Updated: Nov 13, 2019
The holiday season is a special time for spreading goodwill, spending time with loved ones and showering one another with thoughtful gifts. But for some, the holidays can quickly become a disaster thanks to criminal activity both on and offline. Thieves love to take advantage of our increased spending activities in stores and online as we travel to our merry and bright destinations. It’s easy to become a little more lax with our personal information or be too preoccupied to notice red flags.
But you don’t have to fall prey to anyone trying to steal your holiday cheer. Here are 10 ways you can stay vigilant this holiday season:
Use websites you trust
These days, we don’t have to leave home to get our holiday shopping done. Maybe you’re trying to track down that perfect gift for your favorite aunt and find it on an unfamiliar website. Before you make that purchase, do a little digging first to make sure it’s a legitimate business. Make sure to research all of your options and always choose the companies you know and trust. Here are a few things to look for:
Can you find customer testimonials?
Is there contact information on the website? If not, this could be a sign the company is fake. Do your due diligence by contacting the company.
Is the company posting on social media accounts regularly?
Does the website’s URL have an “s” in the “https”? If not, that means it’s not secure.
Use a credit card when purchasing online
Credit cards typically offer better fraud protection and companies can place holds on suspicious transactions. With debit cards, the money immediately comes out of your account. And, even though most banks offer fraud protection, it could leave you without living expenses while the paperwork is being processed to get your money back.
Sign up for card alerts
Most banks offer mobile alert services that send you text messages when large or questionable purchases have been made using your debit or credit card. These alerts often lead to catching criminals nearly in the act and help give you more peace of mind. You may also be able to place a travel notice on your cards, letting your bank or credit card company know you’re leaving the country and for how long.
Check your accounts…often
If you haven’t done so already, now is a great time to sign up for online banking or download mobile apps for your bank or credit card. You’ll want to regularly check your accounts to make sure everything looks OK. Call your bank, credit union or credit card company immediately if you notice anything amiss.
Arm your technology Make sure your security software, operating system, computer programs and apps are all updated to the current versions. You can also download products to scan your devices for viruses and install security patches. If you’re not tech-savvy, find an IT support service to take care of these items and answer any security questions you may have.
Avoid public Wi-Fi
When shopping online, avoid using a public Wi-Fi connection. Information like your driver’s license number, Social Security number, bank account numbers and all of your passwords could be vulnerable if you’re on an unsecure network.
Be on alert for email scams
During the holidays, it’s tempting to open an email promising huge savings from your favorite retailer. At first glance, everything looks like it normally does when you receive emails from this company. But look a little more closely for these things:
Did they spell your name right or are they addressing you as your email address in the greeting?
Is anything else misspelled or grammatically incorrect?
Is the “from” address legitimate?
Are they asking you to send personal information or money? Any reputable company will never ask for your personal or financial information via email.
Are they steering you in the direction of suspicious links by trying to get you to act quickly? Hover over each link to see if it matches what’s on the page. If it doesn’t, don’t click the link or it may infect your device with viruses or malware. Delete the email immediately.
Look out for too-good-to-be-true travel deals Traveling is expensive, and costs can go through the roof during the holidays. Of course, we want to find the best deal to get to Grandma’s house. But beware of fake travel sites where the deals sound too hard to pass up. These sites might be luring you in to providing personal information like your bank account numbers and other information no reputable company will ask for. Follow the safe website tips given earlier in this article to make sure the travel site checks out.
Don’t post your travel plans
It’s very tempting to want to post your upcoming travels and photos on your social media accounts. Do yourself a huge favor and wait until after you’re back from your trip. Revealing you’re not home is an open invitation to any potential thief to break into your empty house. Your photos will still be just as lovely and entertaining once you’ve safely returned home.
Keep gifts hidden
Who doesn’t love to see a beautiful Christmas tree with a bounty of gifts underneath? It’s a heartwarming image. Be sure that yours isn’t directly in front of a window or other place that could be easily spotted by a thief.
Be sure to protect your holiday deliveries as well. Leave special instructions for FedEx, UPS or Amazon Prime on hidden places to leave your packages if you’re not home. Don’t allow packages to be left on your porch. You never know who’s watching and ready to pounce the second the delivery truck drives away. If you don’t have a hidden or safe location, see if a neighbor will accept packages for you or have them delivered to work, if you have approval from the company.
Watch your surroundings
When you’re out shopping, be sure to stay alert and take precautions by doing the following things:
Watch out for debit/credit card skimmers, the devices attached to gas station card readers or ATMs that could steal your information.
When placing packages into your vehicle, don’t leave them in plain sight if you have more shopping to do. Always put everything in your trunk.
Watch out for anyone behind you in a checkout line who could be snapping a photo of your card number.
When walking to your car, keep some distance between you and the cars, have your keys ready and remain alert by keeping an eye on others in the parking lot.
A little planning goes a long way in helping to protect yourself and your finances during the holidays. But it shouldn’t stop on Dec. 31. Make a commitment to stay alert and aware throughout the year. Thieves and fraudsters don’t stop trying to steal what’s yours because the holidays are over. They continue to get smarter and refine their criminal ways. But if you know how to stay safe, you’re already one step ahead of any crook on or offline.