By now you have all turned your clocks back an hour with the end of Daylight Savings - and I hope you were able to luxuriate in that extra hour of sleep. To me, the end of Daylight Savings and the start of Standard Time, mark something more sinister then the arrival of shorter days and colder weather. To me it marks the start of high season for identity theft.
In years past, we did not begin talking about how to stay safe while holiday shopping until just before Thanksgiving – which is followed the next day by 'Black Friday' and then 'Cyber Monday,' among the biggest in-store and online sales days of the year. But just as so many retailers have holiday season decorations up long before Thanksgiving, you are now seeing 'pre-Black Friday' and 'pre-Cyber Monday' sales starting just as early.
The National Retail Federation recently said:
Holiday shopping is off to an early start. More than 40 percent of holiday shoppers surveyed said they started their shopping in October or even earlier this year. Two-thirds of online holiday shoppers who started early did so to spread out their budget. Another half want to avoid the stress of last-minute shopping and the crowds that come later in the season. Many have attributed this to seeing prices and promotions earlier, with more than two out of five noting that these offers have been "too good to pass up."
So now seems a good time to repeat some safe holiday shopping tips a few weeks early.
- Beware of phishing scams and protect your computer from online threats. Cybercriminals are aware of the increase in Internet usage during the holidays and will try to use this to their advantage to lure in victims. Never open an email from an unknown sender and avoid downloading file attachments and clicking on embedded links in spam email. Be sure your anti-malware software is up-to-date and that you have the latest spam filtering software.
- Keep a watchful eye on your deliveries. Believe it or not, this time of year is a haven for thieves who follow delivery trucks with the intent of stealing packages before a recipient ever has the chance to retrieve them. Packages containing personal information, account numbers, or even personal checks can lead to identity theft if they fall into the wrong hands. Take advantage of the signature required option offered by most delivery companies.
- Practice safe shopping online. With 52 percent of consumers expecting to do their shopping online this year, identity thieves are going to do their part in trying to take advantage of unsuspecting online customers. When shopping online, verify the website is safe by checking for the "s" in the website address and look for the closed padlock symbol in the bottom of the screen which indicates a secure connection. In addition, a tool like IDVault® securely stores and enters user log-in data and verifies the IP address of the site you are logging into to make sure it's legitimate.
- Use wireless Internet connections with caution. The deluge of smartphones, apps, and tablets has made it easier for consumers to shop "on the go". Most Wi-Fi networks are not secure and sensitive information such as credit card numbers can be intercepted during transmission if unencrypted. Avoid making purchases over public Wi-Fi networks and consider downloading security software to help protect your device from hackers. And never access your banking information through public Wi-Fi. Instead, use your carrier's cellular service.
And finally, when those credit card statements start rolling in come January, you may be afraid to look and see how much damage you did. But you must immediately check every one and compare the statements to the receipts I hope you will keep during holiday shopping. If you see any unfamiliar purchase, investigate, and if you did not make that purchase you may well be the victim of identity theft. You must respond immediately.
So happy holiday shopping, I hope you get nothing but great bargains.