Don’t Let ID Thieves Steal Holiday Cheer, Prof Says

The holidays bring many delights, along with some unwanted risks.

Pick-pockets and robbers often prey on distracted shoppers. But today’s consumers should also guard against identity thieves, said Dr. Lynne Vieraitis, associate professor of criminology at The University of Texas at Dallas.

Vieraitis recommends using common sense and verifying that you’re dealing with a reputable company before giving out any personal information online or on the phone. When you’re in a store, keep an eye on who handles your cards. She recommends using cash or credit cards rather than debit while shopping. It is better to have a thief max out your credit card than empty your checking account, Vieraitis said.

Lynne Vieraitis

Dr. Lynne Vieraitis

Be wary in restaurants, too. “I never use my debit card at a restaurant or any establishment where it will leave my sight,” she said.

Because you can’t guard against all scammers, monitor your bank and credit card accounts regularly. Check your credit report routinely.

And if your identification documents (driver’s license, social security card, credit cards, etc.) are stolen, minimize potential damage by reporting the theft to any appropriate agencies: the Department of Motor Vehicles, credit card company, and the Social Security Administration.

Vieraitis said victims should file a report with their local police departments, keep a copy of the report and submit another report to the Federal Trade Commission’s website. Even if the thief does not immediately charge your credit card or use your information to commit fraud, victims should consider placing a fraud alert or credit freeze on their credit reports right away.

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