Preventing identity theft during the holidays

Created date

October 14th, 2014
identity theft
dentity theft

Identity theft is a year-round problem, but it’s particularly important to safeguard your financial information during this time of year. Boston Private Bank & Trust Company ( Vice President Paul Behan, who runs a training program to teach older adults how to avoid financial scams, says the heaviest volume of identity fraud cases occur during the holiday season. 

While we’re all busy shopping for gifts, groceries, and decorations, thieves are working overtime to steal credit card numbers and other personal information. 

Don’t leave anything to chance

Follow these nine tips to decrease the risk of identity theft:

1. One of the simplest ways to protect yourself is to shop with a credit card instead of a debit card. “When you are using a credit card, it’s the financial institution’s money that gets tied up,” Behan says. “When fraud happens on debit cards, those are funds that are in your checking account that may need to be used to pay the mortgage or for prescriptions.”

2. You can minimize the potential damage of identity theft by lowering the limits on your credit cards during retirement, when you’re less likely to need cards for big-ticket items like new furniture or for emergencies. Behan also reminds shoppers that there is no good reason for a store clerk to take your credit card out of your sight.

3. In this era of online banking and shopping, your passwords are essentially your signature. Behan says to avoid obvious passwords like birthdays and anniversaries and make passwords stronger by including letters, numbers, and symbols. 

4. Smartphones and tablets make it easy to shop on the go, but William Pelgrin, CEO of the Center for Internet Security (, says not to make purchases while connected to a public wireless network. “Hackers may be intercepting network traffic to steal credit card numbers and other sensitive information,” he warns.

5. For an added layer of security, Pelgrin recommends a trusted online payment service like PayPal, which lets you shop online without sharing your credit card details with retailers.

6. Pop-up windows aren’t just pesky—they can also be dangerous. “When a window pops up promising you cash, bargains, or gift cards to answer a survey or question, close it by pressing Control + F4 on Windows devices, or Command + W for Macs,” Pelgrin says.

7. IdentityTheft911 ( Chairman Adam Levin says scammers create fake retail sites in an attempt to collect credit card data. So, before placing an order online, always check the “Contact Us” page for a phone number and physical address and the “Terms and Conditions” link for return policies. “Unlike legitimate vendors, bogus websites are less likely to post these—or they’ll provide them in a suspicious manner, such as via a faxed request only,” Levin says. 

8. Don’t provide credit card or other information online until you verify that you are on a page that begins with “https://” instead of just "http://" because Levin says the “s” stands for secure. 

9. Online auction sites like eBay can be a great place to score deals, but Levin says not to trust offers that arrive after you’ve lost the bid, such as when a seller claims to offer you the merchandise off-site.