The holiday season brings out the gift shoppers in droves. It is also the prime time for thieves to steal credit card information, data, and identities. Remaining safe and vigilant while shopping this season can protect you from future losses and time consuming processes to regain your money or identity.
The attorney general in Illinois recently warned shoppers to exercise caution when using any card payment, particularly debit cards that would allow a thief access to a personal bank account. The advice is sound for all shoppers this holiday season. The increased traffic online and in stores will make it more difficult for retailers to monitor authorized payments. Sometimes, the money lost from credit card and identity theft can’t be recouped. At the very least, a data security breach could lead to unwanted spam mail at your home or online.
To protect your information this season, use caution and follow these tips:
1. Save your receipts. Start a file folder for all your holiday receipts. Ideally, keeping all receipts until you have reconciled them with your bank statement is the best way to keep track of your finances year round. Around the holidays, though, it is even more important to track the money coming out of your bank account. Saving receipts can also be helpful as evidence if a dispute arises.
2. Don’t hold your credit or debit card out in public. Wait until you are asked for payment. A thief may try to gain credit card information by looking over your shoulder if you are holding the card out while waiting.
3. Use alternative payment methods. Consider using disposable credit cards online to protect your information.
4. Update security software. Make sure your computer has current anti-virus, anti-spam, and anti-spyware software installed and running.
5. Look for security in the browser. Before you enter any payment information, look for the padlock icon or the “https” in the address bar. The icon indicates a secure website.
6. Beware of scams. Don’t trust sites you’re not familiar with that advertise out-of-this-world bargains. The rule of thumb stands that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you are unfamiliar with a company, do a search before buying from its site.
7. Don’t purchase through Wi-Fi. Open Wi-Fi networks have less security, and you have the added chance of someone looking at your screen while you’re completing an order.
8. Look at your bank account and credit card activity frequently. Make sure you have savings to allow for the time it takes to issue a new card if yours is compromised. Alert your bank or credit card company if you notice any suspicious activity. While many banks and credit cards are vigilant about monitoring card services, you shouldn’t rely on them as the only protection against fraud.
9. Watch out for false breach of security calls. Some scammers are calling individuals and posing as financial institutions. If you are called and asked to verify your personal information, hang up immediately. Then, call your financial institution to verify the call or report the suspicious event. A legitimate organization will never call and ask you to verify information over the phone.
10. Only provide basic information to a retailer. Never hand out your social security number. They will most often ask for your name, address, and payment information. That is all you should have to supply.