The Auto Club’s annual Holiday Season Travel and Shopping Poll of more than 500 Southern Californians reveals that 83 percent plan to primarily shop this holiday with credit or debit cards. However, four in ten shoppers have little or no concern about identity fraud happening to them this holiday shopping season despite the fact that 11 million Americans were victimized in 2009 by this crime. Also, more consumers are concerned about online ID theft than retail ID theft, despite the fact that identities are more often stolen at retail locations, according to FBI statistics.
The Auto Club advises consumers to find out their liability in the event of ID theft of their credit cards, debit cards and/or bank account numbers because protection from financial loss can vary widely depending on how quickly the loss is reported, whether the thief uses your debit PIN number instead of a signature (PIN transactions may not be protected) and whether the card is debit or credit.
“Depending on the type of card they use and their bank’s liability policy for that card, an ID theft could ruin the holidays for many consumers,” said Denise Bialek, manager of the Auto Club’s member identity monitoring benefits. “Holiday shoppers should be informed about the safest way to pay for purchases and become more aggressive about protecting their identities.”
Generally speaking, Bialek said, purchasing with a credit card rather than a debit card poses less financial risk for consumers. However, the Auto Club poll showed that 32 percent of local consumers mistakenly think they are more protected from ID fraud by using a debit card to shop.
The top cited method for consumers to protect their identity, according to the poll, is to review their monthly credit card and bank statements to ensure charges are accurate. “Eighty-four percent of Southern Californians said they do this and 68 percent said they monitor charges weekly, but unfortunately in these times, that can be far too little and too late,” Bialek said. “Your credit card could be maxed out and your bank account emptied within hours of an identity theft, and if you don’t report a debit card theft within two days, you could be liable for the entire amount of the theft.”
Bialek said the Southern California survey showed that some of the most effective methods to protect identities are some of the least used by consumers, including:
- Enrolling in fraud protection with your credit card companies (just 24 percent of those polled say they do this) or with a professional credit/identity monitoring service (17 percent).
- Monitoring credit bureau reports monthly through alerts from a professional credit monitoring service (33 percent).
- Checking your credit score at least twice a year (32 percent).
- Requesting and reviewing a free credit report from any of the three major credit bureaus (46 percent).
The Auto Club recommends that holiday shoppers take the following precautions to protect their identities this season:
- Carry only the credit/debit cards and identification that you intend to use on your shopping trip.
- Keep your purse/wallet secure and zipped, and don’t store your cards or ID in a backpack, which can be more easily pickpocketed.
- Don’t let your credit card out of sight when buying to avoid “skimming,” or stealing of your card number.
- If entering your PIN for a debit card transaction, be sure to shield it from view of others.
- When shopping online, make sure the shopping site has a padlock icon in the bottom right corner and a security certification such as VeriSign.
- Avoid shopping online on a shared public computer or accessing online shopping sites on public, unsecured wi-fi networks in locations such as coffee shops.
- The Auto Club offers a free credit monitoring benefit to its members called CreditCheck Select, which alerts members once a month whether there have been any changes to their Experian credit report, and offers fraud resolution support. For a $6.95 monthly fee (a 46 percent discount), members can enroll in ProtectMyID.com, which provides daily monitoring of all three major credit bureau reports, email or text alerts when major changes are detected on the reports, daily Internet scans that search for fraudulent use of members’ SSN, credit and debit cards, $1 million in identity theft insurance, and many other benefits.