Kara D. LaFleur, Benedict, Linda F. | 11/22/2006 10:15:45 PM
Consumers must be cautious of identity thieves when shopping during the holiday season, says LSU AgCenter family economist Dr. Jeanette Tucker.
"Identity theft is the fastest-growing white collar crime in the nation," Tucker said. "Be on your guard all the time. By taking certain precautions, you can save yourself hours of time recovering from identity theft."
Victims can spend an average of 500 hours on setting their information straight after identity theft, Tucker said. She offers several tips on protecting your identity through the holidays:
- If you are shopping online, make sure the Web site is secure by checking for the "lock" icon on your browser.
- Take extreme caution when using your PIN. Never write it on your credit or debit card. Make sure it is not easily guessed. Look out for "shoulder surfers" when you are at the ATM or check-out counter.
- Keep copies of receipts when gift shopping.
- Do not carry more cards with you than you need, and make sure you sign all new credit cards when they are activated.
- Keep an eye on cashiers when shopping. A new crime known as "skimming" occurs when a cashier scans your card through a device that records the information.
- Use cash when possible when dining out. When you pay with a credit card, the server takes the card from your sight.
- Sign up for a credit monitoring service. These services alert consumers of key changes that may occur in their credit reports. Monitoring services are offered by each of the three national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and Trans-Union), many financial institutions and a number of private enterprises. The service typically costs about $10 per month.
- Never give out personal information unless you are the one initiating contact.
- Check your credit score every four months, alternating credit score companies. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act enables consumers to obtain one free copy of their credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies each year. Free credit reports may be ordered from http://www.annualcreditreport.com.
Free credit reports may also be requested by phoning 1-877-322-8228 or by mailing a completed Annual Credit Report request form to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Ga. 30348-5281. The Annual Credit Report Request form can be accessed from: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/requestformfinal.pdf.