The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy and goodwill, but unfortunately, criminals view the season as a prime opportunity for theft. Since we're right in the midst of the holiday shopping season, now's a good time to talk about the potential for theft and what we can do to protect ourselves this holiday season.
While we may think of holiday theft as the theft of physical packages only, our personal information and payment information can be even more valuable. Last year, over 15 million Americans fell victim to some sort of identity theft. Aside from the horrible inconvenience and hours spent contacting credit bureaus, dealing with creditors, and attempting to correct your records, identity theft can cost you real dollars in the form of illegitimate bills and legal fees. Your best chance at avoiding these wastes of time and money comes from taking measures to prevent others from stealing your information and property in the first place. While not an exhaustive list, here are a few good tips.
1. Keep a close eye on your belongings
In the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping and the rush to check off your shopping list, it can be easy to leave a credit card or wallet on a cashier desk, misplace your phone, or grab your shopping bags instead of your purse. Any of these mistakes leaves your personal information and payment methods available for a thief to use. When you're out shopping, slow down and take stock of where your wallet, purse, phone, and cards are after every stop. It's important to maintain situational awareness of your surroundings. This will help ensure you don't make a costly mistake.
2. Don't make online purchases or enter payment information over untrusted networks
Wireless networks are a great convenience, and many businesses offer free wi-fi for browsing on our phones or tablets while we're waiting in lines at stores or enjoying a coffee break. However, you should connect thoughtfully and use only trusted network connections for financial transactions. There are countless thieves around who will monitor or spoof public wi-fi networks to capture credit card numbers, bank account logins, and other valuable information. Your best bet for online shopping is to use a network you trust, such as at your home. If you have no choice but to use public wi-fi, consider these security procedures:
Obtain wi-fi information directly from the retailer or another trusted source. Attackers may set up networks advertised as "free wi-fi" or "coffee sh0p" to trick you.
Use an encrypted connection. Domains that begin with "https" indicate they are using a secure protocol that encrypts communications between your computer and the website.
Look for a padlock icon near the web address. This assures you the website uses a certificate from a trusted third party that verified the identity of the host.
3. Verify offers in email and social media
If a deal sounds too good to be true, it often is. While you may score some great and legitimate holiday shopping deals, you need to be very skeptical. Thieves will create deals that look like they're from trusted stores and legitimate websites. Before you enter any personal or payment information, perform these checks:
Hover your cursor over hyperlinks to verify that the link matches the address displayed on the page or email.
Go directly to the store website yourself to verify that the same deal exists on the store's site. If you don't see the same deal advertised on the official website, the offer may be fraudulent.
Look for grammatical and spelling errors in messages, and be cautious of unsolicited offers.
4. Avoid using debit cards for online shopping
While debit cards offer a number of conveniences and can help prevent you from overspending, there are several reasons why online shopping is not a good use for them:
Credit cards often offer protection from fraud and refunds for charges you didn't authorize; debit cards offer no such protections.
Charges to debit cards come out of your checking account immediately. That means debit cards provide thieves with your banking information and actual funds are deducted from your account, possibly causing you problems paying legitimate bills.
5. Keep your holiday travel plans and purchases quiet
With our love of social media, sometimes we forget that our posts can be a great source of information for criminals. Don't give thieves an easy way to steal from you over the holidays.
Use available privacy settings to protect your social media content. When you share information with everybody, criminals have equal access to your information.
If you're traveling, don't announce your trip on your social media feeds. Thieves may see your posts as an invitation to break into your home while you're out of town.
Don't share information about gifts you've purchased or received. Again, you may inform thieves that you have expensive new items.
Hopefully, this holiday season will be a safe and happy time for your household and family. By using these tips, you'll make it more difficult for thieves to access your information and property. The actions you take to proactively defend yourself may prevent a negative experience from ruining your holiday season. If you have additional tips, please leave us a comment!