The holidays will be here before you know it! For many, this means traveling out of town, buying gifts for family and friends, and enduring at least one awkward dinner conversation. We can’t do much about that last thing, but we can offer some tips designed to help you protect your identity, privacy, and finances this holiday season.
1. Beware of deals too good to be true
If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is — especially when it comes to email offers. Cybercriminals know how much we love good deals, so they ramp up their fraudulent efforts each holiday season. Pay close attention to every email that hits your inbox, and stay away from those that contain any of the following elements:
- Misspellings and grammatical errors
- No contact details in the signature line
- The offer seems too good to be true
- The salutation is oddly worded or contains vague terms like “customer”
- When you hover over a link, it reveals a different URL than stated
- Something just feels off
If you suspect that an email is fraudulent, do NOT click on any link. Mark as spam and delete!
2. Keep your software up to date
Hackers can easily gain access to a victim’s computer by exploiting known vulnerabilities in outdated software. So be certain that you update your software whenever new patches are released.
3. Only shop or enter sensitive data on secure sites
When shopping online, be sure the websites you visit are HTTPS — especially if you will be entering sensitive information like your credit card details. The “S” stands for secure, and while it won’t prevent all forms of fraud, it does offer more protection than HTTP sites.
4. Don’t make purchases or share sensitive data on public wifi
Never make purchases while connected to a public wifi network.
Even if the public network is password-protected, it’s much easier for hackers, identity thieves, and cybercriminals to steal your personal information. So don’t enter your payment details or other sensitive data if you’re connected to the local coffee shop — no matter how good their iced chai lattes are.
5. Use your credit card
When possible, make purchases using your credit card instead of a debit card. This is true whether you’re shopping in a traditional brick and mortar store or an online retailer. While using a credit card doesn’t prevent fraud from occurring, it does limit the amount thieves can steal directly from you.
In addition to the security of spending limits, credit card users are further protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. This means users can more easily contest unauthorized purchases and be reimbursed for lost, stolen, or damaged items.
6. Don’t announce your travel plans on social
If you plan to travel during the holidays, be careful what you share on social media! Thieves monitor Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to identify whose homes they should target.
This means you should avoid the following:
- Announcing travel dates
- “Checking in” to locations far from your home
- Sharing photos of your vacation in real-time
- Bragging about how great the weather is where you are
Relax, they’ll be plenty of time to make your co-workers jealous when you get home!
7. Never share photos of your boarding passes
No matter how cool the destination, refrain from sharing photos of your boarding pass. That’s because barcodes on boarding passes contain a wealth of sensitive data, including your full name, birth date, and your passenger name record (PNR). If thieves have your PNR, they can access a treasure trove of personal details, including:
- Your name and birthdate
- Your passport number and details
- Car or hotel bookings made through the airline
- Your email address
- Telephone number
- The last four digits of your credit card as well as the name on the credit card
- Special service requests, as well as optional service instructions like upgrades, languages, and luggage
8. Consider putting a hold on your mail
There’s no clearer symbol that a family isn’t home than a stack of newspapers or packages outside their door. If you can’t get a trusted friend or neighbor to collect your mail while you’re gone, consider placing your mail on a temporary postal hold. If you subscribe to a newspaper, you might need to request a hold from them as well.
9. Clean out that wallet or purse
It’s time to clean out those wallets and purses, and not just because you’ve been lugging around an expired library card for the past 18 years.
Theft increases greatly during the holiday season, and you should limit what thieves can get their hands on. Keep your important documents, like Social Security cards and birth certificates, in a safe place — like a safety deposit box.
Still paying with checks? That’s probably not a good idea. However, if you insist on using this form of payment, only bring as many checks with you as you intend on using that day.
10. Closely monitor your statements
To protect your identity and finances, it’s imperative that you closely monitor all financial statements — especially during the holidays! Don’t wait for your monthly statement to arrive before reviewing your account. Instead, make it a habit to routinely check purchases and balances online. If you notice any irregularities, report them immediately.
And regardless of how you celebrate the holidays, just remember that the single most effective step you can take to protect your identity is to remain vigilant!