Beware of identity theft while holiday shopping

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The holiday season is a busy time for consumers, but sadly Christmas shoppers aren’t the only ones who are busy. Identity theft increases around the holiday shopping season every year, and it is important for people to understand the risks in order to protect themselves.

To help raise awareness of identity theft, 15th Circuit Court District Attorney Hal Kittrell has issued a release outlining the multiple methods that criminals use to obtain valuable personal information from unsuspecting citizens.

“If it’s too good to be true, then it’s too good to be true,” said Kittrell when asked for advice on avoiding these scams. Concerning the harassing phone calls scammers use to deceive people, Kittrell said that putting aside customary etiquette and hanging up on the unwanted caller is the preferred method to avoid issues.

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Identity theft occurs when an individual’s private information is obtained without permission, and then used for financial gain. Kittrell said that according to the Federal Trade Commission, more than nine million Americans a year become victims of identity theft. After a person’s identity is stolen, the problem only gets worse.

“For a person that loses their identity, the FTC estimates it will take more than 300 hours of their time to reclaim it,” said Kittrell.

When a criminal opens up a new account using a victim’s information, it is referred to as application fraud. In order to achieve this, criminals gather the victim’s information through a variety of methods, including stealing wallets or purses, stealing mail and digging through garbage to find discarded personal records.

Criminals have developed new strategies for retrieving information. “Phishing” is a tactic in which someone will pose as a representative for a financial institution and send emails and pop-up messages to trick people into submitting personal information. Kittrell said in his release that criminals are now using the same method through text messaging.

Skimming is a technique that can often occur in restaurants, the release states. When using a credit card to pay for the meal, it is possible for someone to retain the card number and name in order to use the information later.

Another common type of fraud is known as account takeover. This multi-step process involves a criminal posing as a card owner on the phone with the credit card company, asking for a change of address and then finally reporting the card as lost or stolen. This leads to the criminal receiving a new credit card with another person’s name and account.

Kittrell mentioned other scams in his release, such as those dealing with the lottery, vacations and donating to charitable organizations, and warns that criminals are using information posted on social media websites to steal identities. Users who post overly personal details about themselves on their pages are at an elevated risk of identity theft.

“You’ve got to protect yourself,” said Kittrell, “You can’t let you guard down.”