ID thieves out to smear your Christmas cheer

Old St. Nick and that elf on your shelf may not be the only ones watching you during the holiday shopping season. Identity thieves have their eyes peeled as well.

While you’re shopping online or in stores, seeking those perfect gifts for folks on your nice list, there is a good chance that a not-so-nice someone is out there trying to steal both yourCASH and your good name.

Identity thieves do this by using an ever-growing number of nefarious methods to trick you into giving them access to credit card account numbers, PINs, SocialSECURITY information, and other personal data.

“Never respond to online requests for information, even if it’s from someone you do business with,” said Director of Maryville Public Safety Keith Wood. “Reputable companies never ask for information this way. Don’t give it out unless you have initiated the contact.”

Identity theft can damage your finances,CREDIT HISTORY, and reputation, and taking steps to safeguard your identity is no different than buckling your seat belt or locking your door at night.

According to Wood, it’s especially important to be vigilant with yourCREDIT AND DEBIT CARDSas you shop during the Christmas season.

“Never let your cards out of your sight,” he said. “I realize this isn’t always possible if you’re at a restaurant, but pay attention to your gut feeling about whether things seem right or not when you’re using a card.”

Identity thieves increasingly prey on the old and infirm and may either be strangers or people you know.

Such criminals often pose as bankers or salespeople and call on the telephone promising “free offers” or cash in exchange for Social Security numbers, account access, orCREDIT CARD INFORMATION. They also solicit personal data through official-looking letters and even steal mail.

According to University of Missouri Extension, there are several practical steps you can take to protect your identity during the holiday season — and all year long. Here are a few tried-and-true tips:

  • ž Check yourCREDIT REPORT at least once a year. You can get it free online or by calling 877.322.8228.
  • ž Keep copies of your credit cards, front and back, in a safe place.
  • ž Use strong passwords on your computer.
  • ž Use a reputable tax preparer and keep copies of your tax returns safe.
  • ž Don’t give your financial information to a paid caregiver.
  • ž Review your bank and billing statements monthly for unauthorized charges.
  • ž Check on calls from debt collectors forDEBTS that aren’t yours.
  • ž Shred sensitive documents.

If someone misuses your credit, that information can appear on yourCREDIT REPORTS from all three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

In such a case, act quickly to contact the fraud departments of all three bureaus and ask to have a “fraud alert” placed on yourACCOUNT. That way an imposter won’t be able to open new credit accounts in your name.

And always remember, Wood said, that the real key to stopping these kinds of crimes is prevention.

“The best thing to do is to be aware of where your cards are at all times,” he said. “If you think your identity has been stolen call Maryville Public Safety right away and almost instantaneously contact yourCREDIT CARD COMPANY.”


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