Safe holiday shopping tips

Whether you are shopping in a mall or in your pajamas, Christmas is a time to be especially careful with your personal information.

As the holidays swiftly approach, many Canadians are finding ways to avoid the chaos of mall shopping. According to a survey conducted by Visa Canada, three out of four people in our nation plan to shop online for gifts, and 30 per cent of their holiday budget will designated to purchases made from the comfort of their computer, tablet or smartphone. Whether you are going to do your shopping in a mall or in your pajamas, the holiday season is a time to be especially careful with your personal information. There are Grinches among us.

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, more than 17,000 Canadians experienced identity theft in 2012, with total losses of over $15 million. As the craziness of the season sucks us all of in, it is important to keep the safety and security of your personal information top of mind to avoid becoming part of this unsettling statistic this holiday season.

1. Keep your personal information as private as possible

Hoping to find a shiny new computer or tablet under the tree? Be sure to erase the data from your old computer before throwing it away to avoid someone else accessing the private information you saved on the hard drive.

And if you’re thinking of joining the online holiday shopping trend this year, be sure to only use secure computers and payment sites, such as PayPal, and be wary of phishing. Phishing is an attempt to obtain your usernames, passwords and credit card details by appearing to be a trustworthy source, such as a financial institution. Your financial institution will never ask you to disclose your account password or other personal information via email. If you have any uncertainties over suspicious requests, contact your financial institution.

You also want to keep an eye on your mail. If you haven’t seen a bill or statement for a while, it could mean that an identity thief has had your mail redirected so their activities can go undetected. So, although we’ve been taught to look for additional charges on our statements the stuff that isn’t there can be also serve as an indicator of something untoward.

2. Avoid pickpockets and “shoulder surfers” at home and while traveling

Whether you plan on staying home this holiday season, or are jetting off to warmer climes, ensuring the safety of your bankcards, credit cards and your PINs are vital in protecting your identity. Pickpockets are common across the globe, so no matter where you end up, be sure not to carry cards in your back pocket or in the front pocket of a backpack. When juggling shopping bags and battling crowds during this busy time of year, it is easy to forget to cover your PIN when entering it into a machine or to keep your wallet and purse close to you at all times, but doing so could save you the stress of having your cards compromised or stolen. Also make sure you only carry your social insurance number and passport when absolutely needed – losing these would be a surefire way to dampen your holiday spirit.

3. Check your credit rating a couple times a year to see if identity theft is bringing your rating down

Credit reports are an excellent indicator of whether or not your accounts have been compromised. They are available upon request from Canadian credit reporting agencies such as Trans Union Canada or Equifax Canada, and will reveal if a third party is using your cards and harming your credit rating. A poor rating may prevent creditors from granting you loans, or cause them to charge you a higher interest rate than you would otherwise get, so it is important to monitor no matter what season.

If you believe that your accounts have been compromised, be sure to report the fraud to your creditors immediately and freeze or cancel all your lines of credit to prevent the fraudster from doing more damage. Next, all of your cards and passwords will need to be changed; this includes credit cards, PINs, online banking logins, and even your drivers’ license. You will need to check your financial statements to make sure you know how much the identity thief spent and when, and then report that information to the police. Be sure to obtain a copy of the police report to show your credit card company.

In order to avoid suffering the repercussions of a poor credit rating, get your credit report amended through a credit rating agency. On top of all of this, Canada Post will need to be contacted to make sure all mail in your name goes to your address.

By being a savvy shopper both in stores and online, you will reduce your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft, and increase your ability to focus solely on giving gifts to those closest to you – not funding a strangers shopping spree.

Kathy McGarrigle is Chief Operating Officer for Coast Capital Savings.

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