If “shop till you drop” is your mantra this holiday season, you need a game plan…not just to get every item on your list without blowing the budget, but to do so while keeping a lid on your personal information. Contrary to popular belief, holiday shopping identity theft isn’t a problem just for online or mobile shoppers (though shopping electronically also requires taking steps to protect yourself ). It’s a problem for people who jump in their cars and hit the malls, “big box” stores and local shops, as well.
Considering the fact that 50 percent of people surveyed in a recent Harris Poll conducted for LifeLock say having their identity swiped would ruin their holiday—more than twice the number that say their holidays would be ruined by not being able to spend them with family—taking steps to protect yourself seems more than worthwhile.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Pay with credit—in particular, a chip card. These days most debit cards, like credit cards, come with zero liability protection. That means if your card is used fraudulently and (in the case of debit) you report it promptly, you won’t be on the hook for the loss. But the hassle of getting your money back using debit can be much greater because it can take a week or more. With credit, you’re not using your own money to begin with, making the loss much easier to manage from a cash flow perspective. Although chip cards are relatively new in the U.S., they are proving to be much less susceptible to fraud. Use them whenever you can.
- Or use mobile payments. Mobile payment services like Apple Pay, PayPal, and Android Pay are even safer than credit cards (even chip cards). Why? In part, it’s where your credit card info is stored (not on your phone, but on a secure network). And also because they use secondary authentication, requiring a passcode or a thumbprint in addition to possession of the actual phone. (For anyone annoyed at the lag at having to leave your chip card in the terminal while a transaction is authorized, mobile payments also seem faster.)
- Don’t be tempted by a discount offer to sign up for new credit cards. Every time you put your personal information out in the world—on a credit card application, for instance—you put yourself at risk for identity theft. But that’s not the only reason to shy away from taking out cards you don’t really need (or even want). Applying for credit can take your credit score down a notch (not a huge amount, but every point counts). In addition, department store and retailer credit cards come with notoriously high interest rates. If you find yourself making purchases you need to pay off over time, you’ll spend much more in total for the merchandise than you likely planned. Similarly, if you’re asked for your email address so that you’ll receive discount offers in the future, just say no.
- Slim down your wallet. Before you head to the stores, remove any cards or pieces of identification you don’t need from your wallet and put them away for safekeeping. You’re generally okay with one credit card, one debit card, and a driver’s license. Your Social Security card should be in your at-home safe.
- Don’t share your experience on social media. These days shopping often turns into an outing. You take a day with your friends and head to the closest outlet mall. If you take the time to snap some photos, wait until you’re home to post them to social media. Otherwise, you’re sending the wrong message to thieves: I’m not home. Have at it.
- Pay attention to your statements. Finally, if you’re not in the habit of opening and actually reading your credit card statements, it’s one that you want to pick up. That’s where you’ll likely notice it if someone is fraudulently using your card. Better yet, elect to receive statements electronically–and sign into your accounts several times over the course of a month to check transactions—just like you do with your online bank account.
Even with all there is to do during the holiday season, it can be a joyous time to share with family and friends. But none of us wants to share personal information with an identity thief. Happy shopping!
By LifeLock Educational Advisor Jean Chatzky