Shoppers Urged to Look Out for Scams and Identity Theft During the Holiday Season

Shoppers Urged to Look Out for Scams and Identity Theft During the Holiday SeasonMCLEAN, Va.  (Profitable.com)  With the holiday season just around the corner, holiday decorations and sale signs are already up at many retail stores and the bargain shopping is well underway.  While the bulk of holiday sales still occur in brick-and-mortar stores, surveys suggest that online shopping continues to grow. A recent PriceGrabber® consumer survey found that 89 percent of consumers plan to at least some holiday shopping online and 37 percent plan to shop on Cyber Monday. Mobile technology is also expected to have an impact as consumers look to their mobile phones to help them score the latest deals. The National Retail Federation’s holiday shopping survey found that one-quarter (27 percent) of respondents (and 45 percent of those 18-24 years old) plan to use their mobile phones for shopping-related activities during the holidays, whether it’s comparison shopping, finding coupons or making direct purchases.

But while technology can help consumers research potential purchases and find great bargains, it can also make them more vulnerable to identify theft and scams.

“Whether you are shopping online, in stores or with a mobile phone, it’s important for consumers to be vigilant to help protect themselves from identity fraud and scams.  Unfortunately, no one is immune to these types of crimes and they can have a tremendous impact on your finances long after the holidays are over,” said Barbara Saylor, a spokesperson for Capital One. “The rush of the holiday season can make it a busy time for identity thieves but shoppers can take simple steps to help guard their personal information. And if you see any suspicious activity or feel you have become the victim of identity theft, report it as soon as possible.”

To protect consumers against fraud during Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales and throughout the holiday shopping season, Capital One offers these simple tips.

When shopping online or via mobile phone:

  • Use secure online shopping sites – To ensure that your information is protected when shopping online, look for an unbroken key or padlock at the bottom of your web browser when providing payment information. When you’re asked to provide payment information, the beginning of the Web site’s URL address should change from http to shttp or https, indicating that the purchase is encrypted or secured.
  • Check out the seller – Look for online merchants who are members of a seal-of-approval program that sets voluntary guidelines for privacy-related practices, such as TRUSTe (www.truste.org), Verisign (www.verisign.com), or BBBonline (www.bbbonline.org). If it’s your first time on an unfamiliar site, call the seller’s phone number, so you know you can reach them if you need to.  If you can’t find a working phone number, take your business elsewhere.
  • Use caution with social media – Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly used by retailers to promote new deals and disseminate coupons. Unfortunately, scammers are also using these sites, often masquerading as a friend to deliver malicious links or downloads that can allow hackers to steal personal information. Keep this in mind when using social media tools and be particularly suspicious of messages or promotions you did not sign up to receive, even if they come from “friends.” Instead of following links, go directly to the store’s website and navigate to find the special sale item.
  • Never give out your account information or social security number – Never respond to emails or instant messages that ask you to provide account information for “verification.”  Don’t follow links to websites in such emails either.  These are known as “phishing” scams and are used to collect account information that can then be used for fraudulent purchases.  
  • Consider how you’ll pay – Credit cards generally are a safe option because they allow buyers to seek a credit from the issuer if the product isn’t delivered or isn’t what was ordered. Don’t send cash or use a money-wiring service because you’ll have no recourse if something goes wrong.
  • Keep your password private – Many e-commerce web sites require shoppers to log-in before viewing or placing an order. When selecting a password, do not use commonly known information, such as your name, birthdate, or numbers from your driver’s license or Social Security number. You should also refrain from reusing the same password for multiple sites.
  • Choose security question answers that only you know – In addition to keeping your passwords private, also beware of security questions that help retrieve your password in the event that you forget it. Even the most trivial information – like your mother’s maiden name or first pet’s name – can be exploited by cybercriminals. Many of these details may seem unimportant, but they can serve as password recovery hints for email addresses or online banking accounts..
  • Keep a paper trail – Print and save records of your online transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and copies of any email you exchange with the seller.  Read your credit card statements as soon as you get them to make sure there aren’t any unauthorized charges.
  • Use a secure computer – When you’re away from home, do not save private information onto computers used by the public. If you’re accessing a private account at the library or another public place, be sure to log out completely from your accounts, and do not save login information (like your username or password) on these computers.
  • Keep your web browsers and operating system up to date – Most software developers release updates of their software on a regular basis that provide fixes to known problems, improve performance, and provide new functionality. In general, it’s up to the user to decide if and when software should be updated or upgraded to a new release. Upgrading and keeping your software current can ensure that your system has the highest level of protection.  

When at the mall:

  • Streamline your wallet – Before shopping at the mall, clean out your wallet and take only the credit cards, checks and/or cash that you need for the day.  Never carry your social security card in your wallet.
  • Be aware of your surroundings – Be conscious of other shoppers standing nearby when you are making purchases. Identity thieves have been known to copy credit card information or take pictures of cards on their cell phones.
  • Hold on to your receipts – Keep receipts with you – and get gift receipts that can be used for returns or exchanges.  Shred receipts after you’re certain the charges match to those on monthly bank and credit card statements.
  • Don’t leave valuables in your car – Your car’s glove compartment isn’t a secret hiding place.  Wallets left in glove compartments account for thousands of credit card thefts every year.
  • Watch out for “skimming” – “Skim Artists” are thieves who use small electronic devices, known as “skimmers” to capture a person’s credit card information.  When consumers make a purchase, their card is first swiped through the legitimate machine but is also secretly swiped through the smaller skimmer machine.

If you think you are a victim of identity theft

  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports– Call one of the three credit reporting agencies, TransUnion, Experian or Equifax.  Report that you have been an identity theft victim and request a “fraud alert” and/or victim statement to be placed on your credit file.  The company you call is required to contact the other two.
  • Close the accounts that you believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently – Contact someone in the security or fraud department of each company, and follow up in writing.
  • File a police report – Call your local police department to file a report. List any suspects that could have committed the crime.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission – You can file a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form, or call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline – 1-877-ID-THEFT.

Consumers can find more information about how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft and what to do if they do fall victim in a free guide from Capital One and national consumer advocacy group Consumer Action called ID Theft/Account Fraud Prevention and Clean Up – available at www.money-wise.org/.

About Capital One  

Capital One Financial Corporation is a financial holding company whose subsidiaries, which include Capital One, N.A. and Capital One Bank (USA), N. A., had $119.2 billion in deposits and $196.9 billion in total assets outstanding as of September 30, 2010. Headquartered in McLean, Virginia, Capital One offers a broad spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients. Capital One, N.A. has approximately 1,000 branch locations primarily in New York, New Jersey, Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. A Fortune 500 company, Capital One trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “COF” and is included in the S&P 100 index.