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According to the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. consumers reported losing more than $1.6 billion to fraud last year, and out of the remaining categories of complaints, identity theft nabbed the No. 1 spot.
PNC Bank reports that claims of lost or stolen credit cards go up by nearly 20% during the holiday season. The reason for this is that we tend to use our cards more frequently this time of year, and thieves know that shoppers are likely to be more rushed and distracted. We throw our credit cards around so often that we stop thinking about who has access to them. “When you hand over your card to a machine or a person, someone can copy the information,” says security expert Chris E. McGoey.
In addition to taking the usual precautions like making sure you get your card back after a transaction, not giving your information out to unsecured sources, and turning off your card the moment you realize it’s missing, you should also try to spend in places where you can actually see the transaction taking place, i.e. they swipe the card right in front of you rather than taking it in the back. This prevents anyone from swiping your card through a handheld skimmer without your knowledge. This is how most retail stores operate, but unfortunately, this isn’t standard procedure at most restaurants.
Pay close attention to your bank statements. Experienced identity thieves will often try out a card with small, unnoticeable purchases to see if the card owner will notice. Trusted family members and co-workers are common identity thieves, because they have easy access to your information and you feel safe and comfortable around them. Always keep your financial documents locked in a safe place, even at home. Carry a limited amount of items, and never carry your social security card. This makes it easy for someone to steal your identity simply by taking your wallet.
These are good guidelines to follow year-round, not just during the holiday season.