Here’s a topic that applies to everyone: shopping safely during the holidays. Safety means protecting yourself from theft, scams and fraud. This time of year everyone is running around like a chicken with their head cut off to get it all done and slide into the home base of happiness that is Christmas. But you have to be smart about it and with a little advice from our friend and consumer advocate expert, Denise Richardson, it’s easy to do.
It’s a time of peace and joy, laughter and friends, gifts and good will—and a sharp uptick in identity theft, scams, and fraud. Now is the time to increase your awareness of identity theft and the various ways you can set yourself up for fraud. The good news is, with a little extra vigilance, you can be sitting pretty with all your shopping done and your identity still safe and secure.
Follow these guidelines and keep your personal information safe for the holidays—and all year round.
Ignore unsolicited e-mail. It’s often hard to tell the difference between a holiday greeting from a long-lost loved one and a “greeting” card from a scammer.
- Do not open any attachments that arrive with these emails as they could contain viruses designed to steal your personal data from your computer.
- Verify the source or ignore the e-mail entirely— and delete it from your system.
Shop secure websites using a secure network.
- Once you proceed to the check out, look to see if the URL address has changed from “http” to “https.” The additional “s” indicates that the website is a secure one and your purchase information has been encrypted.
- If you don’t see the “https,” you should probably cancel the transaction.
Avoid shopping on public computers.
- You cannot guarantee the security of the computer, and you are placing your personal information at great risk whenever you use a public or community computer to shop online.
- Plus, some computers may already have a virus or malware installed set up to retain password information.
Use credit cards rather than debit cards.
- If there is a problem with the transaction, credit card companies can remove the fraudulent charges. It’s not so easy to replace funds stolen from your own bank account.
Shopping at the mall.
- Utilizing secure gift registries like DepositaGift.com is an easy way for friends and family to safely give you monetary gifts via credit card (no need to worry about checks lost in the mail!) from the comfort of home. And since you’re not going to do all of your shopping online—you have to be cautious in the offline world as well.
- When shopping at the malls be sure to be alert to your surroundings. Block the view of anyone who stands suspiciously close to you at store counters or ATM’s.
- Keep a list of important phone numbers that you will need to call if you suddenly discover your wallet is lost or stolen. Stash them away in a safe place (not in your wallet!)—even if it’s in your pocket or with a spouse that you can call if necessary.
- For those consumers who want the simplest and most efficient strategy for dealing with a stolen or lost wallet, consider signing up for the services of LifeLock, an industry leader in identity theft protection. The monthly membership includes their WalletLock service, which does all of the hard work for consumers.
Denise Richardson is a longtime consumer advocate and Author of Give Me Back My Credit! As a victim of identity theft, Richardson set out to research the effects of this kind of theft and became a Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist, trained and certified by The Institute of Fraud and Risk Management. She writes a monthly identity theft column for Lighthouse Point Magazine and continues to raise awareness to the dangers of identity theft as an Education Specialist for LifeLock.com, and on her blog GiveMeBackMyCredit.com. Follow Denise on Twitter.