COLUMBUS — With the holiday shopping season officially kicking off, consumers are flooding shopping plazas and websites searching for the perfect gifts. During this time of year AAA’s insurance and financial experts urge consumers to guard against theft.
“Whether your shopping in the stores or online, it’s important to remain vigilant this holiday season to protect your purchases and your identity,” said Ed Conley, director, Insurance Sales and Financial Services for AAA Ohio Auto Club. “With so much of our lives online, protecting against theft isn’t easy. Fortunately there are steps you can take to minimize the risk.”
At the store, or mall
According to the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services, more than 185,000 larceny crimes occurred in Ohio during 2017. When shopping this holiday season, AAA encourages consumers to stay vigilant and take the following steps to prevent theft:
Don’t leave valuables in plain sight: Shopping bags and packages left in vehicles present an open invitation to thieves. Lock holiday gifts and other valuables in your trunk. At home, close curtains and blinds when leaving.
Park under a light: This will help deter thieves and will also help you check to make sure nobody is lurking in or near your vehicle.
Avoid idle time in parking lot: Lock your car and drive away as soon as possible.
Thin your wallet: Avoid carrying large amounts of cash. Pay for purchases with a credit card or prepaid money card that isn’t tied to a bank account.
Stay alert: It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday excitement, but it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times to avoid becoming a target for thieves.
If theft does occur, a homeowners or renters insurance policy can help replace what’s lost. However, many policies offer limited coverage for belongings away from home. Consumers that aren’t sure what their policy covers should check with their insurance agent before filling their vehicles with gifts.
Online Shopping and Identity Theft
Holiday shoppers also face the threat of identity theft; especially those who shop online. In 2017 alone, nearly 17 million people were victims of identity theft — a record-high for the second year in a row, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
“Identity theft has become common in today’s connected society,” said Conley. “In extreme cases, identity theft can wreak havoc on a victim’s life for years to come. Prevention is always the best defense.”
AAA recommends consumers take the following steps to avoid identity theft while shipping online:
Use strong passwords: Make sure passwords contain both letters and numbers. Don’t use the same password for everything and change your passwords often.
Never give out personal information via email: This is not secure and could be a scam. If you receive an email thanking you for a purchase you did not make, don’t click the link.
Ensure you’re shopping on secure & certified sites: Look for “https://” in the URL and certification logos in the shopping cart. Examples of certification logos include “VeriSign Trusted” or “PayPal Verified.”
Make sure your computer is protected: Up-to-date firewall, anti-spyware and anti-virus programs can help protect your computer from hackers and you from identity theft.
Monitor your accounts: Check transactions frequently for accuracy. Call your bank or Credit Card Company immediately if you detect any suspicious activity.
“Should the worst happen, and your identity is compromised, having identity theft coverage on your auto or home policy can help,” said Conley. “While coverage won’t proactively prevent identity theft, it may ease the burden of going through the recovery process.”
In addition to identity theft, online shoppers should also be weary of porch pirates, who look to steal packages from consumers’ doorsteps. The best way to avoid this is to have packages shipped to a location where someone can accept them, such as a neighbor’s house or a work address. Installing security cameras can also help catch thieves.