We spend a lot of time shopping both online and in stores to find that perfect gift for ourselves or that special someone. It’s very easy to get caught up with holiday shopping and other festivities, but it’s important to remember that with increased purchasing comes the increased risk of becoming a chosen target for identity theft. Take the time to learn how the criminal element thinks and stop them from taking your sense of security.
Thieves are also on the prowl and looking for potential victims who become careless about leaving valuables in plain sight in their cars at the mall or at home. People can become victims when they are at work while packages delivered to their homes are left in plain sight, waiting for a criminal (a porch pirate) to come by and grab them.
Here’s how porch pirates do their thing:
- They follow delivery trucks and watch for potential targets
- They pretend to be delivery drivers or pretend to work for delivery companies
- They will deliver an empty box of goods and leave with your goods
- They use the “snatch and grab” tactic and have a quick getaway car waiting
- They will normally strike during working hours mainly because they don’t expect anyone to be home
Remember to always be vigilant and take notice of any strange or unusual people near or around your home or a neighbor’s home, especially if you have never seen them before. Make a mental note but be cautious and discreet as neighbors could have loved ones visiting for the holidays. Report any suspicious or criminal activity to the proper authorities immediately.
What You Can Do Against Porch Pirating
Criminals like to pick out “soft” targets. They take their time and very carefully choose their potential victims. Here are some suggestions to help against becoming a “soft” target and deter thieves from selecting you as their next victim:
- Have your packages delivered to a location where they can be received in person, such as a neighbor’s or relative’s house.
- If your employer allows it, consider having your package delivered to work.
- When making a purchase online, if the retailer provides the option, choose a specific delivery time.
- If purchasing from a larger retailer, consider having your package delivered to a local store for pick-up.
- Take advantage of delivery alerts so you can be notified when a package arrives at your home. If you are not available to accept delivery, ask a trusted neighbor to take your package inside for safekeeping.
- When possible, request the delivery company to hold your package at their closest pick-up facility until you can pick it up.
- You also can ask the shipper to require a signature confirmation of delivery in order to prevent packages being left when no one is home to sign for them.
- It also is helpful to provide delivery instructions so packages can be left out of sight from your yard or the street.
The typical experienced UPS, FedEx, or USPS delivery person should know not to leave packages where they are least visible from the street. Early in the season, try reminding them to place your packages accordingly. Remember to always be vigilant and to avoid being a “soft” target. Take the necessary precautions and make it difficult for thieves to choose you as their next victim.
Parking Lot Crimes
Many criminals like to target parked vehicles. Not just for the items they think they can steal but also the value of the car itself. Many vehicles are stolen within minutes of being parked. The reasoning behind this is that the owner won’t know their vehicle has been stolen, giving thieves more time to get away because the car hasn’t been reported as stolen to authorities. Thieves will often break windows or punch locks to gain access to items left in plain view. Leaving your windows slightly open or having unlocked doors can also make you an easy target. Here are some tips against parking lot crimes:
- Never leave your vehicle engine on and unattended.
- Always lock your doors and leave windows up, even if you’re quickly running in somewhere.
- Park your vehicle in a well-lit, high traffic area, away from larger shrubs or other parked vehicles.
- Do not leave or keep any items in plain view.
- Hide or secure all valuable items before reaching your destination.
- Remove any vehicle accessories such as GPS units and stereo faceplates when leaving your vehicle.
Taking simple precautions can make a you “hard” target for criminals to choose. Be safe and vigilant. You never know who’s watching.
Personal ID Theft/Fraud
The fastest-growing white-collar crime in the United States is identity fraud. ID fraud happens when someone commits a crime or fraud in your name using your stolen personal information. No one, regardless of background or financial status, is immune to identity fraud. Various cyber threats continue to grow with no sign of slowing down. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were over 17 million Americans who experienced identity theft in 2015. The holidays are a prime time for thieves to target their victims. Here are some precautions you can take to minimize the chance of being a target of identity theft:
- Limit the amount of personal information you carry in your purse or wallet.
- Always take credit card and ATM receipts with you.
- Do not throw receipts into public trash containers or leave them on counters.
- Guard your identity and information when making purchases.
- Be aware of who is around you. Thieves have been known to copy credit card information or use cellphone cameras to snap pictures of cards.
- Use your body or hands to shield when typing in personal identification numbers.
- Be conscious of people bumping into you. Thieves can pickpocket your information.
- Use credit cards vice debit cards. Many debit cards do not carry the same fraud protection limit as credit cards.
- Minimize use of credit cards. Use cash when possible.
Always be aware and vigilant of your surroundings. The only thing a thief has is time. They will always find the angle and attempt to get the upper hand when choosing their victims. Don’t make it easy for them when deciding who to pick.
What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen
If your identity is stolen, it can affect your finances, credit history and reputation. If you think you have been the victim of identity theft/fraud, here are some tips of things you should do immediately:
- Contact your bank or credit card issuer to let them know immediately that your credit card and/or personal information may have been lost or stolen. Ask about any unusual activity since you discovered the loss or theft.
- Flag your credit reports. Contact the fraud department of one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). Tell them you suspect you are an identity theft victim. Ask them to place a “fraud” alert in your file and confirm that they will contact the other two companies.
- Ask for a copy of the credit report. They are required to give you a free copy of your report if it is inaccurate because of fraud.
- Consider putting a credit freeze on your credit file, which means that potential creditors cannot get your credit report. This makes it less likely that a potential identity thief can open accounts in your name. Contact each credit reporting company.
- File a report with your local police. Get a copy of the police report, so you have proof of the crime.
- Keep records of your conversations and all correspondence.
- Check with your bank issued credit card issuer to understand the limits of your liability.
For more information regarding identity theft, visit the following websites:
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC) (You can also call the ID Theft Hot-Line at 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338))
- FTC Identity Theft Online Complaint Form
- www.fraud.org (You can also call: 1-800-876-7060)
It is important not to panic if you become a victim of identity theft/fraud. Take the necessary measures to prevent the crime from happening to you but if it does, know that you have a game plan and take immediate action. Consider joining one of the fraud protection services. Most are available at a discount and rates for seniors are typically lower.