How to Avoid Scams and Shop Safely This Holiday Season
keeping-my-information-safe | Read Time: 3 minutes
By Robert Eastwood and Mike Dzielak | Published: November 2023
The hustle and bustle of the holidays typically brings with it increased purchases and the hunt for the best bargains. But sometimes a deal can be too good to be true, which is why it is vital to take steps to protect yourself from scams.
According the Federal Trade Commission, consumers lost nearly $8.8 billion to fraud in 2022, with the most commonly reported fraud being imposter scams and online shopping scams.
Here are tips to help you avoid scams and shop safely this holiday season.
Ways to Protect Yourself
Scammers use a variety of tactics to target their victims, but there are some common themes. Here’s how you can protect yourself and your information:
- Run your errands early. With clocks falling back an hour and it getting darker earlier, visiting stores and your bank during daylight hours where possible can help ensure your safety. When running errands at night, park in well-lit areas and bring a companion along for your trip if you can. Keep your car doors and windows locked, avoid sitting in your car in parking lots for extended periods or time, don’t leave gifts in your car and never leave your keys in your car unattended.
- Stay aware of your surroundings. Be cautious of people lingering around ATM vestibules or other payment terminals. The holidays are a time when many consumers carry additional cash or gifts around, so it is important to remain vigilant. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and ensure your purse or wallet is secure while you’re out and about. Using online and mobile banking for transferring large sums or sending monetary gifts can help keep your cash secure and save you a trip to the bank.
- Be vigilant for skimming devices when paying at merchants or withdrawing money from ATMs to protect yourself from ATM and debit card fraud. Before using your card, check that there are no visible signs of tampering on the terminal, and alert the business if something looks unusual.
- Only shop with legitimate businesses. Scammers are known to spoof reputable businesses’ websites, emails, phone numbers and even online ads. Look for misspellings and branding that doesn’t seem quite right as warning signs for potential scams. Another precaution is to ensure the websites you’re shopping on have web addresses with "https://" or "shttp://", which means the site takes extra measures to secure your information. And remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Use strong passwords and enable multi-factor authentication for any accounts where possible. This goes for your accounts used for online holiday shopping, but is also a good practice for any banking, social media, or other online accounts.
- Schedule deliveries when someone is home, when possible, or request the delivery company hides the package in a less visible spot to avoid porch pirates. Picking up your deliveries from the company’s closest location can also reduce the risk of theft. When scheduling or re-scheduling deliveries, be cautious of phishing scams. Scammers are known to contact potential victims claiming to be from FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service and other transit companies to notify you of an issue with your delivery to induce you to click a link with malware or share your personal information. When in doubt, close the message out and don’t click any links.
- If you’re sending gifts through the mail – especially cash and checks – bring them inside at your nearest post office to reduce the risk of theft from your home mailbox or large blue mailboxes.
- Know the terms and conditions of the credit or debit cards used for your purchases, particularly as it relates to fraudulent purchases. Federal law caps consumer liability for fraudulent credit card purchases at $50. Many debit cards also come with fraud protection, so reviewing the terms carefully can help you decide which card is best suited for your shopping. It is also important to monitor your accounts closely, especially during times of increased purchases, to identify fraud.
- While out and about shopping, be cautious connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, and consider using virtual private networks (VPNs) when connecting to the internet for added protection.
If You’ve Been a Victim
Being the victim of fraud can be scary, but there are steps you can take to minimize the damage, including:
- Always monitor your accounts closely to quickly identify transactions you don’t recognize.
- Contact your financial institutions to freeze your accounts, provide you with new account numbers, debit and credit cards.
- Have any devices that may have been compromised professionally cleaned of malware.
- Change all your online usernames and passwords, including for your bank accounts; passwords should be routinely changed for enhanced security.
- File a report with the police, the Federal Trade Commission (reportfraud.ftc.gov) and Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov).
- Place a fraud alert on your credit report with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
The holidays are meant to be a joyous time. With the right vigilance, you can protect yourself from scams and ensure you and your wallet have a safe and happy holiday season.
About the Authors
Robert Eastwood is Senior Vice President, Chief Information Security Officer at WSFS Bank. He has more than 24 years of experience in the information security field, including nearly 20 years at WSFS, most recently as Vice President, Information Security Officer, where he developed and executed a multi-year strategic plan for Information Security. He also holds a number of professional certifications and memberships in the Information Services, IT and financial services fields.
Michael Dzielak, MBA is Senior Vice President, Director of Financial Crimes at WSFS Bank. Prior to joining WSFS, he spent more than 20 years at the FBI, most recently as a Special Agent on the White Collar Crime Squad, where he was responsible for investigating financial fraud and corruption, and was a leader of global and national criminal investigations in the financial institution fraud, money laundering, government fraud, healthcare fraud, public corruption, civil rights and child exploitation arenas.
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