To the millions of Americans who have already attended a few holiday parties this year: Check your credit and debit card statements. Why? Because holiday parties are a thief’s playground.
When you go to someone’s home for a festive gathering, you probably leave your coat and other belongings (like your purse or wallet) somewhere you can’t keep an eye on them. It’s not like you want to spend a party keeping tabs on your coat, but you also don’t want to leave anything valuable in a place it could be easily stolen.
You might be thinking, “Hey now, the friends at my holiday parties aren’t going to steal from me,” and in most cases, you’re right. At the same time, identity thieves and fraudsters are often people you know, because they may easily access your information.
Here’s why identity thieves, desperate friends and acquaintances with sticky fingers enjoy holiday parties (excluding the things everyone loves, like cookies and cocktails).
1. You’re Distracted
When you’re at a social outing, you’re probably not concerned about the whereabouts of your coat or purse. Even if you’re thinking about it from time to time, it’s unlikely you’re checking up on it. This gives others the opportunity to peek in your pockets or rifle through your bag.
“All identity thieves thrive on distraction and any perceived point of vulnerability,” said Adam Levin, identity theft expert and chairman and co-founder of Credit.com. “You never know if everyone has your best interest at heart.”
You might distractedly put down your smartphone, and if it’s not password-protected, someone could access any information you’ve stored on it, Levin added.
2. That Spare Bedroom Is a Treasure Trove of Information
Think about how many credit cards and driver’s licenses are sitting in that coat closet or extra room where everyone leaves their stuff after arriving at the party. The average American has 2.18 credit cards, according to Experian’s 2014 State of Credit report, so at a party of 20 people, you’re talking about roughly 43 credit cards in one place. Sure, plenty of guests will keep their wallets in their pockets or hold onto their purses, but some might leave those cards in coat pockets or put bags someplace they can’t see all evening.
If you’re the host, you have to think about all the things someone might stumble upon when wandering about your home. Levin recommended hiding anything valuable, protecting your computers with passwords, shredding unnecessary documents with personally identifiable information and checking up on all these things periodically.
3. It’s Easy to Steal Without Leaving a Trail
A thief doesn’t need to take your physical card to commit fraud — copying the card number, expiration date and security code is usually enough to make card-not-present purchases (online or over the phone). If your ID is available, too, that makes fraud a lot easier.
Ideally, people aren’t carrying their Social Security cards or checkbooks with them to parties, but keeping those items handy can also be a costly mistake if they fall into the wrong hands.
“If there ever was a time of the year that they (thieves) can count on the fact you’re not thinking about personal security, now is the time,” Levin said.
This isn’t to say you should be worried about celebrating the end of the year with friends, but it’s a threat worth keeping in mind. If you’re the party host, make sure you’re not leaving any personally identifiable information out — mail, bills, checkbooks, bank statements — and if you need to, keep the office or wherever you keep sensitive documents inaccessible to guests. As a partygoer, consider bringing a wallet or purse you can keep on your person at all times. Unless you pass out on the couch or something, it’s unlikely someone’s going to try to pickpocket you.
As usual, it’s important to monitor your credit, especially during the holidays. Make sure you’re checking your free annual credit reports, and in the meantime, you can get a free credit report overview on Credit.com.
More on Identity Theft:
- Identity Theft: What You Need to Know
- How Can You Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?
- What Should I Do If I’m a Victim of Identity Theft?