The holidays are officially here!
For many, this means spending time with family and friends, traveling out of town, and buying gifts — both online and off. Unfortunately, it’s also a time when identity thieves, hackers, and cybercriminals ramp up their efforts.
The good news is there are steps you can take to better protect yourself. The following tips are designed to help you browse, travel, and shop more safely.
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. Pay close attention to every email that hits your inbox, and avoid those that contain any of the following:
- 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Hackers can easily gain access to a victim’s computer by exploiting known vulnerabilities in outdated software.
You can help reduce your chances of being hacked by updating software whenever new patches and versions become available. It might be slightly inconvenient to install new updates, but your computer (and your bank account) will thank you!
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. Keep your sensitive data off 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 cybercriminals to steal your personal information. So refrain from entering your payment details or other sensitive data at the local coffee shop — no matter how good those 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 from you.
In addition to the security of spending limits, credit card users are further protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. This means cardholders can more easily contest unauthorized purchases and be reimbursed for lost, stolen, or damaged items.
6. Monitor your credit
Monitoring your credit is an essential part of financial wellness, especially during the holidays. Make it a habit to routinely check your credit reports and scores.
PrivacyArmor members can access their monthly TransUnion credit report and score directly within their portal. If you’re a PrivacyArmor participant and you haven’t yet activated our credit monitoring feature, please take a moment to do so. This allows us to send important alerts and notify you about potentially fraudulent behavior.
If you’re not a PrivacyArmor member, and something in your credit report seems off, alert the three major credit bureaus ASAP. The sooner you can get help, the less likely you are to get hit with possible long-term credit damage.
7. 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
8. 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
9. 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.
10. Closely monitor your financial accounts
To protect your identity and finances, it’s imperative you closely monitor all financial account activity. Don’t wait for your monthly statement to arrive before reviewing your account. Instead, you should regularly review purchases and balances online.
PrivacyArmor members can add an additional layer of protection by activating Financial Transaction Monitoring. After linking their bank accounts, participants can set custom thresholds for purchases, withdrawals, and account balances. If a balance goes outside of a defined level, we’ll send an alert. It’s that easy!