10 Ways to Avoid Holiday Scams

December 2, 2016 | Dan Colt

It’s officially December, and while you’re thinking of your loved ones, planning family celebrations and attending local seasonal events, it’s easy to forget about your account safety, or at least not keep it top of mind. With the biggest cybercriminal hacking holidays of the year upon us, it’s time for a reminder of red flags to pay attention to when shopping either online or in brick-and-mortar stores. Here are 10 tips for avoiding holiday scams.

  1. Make sure devices are up to date
    Whether you’re using your laptop, smartphone or other device, having basic security measures in place will lessen your chance of becoming a victim, but bear in mind the rest of these tips to stay safe.
  2. Be careful when using public Wi-Fi
    Never share private information on a public Wi-Fi network, even if you think it’s safe. Wireless network names are fairly easy to fake and sensitive data like credit card details, login information, etc. can be easily intercepted.
  3. Use strong, unique passwords
    Well over 900 data breaches so far this year have exposed hundreds of millions of records! You better believe that information is being sold, and the more accounts you have that use the same username and password, the greater the risk for being hacked.
  4. Fake apps
    You may have heard about fraudulent apps showing up in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, but it bears repeating. Before downloading any app, do some research on the publisher, app creation date and read the reviews, which could give you a good start at spotting a fake. Look for misspellings of popular apps and remember that retailers who don’t actually have an app are especially vulnerable. Your best bet is to go to the website directly and check for the official link yourself.
  5. “There was a shipping problem with your order”
    This sounds like a scam! Other phishing emails to be wary of are fake invoices, fake refunds and any urgent email persuading you to open an attachment, click on a link or fill out a form. Attached documents containing malicious macros are back with a vengeance, making it critical to pay very close attention to these types of emails. When in doubt, always go directly to the vendor if you think there may be a problem.
  6. Pay close attention to the websites you visit and shop on
    Beware of bad links in phishing emails and counterfeit copies of legitimate sites. Copied sites can be made to look nearly identical to the real thing. Basic red flags are bad grammar/spelling, shady contact information and unheard of deals on expensive items. Even if the site is real, make sure it’s secure by look for “https” with a lock icon next to it in the browser.
  7. STOP oversharing on social media
    This is an important one that tends to be overlooked! “20 questions about me” type posts are a goldmine for criminals. Posting that information publicly makes it a lot easier to guess your password and you answers to security questions. Plus, it makes you a bigger social engineering target.
  8. Free gift card or must-have item just for filling out a survey or form
    Often these are scams looking for your personal information that can be sold to other cybercriminals. Make sure any offers you sign up for are authentic before giving out any of your personal information.
  9. Use a credit card for purchases
    If cybercriminals get their hands on your debit card, it’s very easy for them to quickly drain your bank account. When you use a credit card instead of your debit card, you can reverse charges more easily if necessary and still keep your money secure in your account.
  10. Keep an eye on your bank accounts and monitor your credit report regularly
    Fraudulent spending often starts with small purchases (think $1-$5) that would normally go unnoticed unless you’re looking at your transaction history. The sooner it’s spotted the better—you will have an easier time getting your money back and less money taken in the first place.

Always remember to think before you click when shopping online, via app or viewing an offer through your email—and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Luckily, you’re not in this alone—Mission Fed is here to help you with your account and card safety. Our Debit and Credit Cards include Mastercard® benefits like Mastercard ID Theft Alerts™, a free service that alerts Mission Fed cardholders when personal information is being bought or sold online, and many more. Read more about the benefits of Mission Fed Debit Cards and Credit Cards and help protect yourself and your information this holiday season.

The content provided in this blog consists of the opinions and ideas of the author alone and should be used for informational purposes only. Mission Federal Credit Union disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information provided. References to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name in this article by Mission Federal Credit Union is for the information and convenience of its readers and does not constitute endorsement, control or warranty by Mission Federal Credit Union.

Dan Colt

Dan Colt

Dan Colt is VP Technology Management at Mission Federal Credit Union. He has over 25 years of experience in the Information Technology industry, including numerous aspects such as security, data processing, disaster recovery and project management.

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