December 2005:
Thwart Thieves and Fight Fraud:
A Quick Guide to Protecting Your
Finances During the Holidays

Little could be more opposed to the spirit of the season than thievery – yet fraud and identity theft are particularly common this time of year. We not only shop more, but we also tend to let our guard down during the holidays. The more distracted you are, the more you put your finances at risk. To keep the bad guys from ruining your holiday (and many months to come), take some simple, commonsense safety measures.

While out of town:
Away for the holidays? Prevent mail theft by requesting a vacation hold through the post office. If identity thieves get a hold of your credit card and account statements, they can use the information on to make purchases or open new accounts.

While shopping:
Be on heightened alert for pickpockets – they are out in force right now. Keep handbags zipped and wallets in your front, rather than your back, pocket. Watch sales assistants as they swipe your credit and debit cards (some have been known to copy account numbers for their personal use), and inspect receipts and monthly statements for accuracy.

While at the ATM:
Trying to have a debt-free holiday by using cash? You may find yourself taking a lot more trips to the cash machine than you normally do. Memorize your PIN code (it should never be carried with you on a piece of paper), and use your body to block other people’s view of your keypad activity. Also, be aware that debit cards may be used at many stores, and a PIN is not always necessary to make purchases. Be very careful with all forms of plastic – keep cards in the same place every time so you know right away if they go missing.

While giving:
Sadly, some thieves even target the generous. If you are going to give to a charity this year, make sure your donation goes to the right recipient. Some scams use impressive-sounding names that mimic well-respected, famous organizations. Be especially wary of charities that solicit donations over the phone or email. Before contributing, request that they send information, and check out their reputation on the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance website.

Finally, because this time of year can be so busy, it’s easy to forget about money and credit management. Consciously take time out this month to monitor all account activity. Call your financial institution and creditors immediately if you spot a wrongful charge – reimbursement depends on how quickly you report theft. Know your billing cycles too. Statements that don't arrive on time could mean that someone has changed the billing address and is using your accounts.

Don’t let thieves steal the spirit and beauty from your holiday. By adopting just a few precautions you can increase the chance you’ll celebrate a happy, fraud-free New Year!