4 Tips for Safe Shopping this Holiday Season

Mark Kutzke By | On December 8, 2016

Scammers don’t take off for the holidays. In fact, at a time when most of us use our credit cards even more, identity thieves work harder than ever. It’s easier for them to catch us off guard by offering incredible deals; playing on the scarcity of must-have, sold-out items; and blending in with legitimate retailers.

When you go shopping this holiday season—whether at the mall or from the comfort of your own computer—keep these four simple tips in mind to prevent the risk of exposing your information.

1) Don’t fall for the holiday phish (aka scam e-mails)
Attackers tailor their phishing e-mails to the holidays. Victims commonly fall for clicking on malicious links in e-mails that pretend to be purchase invoices, shipping notifications, or money-saving holiday promotions.

So, how can we tell the real e-mails from the fake ones?

• Does the purchase look familiar? More often than not, an unfamiliar purchase is a sign of a scam rather than a mistake.
– If you’re really unsure about an invoice, check your bank account or log into your online store account as you normally would (in a new browser window) and view your recent activity.
• Does the e-mail look sloppy or unprofessional? Scam e-mails typically don’t have the greatest sense of grammar or layout.
• Does it prompt you for an immediate response? Scammers give their messages a sense of urgency, hoping that you’ll feel more pressured to make a poor decision.
• Does it want you to click on a link or open an attachment? Use caution when prompted to click on a link to take advantage of a holiday promotion. If you think the deal is legitimate, open a new browser and go directly to the website.

2) Don’t give surveys your personal information
Feedback surveys sweeten the deal by offering gift cards and other rewards, but sometimes they’re just a ploy by the bad guys to get your personal information. There’s no harm in clicking through a survey, but when you get to a page that asks for your personal information, be extra careful about what you’re giving away. The survey could be run by a scammer who just wants your personal information to aid in an attack.

3) Opt for less “breachable” modes of currency
It’s impossible to know whether or not the stores we shop at will be in the headlines tomorrow as the next major data breach. As consumers, it’s beyond our control. The best preventative measure is to ensure that these retailers store the least amount of information about us as possible.

When paying for items, try the following:

• When given the option, opt for your credit instead of debit card, as credit cards typically offer much better protection services.
• Mobile pay services, such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay, provide strong security mechanisms that help prevent fraud.
• For online transactions, consider purchasing via an online payment provider such as PayPal rather than giving various individual websites your credit card information. This reduces the number of places where your information is stored.

4) Monitor your bank account more frequently
As much as we like to think we have all the security best practices under our belts, new scams emerge each year. It never hurts to monitor our accounts more frequently during the holidays, especially when we’re entrusting numerous parties with our sensitive financial information. The sooner we catch something suspicious, the better chances we have of remediating any potential loss. If something doesn’t appear right, contact your bank immediately so it can investigate.

If you have any questions about safe holiday shopping this year, feel free to call me at 507-281-6650.

Wishing you and your family happy holidays!