In case the holiday season isn’t hectic enough, it’s also often the busiest time of year for an unwanted hassle — identity theft.
One local bank is reminding residents to limit sharing their personal or financial information over the internet as much as possible.
"‘Tis the season for identity theft and one of the best gifts consumers can give themselves during the season, and to begin the new year, is the knowledge of how to protect their personal and financial information," Arvest Bank Public Relations Director Ginger Daril said.
The latest available national data indicated that around 15.4 million consumers were victims of some type of identity theft in 2016. That estimate was up by more than 2 million from the previous year with around 13.1 million consumers affected in 2015.
President and CEO of Arvest Bank-Little Rock Jim Cargill said he would suggest taking precautions yearround.
"Identity theft needs to be top-of-mind for consumers throughout the year, especially during the holiday season," he said. "Attacks compromising your identity can have long-lasting effects on your credit and bank accounts, so it’s important to take numerous measures to protect your personal and financial information."
The Federal Trade Commission created the following tips to help consumers avoid identity theft:
• Lock financial documents and records in a safe place at home and lock wallets in a safe place at work.
• Limit what you carry. When going out, take only identification and credit/debit cards that will be used. Leave social security cards at home.
• Before sharing personal information at the workplace, a business, child’s school or a doctor’s office, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it and consequences of not giving them the information.
• Shred receipts, credit apps, insurance forms, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards and similar documents when they are no longer needed.
• Take outgoing mail to a post office collection box or inside the post office.
• Promptly check mail from home mailboxes. If planning to not be home for several days, request a "vacation hold" on mail.
• Before disposing of a computer, get rid of all personal information it stores. Use a wipe-utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.
• Before disposing of a mobile device, check owner’s manual, service provider’s website or device integrity’s website for information on how to delete information permanently how to save/transfer information to new device.
• Keep browser secure. To guard online transactions, use encryption software that scrambles information sent over the internet. A "lock" icon on the status bar of internet browser means the information will be safe when it’s transmitted. Look for the lock before sending personal or financial information online.
• Use strong passwords with laptop, credit, bank and other accounts. Be creative such as using the first letter of each word in a phrase, and substitute numbers for some letters. For example, the phrase, "I want to see the Pacific Ocean" could become 1W2CtP0.
• Identity thieves can find information about potential victim’s personal lives from social media posts, and use the information to answer security questions to gain access to money and personal information. Never post full name, social security number, address, phone or account numbers to a publicly-accessible site.
• Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software as well as a firewall. Set preferences to update protections often.
• Don’t open files, click on links or download programs sent by strangers.
• Before sending personal information through a laptop or smartphone on a public access network in a public place, see if the information will be protected.
• When using an encrypted website, it protects only the information sent to/from that site. When using a secure wireless network, all the information on that network is protected.
•Don’t use an automatic login feature that saves usernames and passwords, and always log off when finished.
For more information, visit www.ftc.gov and look for the Tips & Advice tab.