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Don't Let the Grinch Steal Your Identity

While consumers are focused on giving during the holidays, crooks are focused on taking. Having your access to credit suspended or compromised during the largest shopping season of the year puts a damper on anyone?s good cheer.

The NFCC offers the following tips to help consumers protect themselves during the holidays:

Have a constant awareness of your surroundings. The sidewalks and malls will be crowded, and shoppers will be distracted, the perfect combination for a pick-pocket.  If someone bumps into you, don't assume it was an accident.  Clutch your purse close to your side or in front of you, and keep your wallet hidden at the bottom, or for men, in an inside coat pocket.

Don't carry large sums of cash.  If you choose not to charge your purchases, using a debit card may be right for you. Be aware, however, that certain protections are put in place when you make a purchase with a credit card that are not provided with a debit card. This is a good time  to call your credit card issuer and become familiar with those perks. Further, when you use a credit card, you can dispute a purchase before paying for it. With a debit card, the money is removed from your account at the time of the purchase. A thief can wipe out your checking or savings account before you ever realize the theft has taken place. 

Guard your PIN number at the ATM.  Be aware of anyone lurking around the machine, and if someone stands too close to you, simply ask them to step back.  However, people aren't your only concern at the ATM.  Thieves can install devices that read your information without you knowing it.  If you notice anything unusual about the ATM, use a different one, and report what you've seen to the bank.

Don't let your credit card out of your sight.  Unscrupulous clerks or waiters can skim the information from your card into a second machine and later make a new credit card for themselves. Worse yet, they can sell your information to an organized crime ring. 

Lighten your wallet. Remove anything from your wallet that you don't absolutely need to have with you. That way, if someone is successful in stealing it, they won't get as much information. Never carry your Social Security card with you, but check other cards that may use your Social Security as an identifier. If you're not going to use your checkbook, leave it in a safe place at home.

Make copies of your credit cards. Copy both sides of all your cards.  If you lose your wallet, you'll have easy access to all of your account numbers and Customer Service phone numbers, allowing you to alert the issuer immediately.

Keep up with all receipts. Never stuff the receipts into your car visor or leave them exposed in any way. Thieves would much rather have your receipts than any gifts you've purchased.

Open your credit card statements as soon as they arrive.  Check the bill for any unauthorized purchases. Even better, keep a watchful eye on your accounts and review your accounts online each week. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, report it immediately to your bank. Doing so will likely remove any payment responsibility you may have for fraudulent purchases.

Secure all personal information even while at home. Unfortunately, many times an ID thief is someone we know. During the holidays, you may have guests in your home. Remove temptation by putting personal information out of sight.

Consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. Such services alert you via e-mail anytime there is an inquiry or other activity to your credit report. In other words, if someone tries to open an account in your name, you'll know about it. 

Order your credit report. Consumers are allowed one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three bureaus. Order a report now from one bureau, and order another one in January from a different bureau. This will give you a good snapshot of financial activities and will alert you to anything unusual.

The NFCC developed a website dedicated to ID theft where, among other things, you can take a quiz to assess your risk.  To take the test and learn more protection tips, go to www.ProtectYourIDNow.org.

If you?ve become a victim, reach out for help to an NFCC Member Agency.  To find the agency closest to you, call toll-free to (800) 388-2227, or find an agency online by going to www.DebtAdvice.org.

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), founded in 1951, is the nation?s largest and longest serving national nonprofit credit counseling organization. The NFCC's mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest quality financial education and counseling services. NFCC members annually help more than two million consumers through nearly 850 community-based offices nationwide. For free and affordable confidential advice through a reputable NFCC member, call1-800-388-2227, (en Espa'ol 1-800-682-9832) or visit www.nfcc.org.

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Contributor

Gail Cunningham serves as vice president of membership and public relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), Inc. based in Washington, D.C. During over two decades in the industry, she has provided one-on-one financial counseling to thousands of consumers, and reached tens of thousands more through hosting television shows related to consumer education on cable and network television, as well as writing a weekly financial education column that appeared in multiple newspapers and online sites. She has been a featured financial expert for the nation’s top media outlets, including: NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, National Public Radio, USA Today, Newsweek, Forbes, Smart Money, MSN Money, Bankrate.com, the Associated Press, FOX Business Network and Bloomberg News.

National Foundation for Credit Counseling

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