“The holiday season is a busy time of the year for identity thieves and other kinds of identity-related fraudsters. Scams abound, but if you follow a few simple rules, you can sidestep some avoidable holiday blues,” says Adam Levin, author of Swiped, and former director New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.
Recently, a Huffington Post shared an article by Levin, detailed the three main ways to combat identity theft during the holiday season – a time in which scammers seek to prey on individuals who are swiping more and paying attention less. Active military on deployment and their families may be vulnerable to these types of scams, as it is far more difficult for them to monitor their credit reports and bank accounts while they are away. In the article “Your Holiday Identity Theft Checklist”, Levin relates his holiday safety tips to the three Ms: minimize your exposure to fraud, monitor your accounts and manage the damage.”
The tips Levin shares are useful for VA employees, Veterans and beneficiaries alike, and ones that can be used year round, but specifically during the busy holiday season when these types of traps are at their peak. Levin’s first tip advises closely monitoring phishing websites and scamming e-mails and phone calls to avoid being trapped. At home it is likely that from time to time you will come across e-mails containing links, scams or giveaways.
The same goes for phone calls. Levin’s number one tip for identity safety: “[T]here is a relatively easy way to protect yourself: hang up that phone and don’t click through on emailed links, no matter how good the proffered sale or incentive is. Instead, go online and check to see what’s what. And remember to look for the lock. In the URL address area, usually to the left, you will find an icon of a lock on secure sites. If you don’t see it on a major retailer or bank site, close the window and do another search for the correct address.”
The second tip Levin lends revolves around closely monitoring both your bank statements and credit report. The easiest way to avoid identity theft issues is to discover the theft as quickly as possible. “You need to check your accounts every day. That’s right. Every day. The benefits are not only knowing if you have been scammed, it can also curb your spending and be a reminder if you’ve missed a payment if you’re monitoring your balance every single day,” writes Levin.
Lastly, Levin lists several final key thoughts on protecting your identity this holiday season and as a whole.
- If you go online while away from home, always use a secured wireless server.
- Never ask for a number to call nor accept their proffered number when you receive an unsolicited phone offer. Either check the back of your credit or debit card, or go to the official site (which you verify), to get the right number.
- Keep all receipts and check them against credit card statements.
- Take screenshots of your confirmation screen for online purchases, and save confirmation emails.
- Spyware, phishing and social ads are very tricky these days. Instead of clicking through from an emailed offer or tweet, better to search for your destination and click the link.
- Overseas orders are not all suspect, but do your homework to make sure there are no complaints against the company.
- Gift cards are increasingly a target for fraud, whereby fraudsters record physical card numbers at retail locations using a magnetic strip reader (not all cards require a scratch-off PIN code) and then try to use them in the hope that the card has been purchased and activated, but not yet used. If they do find a balance, they can move the money by issuing themselves an e-gift card.”
VA is doing many things to prevent identity theft for Veterans, from mandatory training for all employees and contractors in cybersecurity awareness and privacy to eliminating the use of Social Security numbers in its business processes. The department also offers free credit monitoring to Veterans and beneficiaries whose data has been compromised by a VA breach.
Credit monitoring ensures that all of the Veterans’ accounts are stable and that no unusual or unauthorized activity is taking place. You can also contact any one of the three big credit reporting companies located in the resources following this article. For Veterans or their beneficiaries whose credit is affected by identity theft that was not caused by a VA breach, a toll-free Identity Theft Help Line is available (855-578-5492) and staffed by trained call center operators.
“As this is the time of the year when we are the most distracted – our heads are into the joy of the holidays and most of us have day jobs – identity thieves and scammers look at us at the gift that keep on giving. Stay alert, spend wisely and never forget that the ultimate guardian of the consumer is the consumer,” concludes Levin.
You can also find additional information on protecting your identity, as well as what VA is doing to help by visiting the More Than a Number website.
Should you need immediate help or assistance, you can contact the toll-free Identity Theft Help Line for Veterans and their beneficiaries at 1-855-578-5492. The line is open from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. ET, Monday – Friday.
About the author: This article was submitted by VA’s Office of Information Security