The holiday season is a time of celebration, gatherings with friends and family, and shopping for gifts. Yet while the season brings plenty of cheer, there’s also the risk of fraud.
Amid the busyness that comes with the holiday season, it’s easy to make small oversights that lead to a fraudulent scheme where your bank information is stolen or unauthorized charges are made to your credit card.
While this can be concerning, the good news is that there are tips that will help you pay a little extra attention when doing your holiday shopping. Stay protected from holiday fraud during the season by learning more about where fraud frequently occurs and following our six tips and sharing them with friends and family.
Where is holiday fraud most prevalent?
Every year, millions of people are affected by fraud. In fact, in 2021 alone, nearly 3 million people reported an event of fraud, which led to $5.8 billion in losses. During the holidays, these scammers rob people of their hard-earned money, personal information, and festive mood.
The most common types of fraud during the holidays include:
- Nondelivery scams: In this scam, a buyer pays for a product or service found online but never receives it.
- Nonpayment scams: In this scam, goods or services are shipped, but the seller is never paid.
- Credit card fraud: This happens when an unauthorized person gains access to your personal and credit card information and uses it to make purchases.
- Gift card fraud: This type of fraud occurs when money is refunded from a purchase to a gift card, the card number is stolen, or an account is taken over.
There are a number of ways you can protect yourself and your wallet from fraud this holiday shopping season.
1. Only shop on websites you trust.
E-commerce security can vary widely from one platform to the next. While major retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, and Target offer reliable online security features, smaller retail websites may not.
In general, it’s best to shop on websites that have:
- An “https” at the beginning of their URL, which indicates a secure connection for transactions.
- A padlock symbol next to secure URLs, which provides another way of validating online shopping security. If you don’t see a padlock symbol next to the URL you’re using, it may not be a secure payment portal.
If you’re uncertain of the reputation of an e-commerce site, be cautious and consider purchasing that item or gift from a different trusted brand.
2. Don’t make online purchases when using public or unsecured Wi-Fi.
Unfortunately, public Wi-Fi and unsecured wireless networks are easier outlets for hackers and scammers to access your personal information. When making purchases online or accessing your bank account through a mobile app or on your computer, only do so when connected to a secure network.
A secure network is a private network that has security measures in place that help protect it from outside attackers. Generally, a network is made secure through:
- Updates that help to secure vulnerabilities
- Antivirus and malware protection to help mitigate outside attacks
- Network security devices, which are additional security measures, such as firewalls, virtual private networks, and intrusion detection systems
3. Use a debit or credit card with anti-fraud features.
Many debit and credit cards offer anti-fraud features that help you catch and stop unauthorized transactions before they’re approved by your financial institution. Take advantage of these safeguards by signing up for account alerts and paying attention to communications from your bank.
If your bank doesn’t offer these safeguards, consider switching to an institution that offers active anti-fraud protection for your debit or credit card.
4. Keep your devices up to date with software, browser, and app updates.
In 2020, digital adoption skyrocketed, and with it came new cyberattacks. In response, fraud prevention technology is constantly improving, which means most software updates include security fixes that take care of new vulnerabilities.
By regularly updating the software on your phone, laptop, and computer, you can protect against scammers who may be trying to capture your banking information around the holidays.
5. Check your bank and credit card accounts frequently.
Mobile banking makes it easy to keep a close eye on your finances. You can do so by:
- Checking your bank accounts regularly—if not daily—to make sure unauthorized charges aren’t being made to your account
- Opting in to receive text alerts on transactions coming from your bank account
This provides even faster monitoring for your accounts, speeding up your response if you suspect any fraudulent activity.
6. Be wary of skimming activity when shopping in stores.
Skimming is a strategy some criminals use to capture credit or debit card information to create fake cards to steal from victims’ accounts.
Generally, criminals do this in two ways:
- Using a device called a skimmer that is installed on point-of-sale technology, ATMs, and even gas pumps and obtains information from the card’s magnetic strip
- Setting up cameras and overlay touchpads to watch over your shoulder for ATM PINs, debit card PINs, and other information they can use later to steal from your accounts
Be cautious and always cover the keypad when entering this information in a public setting, including at ATMs. If you feel you’re being watched by someone you don’t trust, don’t enter the information until you’re certain they have gone away.
Additionally, stay cautious of any suspicious devices used in an electronic payment. In some situations, a skimmer can be detected if a fraudster used more than one device to complete a transaction.
Avoid holiday fraud by staying prepared and vigilant.
There’s no need to let fraud dampen your holiday spirits. The important thing is simply to take extra care when making holiday purchases to be mindful of your surroundings and the platforms where you’ll be providing your banking information.
Holiday fraud prevention is just one small part of prepping for the season. For more valuable insights and tips on staying financially fit during the holiday season, download The Ultimate Holiday Budgeting Checklist & Planner today!