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Handwritten text showing Fraud Prevention.

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – The Grinch may have stolen Christmas, but fraud and identity theft is the more serious crime this holiday. In the last year, consumers reported losing over $1.6 million to fraud. December is the prime time for identity thieves to strike. To bring awareness to this issue, December is known as National Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month.

Prevention

Taking precautionary measures to prevent fraud and identity theft during holiday shopping and travel is important. It can prevent people from spending time and money on stressful identity recovery efforts.

Sharlean Briggs, an Alabama Extension human sciences regional agent, said there are several precautionary measures people can to protect their identity.

Monitor Activity

“Monitor all statements thoroughly for signs of unauthorized activity, and log into online banking and credit card accounts periodically to look for errors of fraud,” Briggs said.

Fraud alerts from financial institutions are a recommended way to be aware of suspicious activity immediately. Credit cards often offer more of this fraud protection than debit cards.

Using the Internet

When using the internet, limit your use of public Wi-Fi. These networks are often unsecure and can easily share passwords entered on financial sites. Check for an HTTPS security designation on websites before entering any personal information or financial details.

ATMs

ATMs often have card skimmers added to them to steal financial information. Inspect the machine carefully before inserting a card. Block the keypad when entering a PIN in case someone is watching or a video camera is hidden near the machine.

“The safest ATMs to use are attached to banks in well-lit areas,” Briggs said.

Digital

A simple yet important tip for protecting digital assets is choosing a strong, unique password. Avoid using the same password for all accounts. If a hacker guesses this password, they can access all accounts. Phone protection is also something to consider. Protect phones by creating a password, especially when traveling for the holiday season.

Enabling two-factor authentication is another smart way to protect information. This authentication check can send a verification code to a smart phone to use at login. People can also use biometrics to secure accounts. This method can utilize unique behavioral or physical characteristics to grant access secured files.

According to Briggs, another online protection measure is to freeze your credit. This can prevent lenders from accessing your credit reports.

Victims of Fraud

According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are several steps to take if someone is a victim of fraud.

What to Do Right Away

  • One: Call the companies where you know fraud occurred.
  • Two: Place a fraud alert and get your credit reports.
  • Three: Report identity theft to the FTC.

People may also choose to file a report with their local police department.

What to Do Next

  • Close new accounts opened in your name.
  • Remove bogus charges from your accounts.
  • Correct your credit report.
  • Consider adding an extended fraud alert or credit freeze.

To plan for the future, eliminating cards, changing passwords frequently and also keeping cash and prepaid visa cards on hand help minimize your losses after your bank account has become a target.

More Information

Read more information on preventing or recovering from identity theft at www.identitytheft.gov. For more information, visit www.aces.edu or contact your county Extension office.

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