Shopping during the holidays can get stressful! You have to buy gifts for your family, friends, co workers, plus a dozen other people. Add up the pressure of shopping along with company parties, donation drives, volunteering, and the holidays can become extremely busy in a hurry.
As people scour the stores and web for the perfect gifts, some of their common sense goes out the window. A “too good to be true” deal is no longer questioned, but pursued. A sketchy website is accepted because it has the perfect gift. And then, after the holidays are over, people find themselves becoming victims of things like identity theft, too much debt, stolen credit cards, and scams. To make sure you have a pleasant and worry free time after the holidays, here’s how you can protect yourself while out holiday shopping.
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Prevent Identity Theft
Identity theft affects millions of people every year. It’s a serious problem, so people need to be more careful about what information they let out. Yet, there is something about the holiday season where people throw out common sense in lieu of holiday cheer, and unintentionally provide criminals access to the information needed to steal their identity.
Anytime you give out information like your social security number, birthdate, full name, and other relevant personal information, you put yourself at risk for identity theft. Only provide this information on a must-have basis, and even then only to businesses/organizations you can trust. For example, applying for a store credit card with a small, relatively unheard of online store might not be the best idea.
The best way to prevent identity theft is to be extremely cautious with your information, but you should also monitor your credit for suspicious activity. If you notice your credit score dropping over time, it could mean somebody has stolen your identity and making purchases in your name.
Stop Credit Card Thieves
There is another tactic that a scammer can use to ruin your credit, and that’s by stealing your credit card. This is a little different from identity theft, in that instead of getting new credit cards in your name, criminals instead just use one of your current ones.
If you do a lot of online shopping at smaller business websites, it is possible that criminals could get a hold on your info, either by hacking the business, or simply by physically running the business itself. The information you gave the business in order to make a purchase can then be used to buy other things online.
Another way criminals get your credit card info is through card skimmers. Card skimmers are commonly placed on public places where you swipe your credit card, like ATMs and gas station pumps. As you swipe your card to pay, the skimmer grabs your card’s info and then transmits it to the thief. Similarly, a waiter may take your credit card at a restaurant and uses a device to scan your card while charging you for the transaction.
To prevent card skimming, have a hard look at every public place you scan your card and be aware of anything odd. Often, card skimming devices stick out farther than they should, they might be a different color of plastic than the rest of the machine, and/or they look different from other machines nearby. If something does look odd, either pay in cash or go to a different machine/business.
It’s also important to keep an eye on your transaction history for your credit cards. If things you didn’t buy start popping up, inform your credit card company immediately and get your credit card cancelled.
Watch Out For Fake Websites Selling Fake Products
As the holiday season begins, many scammers are using the web in order to make some quick cash off of desperate shoppers. One major way they are doing this is by creating websites that look like a small business. They might have this season’s hottest items at a reasonable cost, specialized products for a specific kind of consumer, or just normal things people want for super low prices.
Then, as the company makes money from people buying their fake products, they either never send the product (that didn’t exist) or send a terrible knock-off version. This is stuff like clothes that don’t look like the photos provided, USB flash drives that don’t have any memory in them, items that are the wrong size completely, and more.
In order to not get taken advantage of, anytime you shop on a site that isn’t a big and trusted business, do extra research. Do they have social media pages, and are they actually using it? Does the business have reviews from real people on trusted sites? How long has the site been around? If anything seems fishy, it’s best not to give them money.
Expect a lot of these kinds of scams to have Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. They want to try and give a sense of urgency, that way you don’t have time to do research on their business. Don’t just jump in, take a few minutes to do some basic research, and if everything is in the clear, then go ahead.
Don’t Buy From Fake Sellers on Amazon and eBay
It’s not just independent websites that house scammers, major sites like Amazon and eBay have them too. There has been a recent trend on both sites where people pretend to be a seller on the site, list a product for a lower price, and wait. Then, when somebody pays for the product, the item is never shipped and the seller vanishes.
The bright side of this is that both sites have guarantees and promises to protect the customer if this happens, typically in the form of a refund, but this could leave you without a present if you do your shopping last minute.
To avoid this, check the seller ratings and how long the account has been active if you ever purchase from a third party on Amazon. If it’s a brand new account, with no reviews on it, assume it’s a scammer.
Sometimes, the person you need to protect yourself from is you. Every year, tons of people overspend during the holiday season and find themselves in a pit of debt come January. Set a budget, stick firm to it, and don’t put money on your credit card that you can’t pay off. Keeping your receipts can help keep you on track financially, and is a handy tool in case your identity or credit card is stolen.
If you make smart financial decisions, be aware of identity and credit card theft, and be cautious of scams that could ruin your holidays. It’s always a good idea to be monitoring your credit score and credit payment histories to minimize theft, and do your research to not fall for a scam.
Want more information on how to keep your card safe and how to use your credit card? Visit the Fiscal Tiger credit card learning center for more tips and guides.
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