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FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — During the holiday season, consumers tend to make a greater number of purchases than they do during the rest of the year. They also tend to be more distracted and face an increased risk of identity theft during the holidays.

There are numerous ways an identity thief can take advantage of you. Whether you’re shopping with credit cards, shopping online, using online banking or withdrawing money from an ATM, there are steps you can take to prevent identity theft.

Busy and distracted shoppers are targets for identity thieves

When shopping, be aware of your surroundings. Pickpockets are always a concern while you’re out in public spaces. When you have completed a transaction, make sure you put your wallet safely away to protect your credit cards and ID. If you are paying with a credit or debit card, it is a good idea to keep the number concealed, just in case someone behind you in line tries to take a picture of the card with a cell phone. It may look like the person is texting, but it is also possible an identity thief is taking a photograph of your credit or debit card number, expiration date and your full name.

Identity thieves prey on online bargain seekers

While most retailers provide safe and convenient systems for making purchases online, it is important to look out for potential scams. During the holidays, scammers often take advantage of consumers’ desire to get bargains. If you receive emails or text messages offering name-brand merchandise at a discount, it may be a scam. These messages might look official, but they could be scams designed to get your financial information. Avoid clicking on links if you do not recognize the sender. Even if the message seems legitimate, it is generally safest to visit a retailer’s website directly. Some of these fake websites are designed to look identical to a retailer’s website, so do not rely on the appearance alone.

Before entering your payment information on a retailer’s website, look for the “lock” symbol at the top of the webpage. This symbol indicates the webpage is encrypted and your information is protected from criminals. Also, sites that use https at the beginning of the URL are safe and secure.

Criminals can access information sent through public Wi-Fi

If you have some downtime while you’re out shopping for the holidays, you may want to get online and check your bank account or credit card statement to see how much you’ve spent. While monitoring your financial data is an important method of detecting potential identity theft, submitting your private data over an unencrypted network may put your information at risk. Criminals can access the information that is passed through these open networks.

Skimmers steal shoppers’ data

Criminals are aware consumers spend significantly more money during the holiday season. One way identity thieves steal someone’s credentials is by attaching skimming devices to card readers or ATMs. These “skimmers” copy card information, which criminals can use to replicate the card and make unauthorized purchases. Never use a card reader that appears as if someone has tampered with it. For extra protection, use your hand to cover the keypad when you enter your PIN, so it will not be visible to an onlooker or a camera.

How to tell if your identity has been stolen

Most credit card companies have fraud detection departments that monitor your credit cards for any unusual activity. If they detect suspicious purchases on your credit card, they may freeze the account or contact you to verify the purchases. If you receive a call, text or email from the bank, do not reply with your personal information. Instead, call the number located on the back of your payment card to ensure you are in contact with the financial institution and not a scammer.

Check your credit card and bank statements regularly to make sure there are no unauthorized charges listed. If you notice any charges you did not make, contact the financial institution immediately to report the fraud. Even if the charges are small, it is important to report it because some thieves test cards with insignificant purchases before they go on expensive spending sprees.

What to do if you are a victim of identity theft

Report it immediately. Here are the steps you can take if you suspect you’ve been a victim:

  • File a police report and get copies of the report – you may be asked for it when notifying your insurer, medical providers, the credit bureaus and others.
  • File an identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online or call the FTC’s toll-free hotline at 877-IDTHEFT. Consider placing a freeze or fraud alert on your credit reports.
  • Monitor your credit to spot potential identity theft and fraud. Being persistent by monitoring your accounts and reviewing your personal information is the best way to stay on top of potential threats. You can even review and correct inaccuracies on your credit report at no charge.

There are all types of identity theft. An innocent consumer is unfortunately easy prey if they aren't paying attention. Staying on top of your credit is crucial.

If you would like assistance pulling your reports and to ensure you are protected against thieves, call the Financial Readiness Program at 573.596.2078 to schedule your free confidential appointment.