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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Protecting your identity: the holiday gift that keeps on giving

identity protectionMost of us will go about our annual routine this holiday season, looking to buy that perfect gift for our loved ones, oblivious to some of the potential threats we face. For example, did you know that each time you use your credit, debit or store card, you leave behind a trail of information for companies (let’s call them Big Brother) looking to capture, warehouse and sell consumers’ personal information to the highest bidder?


Big Brother collects and sells your personal information for a profit without your consent. Sounds fishy, but it’s definitely legal and it’s not stealing by any means – and it’s a big business. And as your precious personal information is passed along from point A to point B (and C and D), all without your knowledge, it is susceptible to data breaches, as we have seen happen on so many occasions in recent years. Once that happens, your information has been compromised, and you don’t have a clue who has access to it.


How do companies get your information? Remember when you signed up for the store credit card to receive 10 percent off your purchase? You thought it was a good deal at the time, didn’t you? Companies also use clever in-store marketing promotions to gather information on customers.


Every purchase you make with a credit, debit or store card provides valuable data that information brokers can use like pieces of a puzzle to build a profile of you. Once they think they have you tabbed as a member of a specific demographic, they will then try to sell you products and services based on your past purchases. So the next time you receive an email promotion saving you 25 percent off of those skinny jeans that you like so much, now you know why.


You can’t always avoid using a card for big purchases, but if you want to minimize Big Brother’s opportunities, use cash when you can. And you might not want to sign up for any in-store promotions where they ask you to share your personal information.


Big Brother’s tactics may be legal, but crooks are also on the lookout for opportunities to take advantage of you. That’s not a strictly a seasonal phenomenon, but the more shopping you do, the more care you need to take when using credit cards.


You can’t eliminate all of these risks, but you don’t have to face them alone, either. Consider identity theft protection services, which can help monitor your financial accounts, credit reports and personal information, and restore your identity if you do become a victim.






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