By Caroline Banton, GOBankingRates.com (TNS)
The holidays are a great time for buying gifts — and also a prime time for thieves. But having your purse or wallet stolen in a busy mall might be the least of your worries this year when it comes to holiday shopping and identity theft.
Here are the best ways to protect yourself from different types of identity theft this holiday season.
STICK WITH FAMILIAR RETAILERS AND BRANDS
Popular holiday products are often similarly priced among reputable companies. Big brands monitor their competitors so that their prices are not undercut. Some immoral companies might advertise a product at an amazingly low price to attract your attention, but any deal that looks too good to be true probably is.
Robert Siciliano, an identity theft prevention expert with BestIDTheftCompanys.com, said to avoid any seller who appears to offer a vastly different product or price. He advised choosing brand names that you know rather than choosing the cheapest provider. “Stick with familiar retailers,” he said. “Unbelievably low prices are a red flag because competitors are always checking each other’s prices.”
BEWARE OF CUSTOMER REVIEWS
Online shopping and Google searches increase exponentially during the holiday season. In 2014, Google’s marketing insight service Think With Google reported that more than 92 percent of holiday shoppers intended to research gifts or make purchases online. But you shouldn’t always believe what you read online.
Online customer reviews can be written by anyone and might not be genuine.
“An unscrupulous seller may hire people to write favorable reviews,” Siciliano says. “Although one clue is that the same reviewer has reviewed tons of products, other reviews are crafted more cleverly. Identical reviews on different sites are suspicious.”
Rather than trust online reviews, ask your friends for recommendations on products. You can use your own social network to find more trustworthy information.
WATCH OUT FOR PHISHING
Scammers will be more active this holiday season, and email traffic confirming online orders and deliveries will exponentially increase. Never give out personal information online unless you initiated contact. For example, ordering online from a reputable store is typically safe, but if you receive an email asking you to go to another site to input personal information, you’re probably being scammed.
“The crook sends you the bait: an email that looks like it’s from a reputable company with a malicious link to a site that looks like the company’s requesting you turn over your username, password or credit card number,” said Siciliano. “Do this and the thieves will spend your money.”
Avoid scams by watching for emails that appear to be from a shipper or retailer. Check the email address and domain name of any sites and make sure they match that of the shipper or retailer exactly. Remember that no established company will require an email or password to be divulged by email or over the phone. Finally, don’t donate to charities until you have checked their legitimacy on sites like CharityNavigator.
Caroline Banton writes for GOBankingRates.com (), a leading portal for personal finance news and features, offering visitors the latest information on everything from interest rates to strategies on saving money, managing a budget and getting out of debt.
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Photo: B Rosen via Flickr