Last year, holiday spending increased as more than 212 million U.S. consumers spent an estimated $45 billion in stores and online from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, according to the National Retail Federation. However, amidst the hustle and bustle, consumers may become vulnerable to one of the nation’s fastest growing crimes—identity theft.
“Shoppers are often overwhelmed by the season’s tasks, so it’s easy for them to let their guard down, and thieves take advantage of this,” said Mark Springsteel, treasurer and director of financial services for AAA Arizona.
Here are 6 tips to safeguard your personal information and your money when shopping in person or online this holiday season:
- Use cash or credit only. Compromised debit information puts yourmoney at risk because the card is directly linked to your bank account. Credit cards offer greater consumer protection and less liability than your bank card. Of course, if you have gift cards, you can use them to offset your holiday shopping spending, too.
- Clean out your wallet. Carrying excess credit cards, checks or social security card is risky if your wallet is lost or stolen. Only carry the essentials when holiday shopping, and keep all account numbers and phone numbers for those you carry at home.
- Search before you swipe. Tech-savvy thieves use inconspicuous tools like skimming devices to steal your card information at ATMs, gas pumps or other pay terminals. Don’t use swipe devices that look out of place, shield your PIN number, or ask the cashier to run your card through the register rather than the card reader. In other words if you see an ATM without a listed bank affiliation right on the front, find another ATM to use while holiday shopping.
- Stick with sites you trust. Shop at online retailers you recognize, and ensure you are at their correct site. Misspelled domain names or sites ending with unknown domain names can be dummy sites used to capture your personal information. Don’t click through any links that arrive in your inbox. Instead, type them in yourself and do check your spelling when holiday shopping.
- Shop secure. Before submitting credit card information, make sure the website is secure by looking for “https://” instead of “http://” in front of the web address.
- Stay off public Wi-Fi. Never use public wireless hotspots to do online holiday shopping, banking or any activity that requires passwords and personal information. You never know who is cyber-watching.
Leah Ingram is the founder of theSuddenly Frugal blog and the author of 14 books, including Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less (Adams Media, 2010) and Toss, Keep, Sell: The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Clearing Out Clutter and Cashing In (Adams Media, 2010). Leah appears regularly in frugal-living segments on the “10! Show” on NBC10 in Philadelphia and is a blogger for the NBC Universal website Home Goes Strong. Recently, Leah launched a new frugal venture called Philadelphia on the Cheap. This site focuses on deals, discounts, and freebies in the Philadelphia area—where she lives with her husband, two teenage daughters, and dog. Follow her on Twitter @suddenlyfrugal