Written by Alayna Okerlund | Last Updated February 24th, 2020Alayna Okerlund is a finance-focused Senior Content Strategist at BestCompany.com. Over the past three years, Alayna's finance-related research has helped readers feel more financially confident. She has worked with several reputable experts and has provided content for a variety of well-known publications like Forbes, Reader’s Digest, Lifehacker, and more.
This is part three of our holiday shopping security article series
Part one and part two of this article series pointed out that holiday shoppers who fail to secure their personal information are often easy targets for identity thieves. Unfortunately, most people don't even realize they are victims until it's too late as criminals can do significant damage very quickly when they get their hands on sensitive data and information.
We asked the experts to discuss the signs of compromised data and identity, what holiday shoppers should do once they know these signs, and what they can do to protect their identities.
Signs of compromised data and identity
Dr. William Rials, Associate Director and Professor of Applied Computing and Technology at Tulane University School of Professional Advancement
"One of the best and immediate signs is unknown charges or withdrawals that you did not make showing up on your statement. During the holiday season, it is essential to keep a close look at all of your financial statements. Don’t wait until the end of the month to reconcile your accounts during the financial season. The more often you monitor and verify all charges and withdrawals the better chance you have at stopping identity theft. Also, check your credit report for any suspicious accounts that have been recently opened without your knowledge."
Rials said that "the first step is to immediately change all passwords for all internet sites including email accounts, retail store websites, and especially financial institutions such as your credit card and online banking websites."
He also suggests you do the following actions if you find out that your identity has been compromised:
- Visit identitytheft.gov to report your identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission and get a recovery plan in action.
- Contact the businesses where you know the fraud has occurred. Attempt to contact the fraud department at the retailer.
- Contact your banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions.
- Contact the top credit bureaus and inform them of your fraud alert: Expereian.com/fraudalert: 1-888-397-3742, TransUnion.com/fraud: 1-800-680-7289, Equifax.com/CreditReportAssistance: 1-888-766-0008
"It is recommended to stay vigilant concerning identity theft beyond the holiday season. Invest in a credit monitoring service and identity theft insurance."
Steve Weisman, Scam, Identity Theft Expert, and Owner of Scamicide.com
"Indications that you have become a victim of identity theft during the holiday season include charges you didn't make turning up in your bill which is a reason that you should regularly check your credit card statement online rather than wait for a monthly bill to be sent to you. The earlier you become aware of a problem, the easier it is to fix it."
Steven Hausman, President of Hausman Technology Presentations
"There are many potential signs that your identity might have been compromised, including the following:
- When you check your credit card bill at the end of the month (and you must check your bill in detail each month) some charges might show up that you did not make.
- You do not receive bills that you would ordinarily expect to receive. This might mean that a thief has taken over your billing address.
- You might be rejected for credit.
- You might receive mail from the Internal Revenue Service because someone requested documentation online from the IRS but was unable to get it because of their security protocol. In that case, the IRS might send it to your address of record by mail. In addition, it is possible that your electronically-filed tax return is rejected. The latter circumstance might be due to the fact that a criminal has already filed a fraudulent tax return in your name in the hopes of obtaining a refund. Similarly, you might receive a tax refund that you did not request because the fraudulent refund request was mailed to your address of record by the IRS.
- If you have an employer and someone had stolen your Social Security number they may attempt to file for unemployment benefits in your name. In such a case your current employer may notify you that this has occurred.
- You may see sudden large changes in your credit score. While some people think this is a good thing, it may be that criminals are trying to open credit card accounts in your name.
- There may be a number of small charges on your credit card statement for a few dollars each. This may because criminals are testing to see if the credit card number that has stolen from you is still valid and active."
Doug Brennan, Manager of the Digital Addicts Blog
"If you notice any suspicious charges on your bank account, this could be a sign that your identity (and/or credit card information) has been stolen. While this can happen to anyone at any time, the holiday season is an especially vulnerable time. So, keep an eye on your bank account this holiday season, and if you notice any suspicious charges, don’t hesitate to report them to your bank."
The bottom line
Overall, identity theft and other cybercrime can be difficult to notice right away and recover from. Identity thieves and cyber criminals are continually trying new tactics to get their hands on your identity and other important personal information. Once they get what they want, they can ruin your life in a matter of minutes.
This holiday shopping season, you might want to consider doing research on where you are going to shop, who you plan to give your information to, what payment methods you will be using, and what precautions you are going to take to avoid having your identity stolen. After all, it only takes the purchase of a single holiday gift to compromise your identity and ruin your holiday cheer.