Three Ways to Thwart ID Thieves at The Mall

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Doing any shopping this fall? Crime goes up in a down economy, and credit and debit card users are playing the victim. Identity theft is on the rise – last year 9.9 million consumers had their data stolen, a 22 percent jump from 2007. A few ways to better protect your wallet:

SHOP THE BIG NAMES

With more than 70 retailers and payment processors since 2006 reporting breached customer data, it’s no surprise consumers look for certified safety seals like VeriSign and Trust Guard on retail Web sites. But researchers say not all certification programs can ensure that retailers will follow security or privacy guidelines. Phil Hochmuth, senior analyst at research firm Yankee Group, which did a study on seals, cites an “overall lack of a generally accepted standard” of what they mean. “That’s the nature of the Internet.” Experts agree: Stick with  big, national companies like Amazon, which have stronger security because “they have the most to lose,” Hochmuth says.

FIND SOME PRIVACY

“Shoulder-surfing attacks” have occurred at ATMs and computers. Cell phone owners may be even more vulnerable to nosy neighbors, because they tend to type slower on their handhelds and use them everywhere, says Tal Garfinkel, a scientist at VMware who develops security technologies. For $3 to $10, e-tailers like Overstock.com sell filters that darken phone screens when viewed from an angle.

USE THE RIGHT CARD

If bogus charges were made on your credit card, you’re not liable for them while they’re being investigated. But banks can take up to two weeks before restoring debit card funds to your account. Plus, victims could be liable for up to $500 in losses if they wait more than three days to report a problem or far more if they wait longer; credit cards cap losses at $50. To be truly safe, “never use debit cards,” says Paul Stephens, a director at the consumer group Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

2009 Copyright The New York Times Syndicate