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Tips to Protect Your Funds and Identity this Holiday Season

by Mark Singleton, President & CEO, CNB of Texas


Some people will not be visited by Santa this year. They are going to be naughty. But they will also be rich because they steal credit cards and people's identities.

Cyber theft is especially cranked up during the holiday season because consumers and merchants are in such a hurry they often get lax with credit verification or safeguards.

Identity theft is bah humbug at its worst. According to the Gemalto's Breach Level Index report, in excess of 50% of data breaches are related to identity theft. Here are some of the larger cardholder or accessed record heists in the U.S.

  • Nieman Marcus: 350,000
  • Michael's Stores: 3 million
  • Home Depot: 109 million
  • Target: 40 million
  • EBay: 145 million

There's no jolly ho-ho-ho at those companies. Nor at some financial institutions. A 2014 cyber-attack of JPMorgan Chase compromised the accounts of over 83 million of their customers. Worldwide, in the first half of 2015, everyday (1,358,671), ever hour (56,611), and every minute (943) records have been reported lost or stolen.

Almost three-quarters of all data breaches are associated with identity theft. So, what are some of the safety measures you can take to better protect yourself from the bad guys out there?

1. Take control of your funds.

When sophisticated data systems like the U.S. Office of Personnel Management gets breached (21 million records), it is difficult to feel very secure with any entity that has access to your personal data or funds.

For that reason, you need to make sure the money in your bank passes through a secure program that alerts you if anyone besides you is trying to acquire your funds or personal identity data.

I can't speak for other financial institutions, but I can tell you how CNB of Texas' debit card system works. We created a suite of ID and funds protection fail safes that interact to instantly alert customers of usage on their account. Literally the split second a customer swipes their CNB of Texas debit card they are notified on their smart phone or other Internet devices they may choose.

If someone other than that customer also uses the card or information, the customer is instantly notified. They then contact the bank and the transaction(s) is flagged and the customer pays nothing.

When you take control of your funds at their starting point with systems such as Instant Alerts, you eliminate one of the biggest benefits the bad guys have: the ability to slip through the cracks. If your bank doesn't have a comparable protection program like CNB, switch to a bank that does.

2. Know when the crooks' attack is most likely.

The rate of criminals striking on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve rises by more than 200% compared to other days of the year. And generally it happens between 2-6 a.m. in the morning.

For that reason, it's important to have a fraud protection program that is tied into your phone and home computer so that if you hear the distinctive buzz of the bank's alert in the middle of the night you can take immediate action to stop the looting of your funds and identity.

3. Use a unique password and know who is asking for your money and financial data.

Year after year, the same 5 passwords top the list of most popular with consumers:

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 12345
  4. 12345678
  5. qwerty

What is "qwerty" you ask? It is the top row of letters on a keyboard from left to right. All of these passwords are easy to use when ordering on line. Regrettably, they are also very easy to figure out by cyber thieves.

In 2014, an estimated 44 percent of holiday season purchases were made on line. That time of year is a goldmine for online pickpockets. The easier you make it for them to drill down to total access of your credit and debit cards (like using easy to figure out passcodes), the easier it is for the bad guys to do real harm to you, your identity and your wallet.

One of the biggest frauds going on during the Christmas buying period are scammers posing as the shipping company delivering your purchase. They ask the purchaser for financial and address delivery information, plus a credit or debit card to secure the delivery. Always check with the merchant from whom you purchased the product to verify the exact delivery service that will be handling your order.

Also, check the merchant. Always confirm that the website you are linking to is the actual website of the retailer. Don't click to a direct link to the vender….always type in the URL yourself.

According to a special CNBC report by Fredricka Ransome, one good way of making sure a website is secure is to look at the business' URL and checking if it begins with "https," which indicates that it is secured through the safeguard of encrypting log-in information before sending it to the server.

Confirm that your bank, like CNB of Texas, has a special team that spends day after day and all through the night making sure that each one of its customers information, funds, identity and integrity are safe, sound and secure.

The holiday season is a time of joy. Please, let's all do our part to make life extremely difficult for the criminals. Partner with us or your bank to keep a watchful eye on your card and account activity all year long. You are the first line of defense and know exactly when it is you or someone else using your information.