Holiday Identity Theft Scams to Watch Out For

DEC 09, 2011

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‘Tis the season to be jolly, right? Identity thieves sure seem to think so. You can just imagine them chuckling evilly to themselves while they thought up this year’s crop of holiday identity theft scams.

Every year, cyber crooks take advantage of holiday shopping and holiday spirits to scam people out of their hard-earned cash. Some advanced warning and increased vigilance  can help you ensure the holidays stay bright for you and yours – rather than for the bad guys.

Watch out for these popular holiday identity theft scams:

Shoulder Surfing

Who surfs in the winter? Identity thieves, that’s who! When you’re paying for your holiday goodies with a credit or debit card, be aware of who’s standing behind – or beside – you. If someone is infringing on your personal space, he or she may not just be in a big hurry to get to the front of the line. Those crowding in might actually be trying to peep at your credit-card number, PIN, driver’s license or checking information. Make sure your personal information is protected and concealed from view.

Skimming with a Swipe

Sadly, some of the scammers might be on the other side of the counter. If a clerk takes your credit card out of your line of sight, he or she may have the opportunity to skim your information from the magnetic strip on the card by swiping it through a special machine. Never let your card out of your sight while holiday shopping.

Dumpster Diving

This one’s a favorite of crooks at any time of the year, but the increased volume of mail we all get during the holidays can open up new opportunities for them. Open and read everything you receive – no matter how stupid it looks like it will be. And run everything that contains any kind of identifying information – including credit-card offers – through a cross-cut shredder before you toss it in the trash.

Scams to Go

Malware has gone mobile now that we have smartphones and other hand-held devices that allow us to access the Internet. Be wary of offers for free apps; they could just be a ruse to get you to download malware that will grab your personal information.

Phishing around the Christmas Tree

Phishing is another year-round identity theft scam, but it takes on a holiday flare at this time of year. You may see an increase in phony email notices from seemingly legitimate, holiday-related sources your bank or credit-card company, or delivery services like FedEx or UPS. If you’ve ordered something online for someone, are having a gift shipped or expecting one to arrive from someone else, you may be tempted to pay attention to these “notices.” Don’t do it!

Keep in mind your bank or credit-card company will notify you of a problem through a phone call or even snail mail. Unless that alleged delivery failure notification matches a receipt, tracking number and order information for something you ordered, it’s probably a scam. And if it’s an email claiming someone is attempting to deliver something to you, it’s probably also a scam because reports of delivery problems go to the gift sender, not the recipient.