The holiday season is upon us. Black Friday is this week and the retail stores have been bombarding us with advertising for their Black Friday specials. Do you plan all year for those Black Friday shopping deals? Do you camp out to be the first through the doors when they open after Thanksgiving dinner? Beware! You may be camping with the enemy. Identity thieves and scam artists plan all year for this shopping holiday. To continue with our campaign for Colorado Consumer Protection Month, we have a few helpful tips to help you reduce your risk of being a victim. Last week's article can be found here.
- If you camp out for hours, or even overnight to be the first to get to the big deals, take some precautions to protect your ID, credit cards and debit cards.
- You will probably only need one or two credit cards to shop, so leave the others at home.
- Keep your wallet with you at all times. Secured in a front pants pocket is best. Or consider using a neck pouch that can be secured under your clothing.
- Never leave valuables unattended.
- Never ask a stranger to watch your valuables while you go to the restroom or to buy refreshments.
- Before leaving home, clean out your wallet and take only the documents you need with you. You should not need to take your social security card or birth certificate with you.
- If possible, arrange for a family member to meet you right before the store opens. They can bring your credit cards to you. That way, you will not have had them with you all night in the parking lot.
- Plan ahead.
- Consider shopping with a bank issued pre-paid credit card. These do not contain any personal information and are not tied to your bank account. By going to your bank or credit union instead of buying the card at the store, you may avoid fees and will have someone to talk with if the card is stolen.
- Consider buying a gift card for your favorite store in advance. None of your personal information is included, and you are not vulnerable to ID Theft.
- Plan to use credit cards not debit cards when shopping. If ID thieves get your debit card information, they have access to your bank account and all of your money. A credit card offers more security and more protection if your card is compromised.
- Try not to use the ATM at the store, especially if there are a lot of people around. It is too easy for a skimmer to be placed on the ATM, for someone to look over your shoulder and see what you are doing, or for an old-fashioned thief to see that you have cash and target you for a theft.
- Beware of special credit card deals offered to you at the register.
- "Apply for our credit card now and save an extra 20%" may sound like a deal that is too good to pass up, but you want to know what you are agreeing to before you apply. What is the interest rate? What is the terms of the credit card and the credit limit? Will the 20 percent be taken off of the current purchase or a future purchase? Get the details before you get tricked into a deal you will regret.
- If you do decide to apply, consider doing it at the customer service desk or the in-store computer kiosk. Too many people are standing way too close to you at the register and may see or hear your personal identifying information as you share it with the clerk. Your application may also be left in the cash drawer for any number of cashiers to see.
- Watch your back.
- When standing in line or checking out, someone standing close to you could easily see your credit card and snap a photo with a smartphone. Keep your credit card secure in your wallet or pocket until you are ready to pay, and try to keep it securely in your hand as you run it through the machine so that it cannot be seen by others.
- Cover your hand when entering your PIN. Even though the new machines look like they keep your information secure, you can never be too careful.
- Do not be shy about asking the person behind you to step back. You do not need to be crowded or rushed through your transaction, even on Black Friday.
- Do not leave valuables in your vehicle. The thieves know that you have valuable items stashed under that blanket.
- Be generous only if you know it is legitimate.
- Thanksgiving weekend marks the beginning of bell ringers and others who collect for charity setting up outside of stores. These are wonderful charities that do great things. But sometimes the person you see does not really work for the charity. If you have any questions about the person collecting, do not give your money. Instead, contact the charity and make a donation directly.
- Monitor your accounts.
- When you get home from shopping check your accounts online and make sure only the purchases you made are showing in your statement.
- Check accounts regularly and report any suspicious activities to your financial institution right away.
- Report Crime.
- If you discover that you are a victim of credit card theft or a data breach report it to your local law enforcement agency.
- Consider reporting these crimes to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.
- Contact the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus. Place a fraud alert on your credit files. This will require credit agencies to contact you before opening any new accounts or making changes to your current accounts.
This article was submitted by Hazel Heckers with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. For more information and more ID theft and fraud prevention tips, visit the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's new Facebook Page, dedicated to ID Theft and Fraud related issues.