12 Tips to Better Protect Your Identity and Finances This Holiday Season
As this holiday season approaches, be alert to holiday scams and malicious cyberattacks. Holiday Scams Come in Many Forms including fraudulent Ads, Emails, Calls, and Texts. Fraudsters frequently take advantage of the holidays to push themed scams through online ads, misleading calls, phishing emails, and text messages. The worst part? These scams are often carefully crafted and branded to look like they came from a legitimate retailer or other organization and for a legitimate purpose.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to better protect your identity and your finances while filling your holiday gift lists.
- Stay alert to phishing attacks - Be wary of phishing emails that are often designed to look like an authentic message from a well-known brand. Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails, and be wary of email attachments. Do not provide sensitive information through email. If you receive an unsolicited email from a business but wish to learn more about the offer, log on to the authentic website directly by opening a browser and typing the web address yourself. Don’t click on the link provided.
- Do your homework on unfamiliar retailers - One of the best ways to avoid online shopping scams is to make your purchases on the websites of retailers you already know and trust. If you find an unfamiliar retailer that has an item you just can’t find anywhere else, make a note of the retailer’s phone number and physical address in case there is a problem with your transaction or your bill.
- Check websites for the https and padlock – Look for indications that your information will be encrypted on online shopping websites. This is typically identified by a URL that begins with "https:" (instead of "http:") and a padlock icon. Remember that some attackers may try to trick website visitors by displaying a fake padlock icon, so be sure that the icon looks authentic and is in the appropriate location for your browser.
- Use a credit card – Choose a credit card over debit for online purchases. There are laws that limit an individual’s liability for fraudulent credit card charges. Additionally, because a debit card draws money directly from a bank account, unauthorized charges could leave the victim without funds to pay bills or other necessities.
- Choose shopping apps wisely - Be aware that some mobile shopping apps could be a scam, and other legitimate shopping apps may collect a lot of personal information. Look for apps that tell you what they do with your data and how they keep it secure. Keep in mind that there may be no legal limit on your liability with money stored in a shopping app or on a gift card. Unless otherwise stated in the terms of service, you may be responsible for all charges made through your shopping app.
- Don’t overshare - No retailer needs your date of birth or Social Security number in order to do business. However, if crooks are able to get your credit card number plus some personal information, they could potentially do a lot of damage to your identity and credit. When possible, provide as little personal data as possible.
- Purchase gift cards from a reputable source - Purchase gift cards only from trusted sources and known brands, especially when buying online. If you purchase a gift card in-store, check the card to see if the wrapping has been tampered with, or if the PIN has been revealed. If a gift card looks suspicious, take it to an employee and pick a different card. If the gift card is digital, store it in an online account or mobile wallet that requires a password. If you receive a gift card this holiday season, use it as soon as possible to avoid loss or theft, or alternatively register the gift card and change the PIN.
- Deliver gifts securely - It’s a good idea to have packages delivered to a secure location. If you won’t be home, send them to your place of work, or ask a neighbor to watch for deliveries. Consider requiring a signature for delivery, or look for options to pick up your package at a nearby store or mailing center. If you plan to send a gift card by mail, use a method that allows you to track the delivery. If it's being sent online, use a means that is password protected.
- Verify the sender before opening ecards - Make sure that the sender's name is visible, be wary if you are required to enter personal information in order to access the card, and avoid opening suspicious emails but especially those with an attachment that ends in “.exe” which could download a virus.
- Install and update antivirus software on all your devices - Install a firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software on your computer, tablet, and smartphone. Check for and install the latest updates, and run virus scans regularly.
- Check your online statements – Keep a record of your purchases and copies of confirmation pages, and compare them to your bank statements. If there is a discrepancy, report it immediately. Go online regularly during the holiday season to check electronic statements for fraudulent charges to your credit card, debit card, and checking accounts.
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