This year, along with how are you going to find that most sought-after toy, is how are you going to shop until you drop, yet keep your identity and personal information out of the hands of crooks.
One suggestion might be to just stay home. Don't leave the house. Above all don't go online. Tell your kids that the holidays have been cancelled. You will almost certainly stay safe.
Of course, I'm only kidding. You will head for the mall or the big box store. You will shop online. So what can you do to keep yourself safe, or perhaps I should say safer, this holiday shopping season?
The first tip is something I have seen from several sources and I'm now convinced it is the correct approach whether you are shopping online or in the store: Don't use a debit card.
It may be very convenient — the money comes directly from your savings or checking account and it's quick, saving you from carrying cash or writing a check. But the risk is simply too great because if your data is compromised or intercepted you are giving someone direct access to your bank account.
You are obviously better off using a credit card — it gives you several levels of protection. But if you can't, then the suggestion is you visit your bank before the shopping excursion, withdraw what you intend to spend, and put the money on a prepaid credit card the bank should be able to provide you. A bit cumbersome, but potentially it is an important safeguard.
During your holiday shopping, many stores will try to get you to switch to their store credit card. What this usually entails is essentially applying for the card and a quick credit check. This allows the store to issue the card and, usually, you'll be offered some sort of discount on the purchase you are making or on all the purchase you will make that day in the store.
That might be very enticing, but just say no.
What happens to the information you are giving the store to allow them to make the credit decision in order to issue you the card? Have you filled out a paper application and signed some form? Is that form stored somewhere. Where? Under what security? Is it eventually shredded?
Almost certainly you have given them your Social Security number. In a transaction like this, and in fact in almost any transaction, you need to ask three questions. First, what do you need it for? The answer here is to get a credit score on you so the card can be issued. Fair enough.
But then how is that data going to be stored and secondly, if that data falls into the wrong hands, how is the store going to fix your likely problems? I would doubt that the clerk at the register is going to be able to answer these questions. So in the rush of the holiday season it is just best to say no.
I have also seen other valuable suggestions on how to protect yourself this holiday season. I'll go through some of these in my next blog.