For most of us, we look forward to the upcoming holidays and celebrating with our family and at our workplaces. In the past, we'd have to worry about pickpockets (we still do), but today's scams can hurt us without being near us physically.
I've written an article about home security, and you need to take your credit and identity protection as seriously, if not more. Scams, identity theft, and stolen charge card numbers spike around the holidays. Following are tips on protecting yourself from 8 different scams:
1. Data Breaches
Using charge cards and doing online shopping during the holidays is great for the different stores and suppliers. As we've seen, hackers and scammers can break into big company sites that we felt we could trust. According to a top executive at one of the leading credit bureaus, “Data breaches are inevitable and most consumers are vulnerable to identity theft… especially during the holidays.”
This is a tough fact for many, especially for online shopping, but using cash whenever you can thwart card numbers from being scammed. I personally charge anything over $10.00 (I get points from Southwest Airlines using their charge card), and a survey by TransUnion showed that 80% of buyers use charge or debit cards to make their purchases. It is suggested that if you're going to use a card, you are better protected using a charge card vs. a debit card.
A few other tips to protect yourself from data breaches include:
- Using a special charge card for online purchases that gives you a lower spending limit.
- Check to make sure that the charge card provider will alert you about odd purchases or if you're getting close to or over your card limit.
- Use Paypal or other similar services (we use Paypal a lot). We would hope Paypal never goes through a data breach, but so far they haven't.
2. Package Theft
We hear more and more stories of thieves grabbing packages on people's doorsteps. Sometimes they are videotaped from a Ring or similar doorbell camera system. But getting them on camera doesn't usually get your packages back.
Unless you work from home or someone is in the home most of the time (babysitter, retired seniors, etc.), have your packages delivered to your office or a UPS store or use Amazon Locker. If you can't use those, make sure you receive your tracking number as that will give you an idea of when your package will be delivered, although it's still usually a large enough time frame that thieves could still get the items before you do.
Another scam is coming home to a note on your door telling you there is a package waiting for pick-up from you. If you call the number, they will ask questions to "prove" your identity. Try to look up the phone number if possible and if you're not expecting a package, or at least not from a particular shipper (you have to ask the caller some questions), then don't divulge any personal information.
3. Shopping Scams Online
I never realized that there are phony online stores that exist just to scam people by taking their personal information, including credit card numbers, with no intention of shipping any products. They then sell the credit card information to other sources. Although we have been hit with someone else using our credit card (a couple of times), I didn't know there were online stores like this.
Make sure you're purchasing from a store you know. If there's a good deal from a merchant you've never used before, try doing an online search to see if there are any other buyer reviews. You can also try Yelp and the Better Business Bureau. Also, check out the URL - https: should show up vs. just HTTP:. This means that the website has passed security compliance standards. Even if these corrupted sites don't get your personal information, they can release malware on your computer. Heed your browser's warnings.
4. Dangerous Holiday E-Cards
Did you know that those cute and fun E-cards can turn out to be scams? What can we trust any longer?
How does this work? Either your contacts have been hacked or someone in your contacts list was hacked, and the hackers can somehow get your personal information. I've never received one of these E-cards, but I don't doubt they exist. A tip is that there can be typos, such as a misspelled e-mail address (that will usually have a number in it) or one of your contact's names is spelled incorrectly.
If you ever receive an e-mail from a friend or acquaintance with a link, make sure the sending e-mail address is actually your friend's. This is the easiest way to spot a scam. I report all of these scams and spam to my e-mail provider so their e-mails get flagged.
5. Phony Apps
App stores such as Apple, Google, and others are supposed to keep us from downloading fake apps, right? Well, I guess some hackers can get through the scrutiny somehow.
Some of these apps "pose" as a real company and the icons look similar. Be careful about downloading one of these and providing your personal information.
Phony apps look good until you look deeper. Before downloading, check the tips out below:
- App descriptions that don't seem to make any sense
- Zero reviews - could be a brand new app but unlikely
- Check to see if there have ever been any prior versions.
6. Gift Card Scammers
I recently saw a Judge Judy episode where one man swore he was scammed in ordering a gift card online from the young gift card defendant, who stated that he didn't sell the gift card and he didn't receive any bank deposits for the card. The defendant won since the plaintiff couldn't prove his case.
How do scammers do this? They skim or copy the gift card codes before someone actually purchases them. When the card gets activated, the scammers use it up. That would be easy to do with me because I don't ever run out and start using most gift cards I've received. So if a scammer got the code on one of mine, they'd have plenty of time to use it.
Try to make your gift card purchase by buying cards that are behind store counters, although most stores have their cards out on the floor. Make sure the scratch-off strip hasn't been tampered with.
7. Non-existent Charities
There are scammers out there trying to take advantage of some people's extra sense of giving around the holidays by setting up false charities and advertising them on social media sources and via e-mails. Even well-known charities aren't all that charitable. I've read some interesting stats on how much of your money actually goes to the needy vs. the charity's management.
Check out Charity Navigator - this is a non-profit organization that rates over 8,000 U.S-based charities operating throughout the world. Another resource is the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. Do your homework before donating your hard-earned dollars.
8. Abusive Wi-Fi
Have you ever used the shared wi-fi in coffee shops or other businesses? Do you ever wonder if someone is hacking your smartphone, tablet, or laptop?
It is happening! We're all warned about it, but it can be a habit for people to use free data provided to them by different establishments. This is usually advertised as free, "shared" wi-fi and might come with some warnings. What scammers do is change up wi-fi signals to allow them to hack your device.
Don't use a credit card or show any of your personal financial information while using free, shared wi-fi. Hackers might still be able to break into your device, but don't make it easy for them to get all of your personal data.
What should you do if you've been hacked or scammed?
As soon as you think it's happened, notify any affected charge or debit cards and accounts. You won't be held responsible if you alert your card merchant right away. In fact, we received items through the mail that we didn't order and we were told we could keep items since it was ordered fraudulently.
It wasn't anything good - a quit-smoking kit (we don't smoke), some small electrical pieces, and basically useless things. These are usually "test" purchases that online credit thieves start out with so you hopefully won't notice and shut your card down.
We even had some kind of Amazon scam where people were ordering things that were being delivered to us (again, small weird, useless items), but they weren't using our Amazon account (no charges showed up) or our charge cards. I still don't understand that one!
Make sure your credit isn't being hurt by any of these scams. It could prevent future credit if you don't report it and get things straightened out.