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Make a Resolution to Keep Your Identity Safe

Dec 17, 2017

This time of year finds many people making resolutions. Whether it is joining a gym, spending more time with family and friends, quitting a bad habit, starting a new hobby, or helping others, one resolution that you may not have considered is keeping your identity safe.

During this time of year, we find there is an increase in withdrawals from ATMs, use of credit cards at the pump during travel. While this may make some people more alert, it can also create the opposite effect because we can become so focused on the items on our holiday shopping list or the destination we are trying to reach that we are less aware of our surroundings. This can open a window of opportunity for a criminal to sneak in and take your money or even your identity.

The best way to identify these types of attacks before they gain control of your money is to be aware and keep an eye out for strange activity. Below we have provided some recommendations to keep you safe.  Several tips and tricks that you can implement to keep you and those you care about safe can be found in Wipfli’s 30 Tips in 30 Days ( 

Here are some popular types of threats to be on the lookout for this holiday season.  

Types of Threats

ATM “Shimmers”
A small device, called a shimmer, can be inserted into the slot where you slide your card to collect the information from the magnetic stripe on your credit card. In some cases, they are also attempting to copy the information from your chip as well. To stay inconspicuous, they may even still provide the information to the terminal to hide the fact that there is something malicious at work. These devices may take advantage of communication methods, such as Bluetooth (like your phone has), so the criminal can collect all of the credit card information without being captured on camera going back to the ATM.

Point-of-Sale (POS) Skimmers
The same method that is used on ATM machines has been seen on point-of-sale terminals. A cover can be placed over the top of the POS terminal and can capture your PIN and magnetic stripe.  While this seems to be less frequent, it is important to be on the lookout for these types of devices. While they are made to look exactly like the machine they are attached to, they will be noticeably larger and sometimes look more generic.

Tips and Tricks

Inspect Before You Transact. Make sure to look at the surrounding area of where you are using your card. If at an ATM, look to see if there are stickers missing that may have been used to secure the machine and look for excessive wear around the card area. When in doubt, look to see if something looks “out of place.” It may be inconvenient, but if you see something out of line, make sure to perform your transaction elsewhere and make a note if there is a number to call to report what you saw. This will prevent future problems for others and make sure you can use this location in the future. 

Keep a Watchful Eye Over Your Accounts. While it is important to review statements, bills, and credit information any time, it is especially important to review these items during this time of year. Many credit card companies offer monitoring and free credit check resources to their cardholders.  Look into it and take advantage of any resources your card may have associated with it.  

If possible, create alerts with your online banking to identify when transactions occur. This could be transactions that occur over a certain dollar amount. This works best if you also monitor very small transactions since criminals tend to see if they can perform a small transaction before attempting larger transactions. Keep an eye on your accounts for these types of transactions, especially at places like gas stations, to identify potential fraud before it gets out of control.

Protect Your Information. Transactions rely on the reading of the magnetic stripe on your card, and in some cases, the use of a PIN or another identifier. Be aware that whenever you provide one of these identifiers, it is important to be aware of your surroundings. If you can cover the PIN pad or position yourself in a manner that restricts someone from “shoulder surfing,” it will help protect your information.

Have a Heightened Awareness. You don’t want to let your credit card or other means of payment leave your sight if possible. Treat your credit card like your child.  Don’t let them get lost in the crowd. There is an increased risk of theft when you give your card to someone that can do something with the card while you wait to pay your bill. If possible, look for a way to pay for your transaction directly.

Increase Privacy in Public. Be mindful of people around you. If you notice suspicious activity, report it to someone. Whether it is law enforcement or those responsible for maintaining an ATM or managers at a store, any information to prevent future theft is important.

Additional Recommendations 

While these next two tips are not specific to the types of fraud we have discussed above, they are good recommendations during any situation. If you feel you may have been compromised, report it. Information can be obtained at or contact local law enforcement.

Use More Than One Way to Identify Yourself. If your financial institution or credit card company provides multifactor authentication, make sure to take advantage of this feature. Multifactor authentication allows you to receive a code on a “trusted device” such as an email address or phone number on file with the institution. 

Turn off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi While Traveling. With the increase in services such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, your smartphone has become an extension of your wallet. Protect it by disabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when not in use. These types of communication constantly look for a place to connect, and you want to make sure someone is not connecting to you! Also, while in public, make sure to limit your connection to free Wi-Fi since this can be unmonitored and lead to the same types of compromise.