What are your plans this holiday season? Doing any last-minute shopping or heading out of town? Last year, it was estimated that about 100 million Americans traveled during the holiday season! And while it’s wonderful to visit friends and family, it’s also the time of year to be on the lookout as many scammers and thieves will be trying to advantage.
Earlier this year, we had a taste of identity theft when my purse was stolen while we were visiting family in Denver. Thankfully we were able to minimize the damage and we haven’t been hit with any fraudulent charges, but luckily a little preparation on our end made a bad situation bearable.
Unfortunately, you don’t have leave town to get hit with a financial scam, since many scammers use emails to grab the information that they need. Read on for a few tips to protect yourself and your finances this season!
Out Of Town Travel
If you’re traveling out of town and likely to pack extra clothes for your trip, try to protect yourself by keeping your wallet and other important documents hidden between clothes or even in a purse that you can carry with you wherever. You can also pare down your wallet and limit the number of cards you hold in each pocket – that way, if thieves take it, they’ll do less damage because they won’t have access to all your debit and credit cards.
Also, avoid carrying you Social Security card around in your wallet, unless you specifically need it for an appointment or another situation where that documentation is needed.
Around the holidays, when online shopping is high, scammers will try to trick people by sending fake emails on behalf of certain companies. There’s a chance that you may get an email from what appears to be your bank or credit card company, but that’s really from a scammer trying to get your financial information. This is called phishing and it becoming harder and harder to spot the real thing from the scam.
If you’re uncertain if you’re getting scammed, here are a few signs to look out for:
- Banks will not ask for your account information and/or password. That’s just not the way they do business. (If they do, switch banks!)
- It’s okay to call your bank or credit card company yourself. If you’re not sure, go ahead and call the number on the back of your card to confirm the email is from them.
- Check the site address. Links in phishing emails will often direct you to phony sites. The address is close enough to the real site that you believe it’s real at a quick glance.
If you’re buying a lot of gifts online this season, there’s also a chance that you may get scam emails that appear to be from retailers claiming there was a problem and asking for you to reset your passwords.
What to Do if Your Wallet is Stolen
If you lost your wallet or purse while you’re out and you can recall the last time you had it, call that shop or place as soon as possible. If you’re quick enough, the manager or an employee can stash it away or it may have already been turned into lost and found.
If it’s not found, go ahead and contact your financial institutions and alert them that your cards have been lost or stolen. You may also want to notify the police and file a report if anything is stolen. The police report will be important proof later should someone try and steal your identity and/or open a new credit card in your name.
Watch Your Money
It’s important to keep tabs on your money and finances so that you can avoid these tricky situations or act quickly if anything happens. Apps like Mint can be set up so you’re alerted about your spending and you can monitor the in’s and out’s of your accounts. If something is wrong, you’re notified quickly and you can then call your bank or credit card company to dispute that charge.
Also, since tax time is right around the corner, it’s important to get your taxes done sooner rather than later. That way, if thieves try to use your identity to file (and snag your refund money), you can find out earlier and get it squared away as soon as possible.
Preparation is Key
One thing that gave me peace of mind while we were trying to cancel our cards and notify police was the fact that I had already set up two-factor authentification for my important accounts. What’s two-factor authentification?
Basically, it requires that you use both your password and your phone to access your accounts whenever you log in from an unknown computer or from a different location than your usual spots. This makes it much harder for thieves to get access to your accounts.
It also helps to make sure that you’re using strong passwords (so avoid obvious ones like your birthday). I know it can be tricky to keep track of your passwords when you have a lot of different accounts so it can be helpful to use a password manager like LastPass.
I hope you don’t have to go through the stress we did when my wallet was stolen, but I hope these tips will help you if you find yourself in a similar situation.
Thoughts on Protecting Your Credit and Identity
I’d love to hear from you. Are you planning on traveling this year? What steps have you taken to keep your credit cards and identity safe from scammers and thieves?