It was a day like any other. ERIE Customer Don O.* of Pennsylvania received a text from Amazon letting him know that his package had been delivered.
The only problem? He hadn’t ordered anything — an identity thief had.
Don later discovered that the thief had also opened up a fake credit card in his name and used it to purchase an Amazon Prime membership in addition to products from the popular e-commerce site. Just like that, Don became a victim of identity theft.
The Insurance Information Institute reports that there were 16.7 million victims of identity fraud in 2017 — a record high that follows a record high the previous year.
Online shopping is convenient, but it does come with its fair share of risk. If you’re shopping from the comfort of your couch this holiday season, the following tips from a variety of experts can help you lower your chances of getting trapped like Don. (Fortunately, his story had a happy ending—check it out below.)
- Only shop on secure sites. Any page that lets you enter credit card information should start with https:// and include a locked padlock icon. Make sure to enter the correct spelling of the site you intend to visit.
- Avoid making purchases via a public Wi-Fi connection and computer. Open connections can give hackers direct access to your personal information. The big concern with public Wi-Fi is that your information could be available to anyone on the network. Also avoid using public computers in places like libraries or hotels—they can often store your personal information for anyone to see.
- Choose strong passwords. If a site requires you to log in,choose a password that doesn’t in any way relate to your personal information. And be sure the password includes a mix of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and characters.
- Activate your device’s built-in firewalls. Also consider investing in separate security software and updating it frequently.
- Update your browser(s). Browsers need to be updated just like security software does. Regularly check for browser updates—older versions could have security gaps that leave you vulnerable to identity theft.
- Check your card’s purchase activity frequently. During the holiday shopping frenzy, it’s worth checking your credit card transaction activity every week or so. Doing so lets you spot and dispute any fraudulent charges ASAP.
Cell phone safety smarts
It's important to protect your smartphone, too. One good way to guard your phone is to set a PINs on the phone's home screen and backup and secure your data on a computer or in the cloud. Other good ideas include installing phone locator software that can help you pinpoint your lost phone and a remote wipe app that can delete sensitive information if your phone ends up in the wrong hands.
While many experts say it’s safer to shop via an app than a website, it’s still a good idea to see which kinds of personal information the app collects and shares. Only install apps from trusted sources. If you're not comfortable with the terms and conditions, then seriously reconsider downloading that app.
Coverage for identity theft (happy ending for Don)
Sometimes even the most careful cyber shoppers fall prey to identity theft. That’s why it’s worth adding ERIE’s Identity Recovery Coverage to your homeowners insurance policy. It can help you undo identity theft damage and reimburse you for covered expenses like lost wages, administrative expenses and even some legal fees.
And it protects every relative in your household, even your children. Identity Recovery Coverage from ERIE was there to help Don, the customer mentioned at the beginning of this post, get a handle on a bad situation. An identity fraud case worker helped him make contact with Amazon, order credit reports and put a security freeze on his credit.
“I was really happy with the help I received from ERIE,” says Don. “They did everything except drive to Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle.” The fraudulent charges were eventually erased, and Don’s credit was not affected.
Identity Recovery Coverage can be added to your homeowners policy for just $20 a year. Your Erie Insurance agent is able to tell you more about it.
* Name has been changed for privacy. This story was originally published on Nov. 9, 2016. It was updated with new information on Nov. 8. 2018.