First, review your checking account, debit card and credit card statements online frequently during major holidays. Especially look for unusual small charges that show up. Some can be as small as a couple of dollars. A specific charge to look out for is $9.84, a frequent amount used in cyber fraud attempts, which can indicate that a cybercriminal is checking to see if your charge account is valid. If you find your credit card has been hacked, immediately report it to the provider using the phone number on the back of your card.
If you’re shopping via smartphone, make sure it is password or fingerprint protected to reduce the chance of losing critical information. Also, make sure your phone has reliable security software installed and updated.
When shopping online, make sure you are on legitimate, secure websites. Fake retailer websites look similar to real ones, but are actually fraudulent overseas sites which can install malware onto your computer. Additionally, make sure emails confirming any orders are really from the retailers you purchased from. These fake emails “confirm” your order, but are just another way to breach security through your computer. These fictional phishing emails contain website links that, when you click on them, ask you to enter your login ID and password. In the case that you do, the bad guys have all they need to order anything they want, change your password, ship to temporary addresses and max out your credit card.
Remember also that your email server and email service provider is a treasure trove of private information. Make a practice of promptly deleting any emails and downloads which contain bank statements, password change notifications or other critical information. Couple that with modifying your server and email settings to permanently remove all deleted and junk emails, and that may also improve your cyber protection exponentially.
To debit or not to debit
Most credit fraud can be avoided simply by swiping your credit card instead of a debit card and by getting the newer, safer chip card. Debit cards are directly connected to bank accounts. This gives fraudsters immediate access to your money before you even know it. For further protection, set up account alerts that notify you the minute suspicious purchases or activity happens.
The real deal
An often overlooked form of fraud during the holidays is the sale of counterfeit goods. Counterfeit goods generate about $250 billion a year in criminal proceeds. If you find a price for something online which is so low you can’t believe it, you’re probably getting ripped off with a cheap knock-off. One quick and easy way to help identify potentially fraudulent websites is to look for misspelled words, poor grammar or awkward phrases. These can be great indicators of counterfeiters.
What to do if you do get hacked
If you happen to be the one in three people who do get hacked, immediately contact each of your credit card issuers. Additional steps include contacting the social security administration and credit reporting agencies, and researching USA.gov for other helpful tools.
Many experts also recommend freezing your credit because no one can open any new accounts in your name. Of course, that includes you, too, so if you’re planning to apply for any new credit cards or loans, you will have to unfreeze your credit to do so.