Consumers beware of financial and ID theft this coming holiday season

Every year, occurrences of identity theft in the U.S. show an uptick over the holiday season, but it’s speculated 2020 will be different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to forecasts made by ShopperTrak, a company that specializes in retail intelligence, in-store traffic this holiday season may drop 25% because American consumers are hesitant to shop in busy stores or find themselves in densely populated areas. For Americans looking to do holiday shopping, the majority will likely be turning to online shopping – and cybercriminals will be actively looking for opportunities to steal credit cards or personally identifiable information (PII).

Risk of financial and ID theft increases during the holidays

Consumers should always exercise care when making purchases, be selective when giving out financial information, and only deal with trusted businesses they know. Historically, statistics show the period between September and December is the “most active malware season” of each year. Furthermore, Kaspersky, a software security company, reported financial phishing grew by 9.4% during last year’s holiday season. With the pandemic having economic ripple effects this year, consumers should beware of the risks and be extra cautious about safeguarding their PII.

Tricks ID thieves use that damper holiday festivities

Many retailers offer good deals during the months and weeks leading up to the end of the year celebrations. Bad actors often take advantage of this by either masquerading as legitimate retailers or taking advantage of the “hectic” lifestyle many people lead during the season where people might be more distracted.

  • Target busy shopping centers where people are preoccupied because it’s easier for them to swipe wallets, grab purses, commit car-jacking, or take photos of sensitive information with their phones if people aren’t paying close attention.
  • Advertise great “deals” and distribute by email, text, social media, to lead to information positioned on a fake website or to download malware in an attempt to lure people to get them to give up PII. (Always remember if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is!)
  • Establish phishing techniques by sending out urgent messages designed to scare people their accounts have been closed, hacked, or overdrawn.
  • Watch local feeds to what is posted on social media to determine when people will be away for the holidays or to look for people who have posted about recent big-ticket purchases they’ve made.
  • Use social media and the internet to track bits of PII to pull together enough details to steal an identity or hack into online accounts.

It’s always important for consumers to be vigilant at any time of the year, but even more so during the holidays. The Identity Theft Resource Center refers to Cyber Monday as “a critical identity theft day.”

Signs financial or identity theft has occurred

These days, it’s important for all consumers to be vigilant about their accounts because with so many data breaches occurring on a regular basis, chances are most people have at least some of their PII floating around in criminal circles. Here are some signs that signal financial or identity theft may have occurred.

  • Withdrawals from a bank account that cannot be explained.
  • Credit card statement or online account shows small purchases that you didn’t make (thieves often “test” accounts by making small purchases they think people won’t notice right away).
  • Bills and bank statements stop arriving in the mail.
  • Calls from debt collectors are received for items or services not purchased.
  • Healthcare facilities bill for treatment and services never sought or the health insurance company refuses to pay for legitimate claims because benefits limits have been reached.
  • IRS doesn’t accept or reports a tax return was already filed in another person’s name.
  • IRS notifies additional income was made from an employer a person has never worked for.

Additionally, everyone should be watchful about any unusual activity since large data breaches are unfortunately a routine occurrence in the 21st century.

How to reduce the risk of financial and ID theft during the holidays

While, unfortunately, it’s hard to 100% protect oneself from financial or identity theft, there are some proactive steps consumers can take to reduce the risks.

  • Use credit cards instead of debit cards (just be sure not to spend over budget).
  • Shop strictly from reputable online merchants.
  • Routinely check credit and debit card activity.
  • Never share a Social Security number unless absolutely necessary (Most doctors and other places do not necessarily need them, leave this blank unless it’s required).
  • Check credit card and bank statements frequently and immediately report any discrepancies.
  • Always put credit cards into purses and wallets and safely tuck them away before leaving a store’s counter.
  • Keep credit and debit card numbers concealed (criminals may stand in line behind consumers pretending to be using their phones when they are actually photographing credit cards).
  • Cover pin pads when typing in PINs.
  • Don’t click on links in email or texts unless the sender is 100% known and recognized (beware of spoofed websites and emails).
  • Only use websites that have the “lock” symbol in the upper left-hand corner of the page by the URL that contains “https”, not “http”.
  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi to do banking or make online purchases because these are usually not secured (a VPN can help).
  • Beware of the presence of credit card and ATM skimmers.

In the event, something looks wrong, suspicious, or an “urgent” message is received, always call banks and credit card companies directly from their website or from the number listed on the back of a card. Credit card companies and banks will often contact a consumer if suspected fraud has occurred but bad actors frequently pose as a bank to try to scare people into giving up PII.

Every year millions of people fall victim to financial and identity theft which often harms credit scores and prevents them from accessing credit or receiving favorable credit terms. If this occurs, PRBC can help. Our alternative credit score solution helps consumers prove their creditworthiness simply by paying their monthly bills. To learn more about how our alternative credit score process works, contact us today.

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