Make us your home page

At holiday time, don't give gift of your ID to thieves


The spending season is in full swing, but shoppers both online and in the malls shouldn't let their guards down while hunting for gifts. A slight slipup and they may give away more than they bargain for, identity theft experts say.

No one knows exactly how many people have their personal information stolen each year, but government statistics suggest that number may hit 8-million or more. Whether through physical theft of forms of identification, through electronic means online, or at stores where cards are swiped for purchases, thieves have myriad ways to obtain your personal information.

Take that woman behind you at the mall ATM. She may be standing close to let the crowds pass by, but she also may be trying to sneak a peek at your personal identification number. And the e-mail you receive asking you to "verify" your credit card information is probably not from the site where you just purchased your nephew's present, but from a scammer who tapped into the retailer's site.

"ID theft is obviously a threat any time of year, but particularly during the holidays, thieves and crooks come out from under their rocks to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers," said Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, which offers tips for consumers at

Steven Domeniko, chief executive of IdentityTruth, an identity protection service based in Westborough, Mass., said the recession is likely to contribute to a rise in ID theft.

One thing that concerns Domeniko is that much of the focus on ID theft centers on credit card use, but illegal ATM transactions are a large and growing problem. He advised against using freestanding kiosk ATMs and instead using bank ATMs equipped with security cameras.

Times are tough, but be careful when seeking out a great deal on an unfamiliar Web site. While shopping online is generally safe, Anne Wallace of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit funded by the financial services industry, said it makes sense to be wary. "Before you make a major purchase, the first step is to find out if they have contact information. Is there a street address, is there a phone number? Can you reach somebody?" Shoppers can also check out companies through consumer advocates like the Better Business Bureau, which posts reports on its Web site,


Here are some steps you can take to protect your identity when shopping during the holidays:

Do not use debit cards. Credit card companies provide better coverage in case of theft, limiting a cardholder's liability to $50. If a thief gets access to a bank account, he could clean it out before the victim even knows there's a problem.

Use just one credit card. This limits the amount of information in circulation. Also, instead of signing the credit card, write "SEE ID" on the back, which forces merchants to ask the user for identification.

Keep on eye on your credit card. Don't let it out of your sight, as unscrupulous workers can copy numbers or skim information into a second machine.

Travel light. Remove anything from your wallet you don't need, and never carry your Social Security card. Leave your checkbook at home if you're not going to use it.

Keep receipts. Not only do they help if returns are necessary, but receipts contain information that can be helpful to thieves. Never leave receipts visible in cars or exposed elsewhere.

Be savvy online. Check for the seals from VeriSign, the Better Business Bureau or other groups that authenticate Web sites, and click on them. Legitimate sites will have links to certifications.

At holiday time, don't give gift of your ID to thieves 12/13/08 [Last modified: Saturday, December 13, 2008 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. City Council approves $5 million for Clearwater Marine Aquarium expansion


    CLEARWATER — The City Council on Thursday approved contributing $5 million to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for its massive expansion project.

    Clearwater has agreed to contributed $5 million to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium 
's $66 million expansion project.. [ Clearwater Marine Aquarium] 

  2. Trigaux: Florida, Tampa Bay lagging in growth of their startups

    Economic Development

    The annual assessment of how entrepreneurs are doing across the country is out from the Kauffman Foundation — among the best watchers of the nation's startup scene. How do Florida and Tampa Bay fare?

    Lured by financial incentives, startup GeniusCentral relocated from Manatee County in 2015 to St. Petersburg, promising to creatye 40 new jobs. It took downtown space in an appropriately creative workpace for entrepreneurs. It did not last there, later moving back to less expensive space in Manatee. A new Kauffman Index report on entrepreneurship found that Florida is a good place to launch startups but a tougher place to grow them.
  3. Pleasant dreams: sleep travel site gives high marks to Tampa airport


    TAMPA — Traveling might be considered closer to a nightmare than a dream for many. But that might be different for those who travel through Tampa International Airport. It was ranked the No. 3 overall best airport in North America by Sleeping in Airports, a travel site that tracks the best airports to catch some …

    Tampa International Airport was ranked as the No. 3 best overall airport by travel site Sleeping in Airports. | [Times file photo]
  4. Google parent leads $1B Lyft investment, deepening Uber rift


    SAN FRANCISCO — Google's parent company is throwing its financial support behind ride-hailing service Lyft, deepening its rift with market leader Uber.

    This  file photo shows a smartphone displaying the Lyft app.Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., is throwing its financial support behind ride-hailing service Lyft, deepening its rift with market leader Uber. [Associated Press, 2016]
  5. ReliaQuest opens storefront in mock city of JA Biztown

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — ReliaQuest, a Tampa-based cybersecurity company, opened a "storefront" Wednesday at JA Biztown. The storefront is part of a mock city where students learn economic concepts and run businesses. About 20 real-life Tampa Bay companies sponsor storefronts that local students get to run for a day as part of a …

    ReliaQuest, a Tampa-based cybersecurity company, opened a "storefront" Wednesday at JA Biztown, a mock city where students learn to run businesses. | [MALENA CAROLLO, Times]