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MADISON – It seems that every day there is a new report of major data breaches for national companies such as JP Morgan and Home Depot as well as small local business. While you can’t stop large-scale data breaches, there are steps you can take to keep your identity safe during the holiday shopping season.
“Identity theft is very lucrative and is becoming much more prevalent,” says Ron Von Haden, CIC, Executive Vice President of the Professional Insurance Agents of Wisconsin (PIAW). According to the Wisconsin Office of Privacy Protection: Wisconsin identity theft complaints increased 46% in 2012 compared to 2011. “The number of unreported thefts, usually involving family members, is likely to be much higher,” notes Von Haden.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), identity theft affects 11 million victims each year, costing individuals and businesses more than $52 billion.
“The good news is that there are ways to keep identity thieves from stealing your credit card information and other personal data – you just need to be vigilant and be aware of any red flags or warning signs. If you think something is fishy, it probably is,” Von Haden notes.
• When shopping at the mall or neighborhood stores; carry your wallet or purse securely. Also, purge your wallet or purse of unneeded credit cards. And leave your social security card and check book at home.
• Write “Check Photo ID” in permanent ink on your credit card, near your signature. This will remind cashiers to check your identity before processing your card.
• Before buying anything online, make sure the site is secure. Secure sites will have “https” instead of “http” in the web address.
• Use different passwords for different websites. If a thief learns a single password, he or she will attempt to use it at many sites…and since many consumers save their credit card information on shopping sites, thieves can easily run up thousands of dollars in charges.
• Always review your credit card statements carefully to be sure that the charges listed are correct. Credit card companies only give consumers 60 days to dispute charges and they must be disputed in writing.
• Be aware of phishing schemes or fundraising scams. “Unscrupulous thieves are very good at making emails look like they are coming from legitimate charities and other institutions,” says Von Haden. “Don’t click on a link in the email, type in the website address so you know you are being taken to the legitimate website.”
• Give to organizations your family has an existing relationship with or those that speak to a cause you believe in.
Many insurance companies are offering identity theft insurance. Coverage typically costs from $20 to $100 a year as a rider to a basic homeowner’s policy or as a stand-alone purchase.
“This insurance can be helpful to reimburse consumers for long-distance phone calls, legal expenses and more,” says Von Haden. “Your professional independent insurance agent can discuss the benefits and costs of identity theft insurance so you can determine whether it’s right for you.”
For more information or to locate a PIAW member near you, look for the PIAW logo or go to www.PIAW.org.