The holiday season has a multitude of opportunities for crooks and scammers since we typically do more shopping this time of year. Both online shopping and in-store shopping create opportunities for the bad guys to compromise your accounts.
Here are some quick and easy tips to protect your identity while you are shopping:
- Enable the alerts from your bank for every single transaction that posts to your account. If that is too frequent, then you can choose a specific dollar amount to trigger the notifications — for example, any transaction that posts that is $200 or more will initiate the alert.
- Enable the same type of alerts from your credit card company. You can also select the amount that makes you comfortable, such as $500. When that amount is posted the credit card company will send you a text notification.
- Be sure to inform your bank or credit card company if you are traveling out of state. Notifying the bank is especially important when you’re at a gas station so your card won’t get denied at the pump. The fuel stations have so much fraud associated with them, that many financial institutions prioritize flagging fuel station transactions.
- Enable daily balance alerts from your bank. These alerts are helpful if you have a joint account and your spouse is out holiday shopping at the same time you’re shopping. The daily balance alerts are also convenient for younger people who are not familiar with maintaining a check register. Many new accounts do not include checks, so the idea of outstanding checks is foreign. If all of the banking transactions post immediately into the account with a debit card, the daily balance alert is extremely accurate.
- Carefully review bank and credit card statements. As mentioned, the crooks will use gas stations and popular stores to charge your cards fraudulently, hoping that during the busy holiday shopping season, you may not notice the extra activity.
In addition to the simple ideas above, other resources are identity theft protection services.
LifeLock is one example, but there are several from which to choose, including ADT, Experian, IdentitForce and ID Watchdog to name just a few.
Identity theft protection services monitor all of your financial, credit and retirement accounts for you. There are different levels of service at a range of prices. If you don’t want to set up each account to send you an alert as mentioned in the quick and easy tips at the beginning of this article, you can use their service instead, or a combination of both.
There are a variety of ways to receive notifications, e-mail, text, or push notification from the app. LifeLock also will monitor your name and identifying information for sales of identities on the dark web. LifeLock monitors whether anyone has run your credit. For example, if you’re buying a new car, or if someone else is trying to buy a car on your credit.
I finally purchased LifeLock after I learned that two co-workers — licensed CPAs — had their identities stolen by fraudulent credit card transactions and fraudulent wire transfers out of their bank accounts. CPAs are very familiar with keeping private financial information secure, so this was a wakeup call to me.
It can be frightening to turn over all of your personal information, and the passwords to access that information to one source like LifeLock. To offer reassurance, the company provides identity theft protection insurance up to $1 million per person. You need to purchase a separate LifeLock membership for each family member, kids included.
Some college-age kids find out that their credit has been ruined or their identities have been stolen while they’re in the middle of filling out college applications.
No matter what level of account monitoring you start to perform, it all helps. Get started the free way by enabling alerts on your accounts. You will be surprised at the level of comfort you have with those notifications. They may be frequent, but all the proper warnings do not need your response. If you see one that is wrong, you can take immediate action to correct it.
Stay safe this holiday season, and keep your accounts and your identity safe too!
Tami Sipos is a CPA and CFO of a privately held company in Inland Southern California. She has worked with families for over 20 years with their tax and financial planning issues. Reach her via email at [email protected]