Safe Shopping Offline

April 6, 2012
Many people assume that identity theft happens only when shopping on the Internet. Unfortunately, this is not the case. You can become a victim of credit card fraud or identity theft through everyday activities in which you engage. Waiting in line at your local coffee shop? An identity thief could be right behind you just waiting for the opportunity to obtain your personal information. Dining at your favorite restaurant? A not-so-trustworthy waitperson could be copying your credit card information to use later. With the threat virtually everywhere, it’s important to be aware of the techniques these criminals use so that you can better protect yourself from becoming involved in one of these fraudulent schemes.

There is really no way to spot identity thieves just by appearances. The reason they are successful is that they blend in with the crowd and don’t call attention to themselves. However, you can control how you conduct your business and financial transactions. By making smart, conscientious efforts to keep your identity safe you can avoid being victimized by scam artists and identity thieves.

The following information can help you recognize the various methods identity thieves use so that you can better protect yourself and your identity when shopping at an actual store or other place of business.

Offline Shopping Theft Techniques
Identity theft cannot happen without the criminal first obtaining your personal information. Most people mistakenly assume since they carry their sensitive information in their wallet or purse that an identity thief has no way to access it. But these criminals are creative and have perfected ways to get this information without your immediately knowing it. Here are some common techniques they use:
  • Shoulder Surfing. This happens when the thief hovers close to you when you are making your financial transaction. This person will try to write down your information or most likely, will take a picture of your credit card, checkbook, or driver’s license using a cell phone.
  • Skimming. This occurs when actual employees capture and store your credit card information, including sensitive, encrypted bank authorization data. These dishonest workers do this by swiping your card through a special device when you are checking out.
  • Stealing. The oldest and simplest method of getting private personal information is the obvious one- steal someone’s purse or wallet. This allows the thief to immediately begin using your identity and charging items to your credit cards. Many times a thief will charge thousands of dollars worth of merchandise before you even realize your purse or wallet has been stolen or have notified the proper authorities.
Keeping Yourself Safe
Every time you go shopping, you need to be mindful of the threat of identity theft. Even if you are going to a place where you frequently shop, you should remember to keep your personal information safe at all times. Here are some tips which can help you do just that:
  • Be Aware. Identity thieves like to keep it simple. They look for customers who are distracted or otherwise preoccupied when checking out. When you are paying for your items, stay focused on what you are doing. Don’t talk on your cell phone or hurriedly rush through the transaction. Take notice of who is around you, including the cashier.
  • Use Cash. One of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of identity theft is by using cash for your offline transactions. Normally, cash transactions require no form of identification and there is no link to your personal information.
  • Use Credit. If you cannot pay with cash, use a credit card. The Fair Credit Billing Act protects you from liability for any unauthorized or fraudulent charges over the first $50 in the event your card is lost or stolen. Debit cards do not offer the same protection. If a thief obtains your PIN, your entire bank account can be emptied.
  • Make Cards Invisible. When using a card for payment, do not leave the side with the account number out in the open where a thief could take a picture of it. Once you or the cashier scans your card, immediately put it back in your wallet. Never leave your card sitting on the counter while you do other things. Whenever you give your card to someone for payment, hand it to them face down. At a restaurant, place your card facing downward on the ticket tray.