reporting agency fraud alert lines are available 24/7)
- Complete a Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Affidavit.
- Remain vigilant and look for clues that you are being victimized. Depending on the sophistication of the thieves and the information they obtained, it may be a simple case of credit card fraud. Or you may be a victim of a more complex and persistent identity theft scheme involving new account fraud, character identity theft, medical identity theft and other types of non-financial identity fraud that could take a lifetime to resolve.
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