End of year holidays usually involve an increased amount of shopping, spending and travel for many people, which are all very commonplace activities. But along with those activities—many of which may take place partially or completely online—comes the increased risk of credit card fraud and/or identity theft. Crooks may be especially active during the holidays, as there are more opportunities to take advantage of unwary, busy consumers who may be quickly trying to get many things done for Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year's or other holidays.
You need to be vigilant to be safe during the holiday season. Below is a summary of some actions you may take to enhance your financial and digital security during this time of year:
- Before traveling, let your financial institution know where you’ll be going and for how long. This will let your bank or credit union block a purchase with your card if it identifies spending outside of your normal behavior and/or in a different location than where you’re supposed to be.
- Clean out your wallet or purse, removing credit cards that you don't use often and your Social Security card. Doing this could limit potential problems if your wallet or purse is lost or stolen.
- Consider using cash for in-store purchases. This lessens the chance that your credit card information could be hijacked and lowers your credit card debt during the end of the year.
- Carefully examine ATMs for skimming devices before using them. A skimming device is hardware—an imposter card reader that fits over or into the authentic card reader and can steal your card number and PIN. Remember to use your hand to cover the ATM keypad when entering your PIN!
- Use credit cards instead of debit cards. Often, credit card companies can get your money back pretty easily, as a charge isn't paid off immediately, while debit cards are like cash coming directly from a savings or checking account. A fraudster can pull money out of your account much faster with a debit card.
- When making an online purchase with a merchant that is not familiar to you, be on the lookout for a confirmation email after buying your merchandise. The email should include a transaction or confirmation number. If you don't get an email (check your email spam folder), that could be a warning sign and you may want to contact the merchant to check on your transaction.
- Review your credit card statements carefully for anything that looks dodgy or that you don't remember. Call your credit card provider right away if a transaction seems strange.
- Always type the full website address of a retailer directly into your browser instead of clicking on an e-mail or in a social media advertisement. This prevents clicking on a link to what may be a similarly named, fraudulent copycat site.
- Be careful of suspicious, holiday shopping deal emails that may be phishing you for personal information. Do not open emails from people, organizations and companies you don't know, and don't open attachments or click on links in a suspicious email that may have poor grammar, misspellings, or fuzzy-looking images.
- Always secure your mobile computing devices (smartphones, tablets and laptops) with a strong password to protect personal information. The hustle and bustle of the holidays means that phones and other devices can be more easily lost or stolen, so they should be secured. A strong password has uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
Holidays should be relaxing, fun and safe. A great way to help ensure that they are is to be careful with your shopping and in how you manage your financial accounts and computing devices.