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'Tis the season to be jolly — So, don’t be Scrooged by Identity Theft

December 07, 2021 11:30am

(Release from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach)


STORM LAKE, Iowa - While this is the season to be jolly, a National Retail Federation consumer survey finds over half (57 percent) plan to purchase holiday items online this year, down from 60 percent who identified online as a holiday destination in 2020. An Experian Credit Bureau survey also indicated consumers are willing to take security risks to get a good deal and save money, such as purchasing from an unknown or unsecure website. The November 2016 Survey found 23 percent who say they would risk becoming a victim of identity theft for a good Cyber Monday deal.

According to Carol Ehlers, a human sciences specialist focused on family finance with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, “The financial damage from identity theft makes any deal costly.”

Ehlers says consumers need to take precautions to protect their identities while making online and credit card purchases.

“This holiday season make sure you are well-protected from consumer fraud,” said Ehlers.

Ehlers offers 12 tips for consumer protection from Rutgers Cooperative Extension ( :

Guard personal information. Social Security numbers, PINs, bank account numbers – any financial documents kept at home should be in a secure location, preferably locked.

Shred mail and documents. Dumpster diving can give thieves access to bank and credit card statements, health insurance numbers, and other personal information.

Beware of solicitation. Never give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call or are certain the caller is a reputable person. It is okay to hang up.

Use reputable businesses. Shop at businesses you know are legitimate. Check refund and return policies; read privacy and protection information. Keep records and receipts of transactions.

Keep devices secure. If you shop or bank online or use apps to check account balances, update virus software, log out of accounts, exit websites, and close apps when you’re finished. Password-protect your phone, tablet, or computer.

Carry fewer credit cards. You’ll have less to lose if your purse or wallet is stolen. If a gas pump or ATM looks like it was tampered with, do not swipe your card.

Use the right card. Some cards provide additional warranty, return, and purchase protection benefits. Check the rules for your credit or debit card before using. Paying by credit you’re protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this law, you can dispute charges and withhold payment while it’s investigated.

Monitor accounts and statements. Get an annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus ( Monitor your report for errors or signs of fraud.

Be vigilant. Don’t click on random links, and don’t download attachments from people you don’t know. These can carry viruses and malware that steal personal information.

Avoid super low prices. Don’t fall for gimmicks. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Stop sharing. Personal Information shared for promises of “free” stuff online. Delete it.

Opt out. There are free services to reduce telemarketing calls (, unsolicited commercial mail and email (, and pre-screened credit card and insurance offers ( Use them.

For more tips and information, subscribe to ISU Extension and Outreach MoneyTip$ Blog at