It’s easy to get caught up in a shopping frenzy amidst all the other activities leading up to the holidays. Where the main concerns become making it to the right store in time, finding the right gifts online and at the mall, and making it out before we’ve overspent. As you shop, you’re probably watching to make sure your purchases stay within budget. There’s more to keep an eye on, protecting your identity and security.
The Federal Trade Commission received more than 3 million identity theft reports from victims in 2016 alone. Also, experts find that there is a significant rise in identity theft during the holidays. The increase in opportunities for thefts to occur without notice make this possible. Various identity criminals and pickpockets are in full force around the holidays and they make their mark everywhere. While having the right plan of attack is important if something criminal occurs, staying a few steps ahead of them is critical. Thankfully, there are systems in place to help protect you against identity theft and other fraudulent activities online and in public.
Most likely, you’ve been advised to destroy old paper documents that contain personal information. But, the truth is, we live in a digital age, and you’re really just scratching the surface by shredding documents containing sensitive information.
Make your holiday season enjoyable and safe by following these helpful tips wherever you are.
Holiday Safety Out in Public
Crowded public gatherings and malls provide ample opportunities for pickpockets to nab your bank cards, wallet and, other personal information. These days, pickpockets don’t even need physical contact or to take any item from you but information. While you’re out and about enjoying holiday festivities and shopping, keep these suggestions at hand and in mind.
- Wallets equipped with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) blocking capability help prevent thieves from stealing your credit card info. There are devices they use that will scan magnetic data strips such as those found on credit cards and passports right through a jacket, pants pocket, or purse. I do not leave home without my RFID clutch , and Alice on Fire loves his minimalist RFID wallet .
- Always protect your belongings. With all of the distractions in a busy store, forgetting to secure your wallet or purse is easy. Never leave your purse in a shopping cart or unzipped while over your shoulder. Limit the amount of personal data you carry when out and about. This includes not carrying around your checkbook or Social Security card. Pickpockets thrive in crowds.
- When able, make purchases via credit rather than debit card. If a fraudulent charge is made, getting your money back is an easier process with credit than with a debit card. The Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card makes worry-free shopping much easier than with a debit card.
- Avoid ATMs that aren’t bank-affiliated. Always look for familiar banking institution emblems—preferably from the one you bank with.
- Be fully present every moment when in public. Always be aware of your surroundings including who is around you, especially at places like the checkout line and ATM machine. You never know who is watching over your shoulder even from a distance as you key in your PIN number. Many ATM machines and marketplaces are favored by individuals that spend their time just collecting other peoples’ card and PIN numbers. Quite often, cameras are even set in strategic placements to visually capture your transactions.
- Watch that your credit card is swiped only once when checking out at the register. Make sure to get all your cards back after making a purchase. Also, don’t forget to keep all of your receipts tucked safely away.
- Avoid using WiFi in public unless you have a securely encrypted VPN (Virtual Private Network) in place. The hijacking of personal data through public WiFi is one of the major causes of identity theft. For instance, it is a trivial matter to spy upon unencrypted WiFi hotspot traffic at hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, and anywhere else providing a freely available access point. A VPN protects your data even when using these wide-open public WiFi hotspots. VPNs encrypt your outgoing and incoming data, so anyone looking at your data sees nothing but noise.
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Why is VPN Important?
If unsure what a VPN is, how it works, or why you really should use one, save yourself a lot of trouble and read this article:
An Encrypted VPN Doesn't Only Hide Your Identity: What is VPN?
Cell Phone Shopping Security
It’s very convenient with today’s smartphones such as the ASUS ROG Gaming Phone ZS600KL to compare prices or check bank accounts on the go. Having the world at your fingertips also means your info is susceptible to prying eyes—even if you’re the only one using your smartphone. Sticking to a few rules of thumb will help keep your personal information safe.
- Close phone apps when done using them. If apps are left running, even though you don’t see them on the screen, hackers still have access to the data stored within them. Web browsers like Firefox are well known to store information in memory while open on your phone or tablet, and even save passwords for later use. Another option is to remove sensitive apps such as those used for banking from your phone during the holiday season.
- Delete your cookie and browsing history to prevent PIN and password capture. The last thing you want is for a cybercriminal to have access to your accounts and apps.
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi connections without a securely encrypted VPN. Malicious Hackers quite often use public networks to get full access to unsecured devices such as smartphones and tablets on the same network. Also, they can use unsecured networks to distribute malware onto unprotected devices. The Surfshark VPN app is fantastic at protecting you from hackers and thieves.
Safeguard Online Network Activities
Doing your shopping online from the comfort of home or a cozy coffee shop has become a favorite way to avoid the hustle and bustle. Why not, when you can avoid the traffic and long lines altogether? With incentives like the free 2-day shipping and unlimited streaming movies and TV shows made available to Amazon Prime members, shopping in this way can be extremely convenient.
You should remain just as cautious and protected as when physically pushing through the crowds for that precious Betsy Wetsy doll, however. The internet is an open range for identity thieves preying on vulnerable people, especially when sensitive data including credit information is sent electronically. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind before holiday shopping online.
- Shop online from companies you know and trust. Avoid sites with unfamiliar URLs. Many sites pop up overnight then disappear just as fast after scamming unwary shoppers. Many of these even use legitimate payment services for goods never delivered, then transfer funds into cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ether before disappearing into the woodwork.
- Make sure the sites you are browsing are legitimate and secure. Phishing scams are another way identity thieves can steal your personal information digitally. It’s easy to make sure that a website is encrypted over a secure connection. When the web address starts with https (as opposed to http), the domain itself is safe and secured for use. By clicking on the “lock” icon displayed in the address bar of most web browsers, you can see more detailed info about the URL in question. It is still possible for your data to be intercepted by snoops and hackers, so be certain to turn on and connect with your Surfshark VPN app before browsing or shopping.
- Update all your anti-spyware and anti-virus programs and, again, avoid shopping online at wireless hotspots where your network might not be secure unless using an encrypted VPN. Read our recent article on the subject if you’d like additional information about what a VPN is and how it can keep you safe this holiday season.
Identity Protection At Home
Even in the privacy of your own home, you can be susceptible to identity theft. An identity thief needs little more than your bank information, Social Security number, or a pre-approved credit application tossed in the trash to exploit your identity. Here are a few suggestions to secure and safeguard your personal information while in the comfort of your own home.
Avoid Identity Theft Mail Fraud
Your outbound and inbound mail contain more personal information than you may know. Always be sure to protect yourself with these simple tips to safeguard your identity, credit, and other personal information.
- Remove all your mail from your mailbox every day. If you are going out of town for a while, have a trusted friend or neighbor pick it up. You can also have the post office hold your mail until your return. When possible, consider locking your mailbox.
- Unwanted documents should be shredded. Credit card bills, bank statements, and insurance policy renewal communications can get lost between all of the mail you get during the holidays. Identity thieves gain access to these documents and all the personal information they hold by dumpster diving. Simply throwing these away is not nearly enough. Shred and/or burn any docs that can identify you if you no longer need them.
- All checks and mail with account information should be taken directly to the post office or placed in a securely locked mailbox . This is the only way to prevent a thief from taking it.
Protect Yourself from Phone Scams
The holidays are a very common time for various charities to solicit donations over the phone. Be aware that not all calls are from legitimate sources that can be trusted. For example, an identity thief can easily pretend to be collecting donations for a charity or act as a representative from your credit card company. Never, never, never give out financial information over the phone. If you’d like to make a donation, directly contact your chosen organization to ensure your heartfelt gift is received by those it was intended to help.
Enjoy Happy and Safe Holidays
This holiday season, make sure to protect yourself so you can spend time enjoying things that bring you happiness. Safeguard your identity, credit, and other personal information with Surfshark VPN. Right now, this ultimate identity protection is on sale for as low as $2.49/month and includes the reassurance of their 30-day money back guarantee. Isn’t your joy on Earth and peace of mind worth it?
May your streams never run dry!