Ah, the holidays … a time for sharing, celebrating, and adding to your credit card statements.
It’s also when scammers looking for personal information step up their game. As much as we look forward to the holidays, scammers enjoy this time of year even more. After all, it’s natural to let your security slip a little when you’re busy and spending a lot. To make sure no one but you is tapping your bank account, keep an eye out for these popular scams.
Phony package delivery notices – Scammers know you’ll receive unexpected packages this season and will send realistic-looking delivery failure notifications so you’ll follow up and reveal personal info. Before you hand over information on the internet, head to your local post office or call the delivery service to verify the notification.
Public “Lie”-Fi – OK, so maybe not our best pun, but this threat is real. Scammers will target hotel visitors, coffee shop patrons, and other users of public Wi-Fi with pop-ups that requests that they install a foreign program (i.e., data-stealing malware) before connecting to a network. Ask yourself if using public Wi-Fi is worth the risk (using public Wi-Fi to access bank accounts or other sensitive info is never a good idea). If you do choose to use public Wi-Fi, remember that you shouldn’t have to install anything.
E-card danger – Almost everyone with an email address will receive these little Flash programs spreading holiday cheer. Unfortunately, scammers have designed some that can install data-leaching programs on your computer and do untold damage. Don’t click links in emails unless you know the sender. Even then, if something looks out of the ordinary, it could be a sign that the sender’s identity has been compromised (might be a good idea to let them know).
Fake charities – These crop up every time there’s a major disaster, but they also appear around the holidays. Leaflets and phone calls from organizations with familiar-sounding names will ask you to open your wallets for a good cause. To be safe, don’t give to any charity with whom you didn’t start the contact.
Must-have gift scams – The “it” gift. You’ll know it by the high demand, low supply, and inflated eBay prices. Almost on cue, websites will pop up offering the rare widget at an unbelievably low price. Don’t fall for this “deal”—the advertiser likely doesn’t have the product and is using the offer to harvest personal information or payment through PayPal.
Holiday vacation scams – If it’s cold and miserable where you are, it’s always tempting to get away to someplace tropical. But be wary of too-good-to-be-true offers. Scammers have long been setting up phony travel sites to gather personal information. Make sure to book through reputable websites.
Mobile malice – If you’re facing a five-hour flight and a three-hour layover, a distracting mobile game can help pass the time. But be careful not to download the wrong one. Mobile games can steal passwords and other data from your device. Always do a quick search to check the validity of the app you’re downloading and read the permissions carefully. A fun game should never ask for permission to send texts or information to third parties.
Old-school pickpocketing – Crowded malls and shopping centers are havens for pickpockets. Why would you notice one more jostle in a day full of them? To combat this threat, it’s best to wear purses across the body and wallets in front pockets or inside a closed jacket. Consider leaving the house with the bare minimum, like your ID and debit or credit card (the latter which offer fraud protection and security features not available with cash).
What you can do
Besides being aware of the scams above, there are additional steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft.
Check your list twice – When the holiday season is over, double-check all of your credit cards and account statements. In fact, make that three times.
Consider using Apple Pay® or Samsung Pay – Tokenization is the single safest way to spend money—during the holidays or after. You’ll be immune to skimming and shimming, and if you don’t bring your wallet, no one can steal it. (Although they can still nab your phone, so know where it is at all times and keep it password or Touch ID protected.)
Don’t leave checks in the mailbox – It’s not hard for thieves to grab stuff out of an unlocked mailbox, which not everyone has. Drop outgoing checks into a locked mailbox, bring them into your post office branch, or hand them to your postal carrier. In fact, why not set up bill pay through online banking to minimize the number of checks you write, period.
Keep current – Scams are always evolving, so it’s a good idea to occasionally check the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Scam Alerts site for a list and descriptions of the latest rackets.
Talk to us! – If you suspect your information has been compromised, contact us right away. The sooner we know you’re at risk, the sooner we can protect your accounts and issue new cards.
So take a breath, recognize the dangers, and take reasonable precautions. By staying alert and shopping smart, you can prevent the holiday season from becoming open season on your wallet and personal information.