Practice Safe Shopping
What does Black Friday protection mean to you? Maybe it's helmets and elbow pads as you battle your fellow consumers for doorbuster deals. Maybe it's protecting your space in line.
Maybe it should be taking precautions to prevent identity theft.
The holidays represent peak season for identity thieves – probably because there are more transactions and more opportunities for theft. According to 2017 data compiled by ACI Worldwide, the number of online transactions between Thanksgiving Day and December 31 increased by 19% over 2016, while attempted fraud over the same period increased by 22%.
What day in 2017 were fraud attempt rates the highest? It's not Black Friday – it's Thanksgiving Day. Thieves like to get a jump-start on holiday shopping, too.
Reduce your chances of identity theft over the Thanksgiving weekend by following these common-sense methods for practicing "safe shopping."
Seven Ways to Thwart Black Friday Fraudsters
1. Protect Your Purse/Wallet – Before we had this new-fangled thing called the Internet, identity thieves had to rely on old-school methods – like stealing your purse or wallet. Pickpockets still exist, and Black Friday crowds provide the perfect cover. Was that an inadvertent bump or a distraction for a thief?
Guys, keep your wallet in your front pocket where it's harder for a pickpocket to access. Ladies, wear your purse cross-body to make it harder to snatch – and don't forget to keep the zippers closed. Get lost wallet protection and recovery assistance by joining MoneyTips.
2. Watch Your Smartphone – To identity thieves, your smartphone is a treasure trove of personal information. Keep a very close eye on your phone, even if it's a newer model with updated protections like fingerprint readers or facial recognition. Advanced protection features aren't foolproof.
3. Verify Websites – You'll see many online deals on Black Friday. If some seem too good to be true, they probably are. Unrealistically good deals may be traps leading you to a fake website.
Beware of knockoff websites or phishing scams that can redirect you to realistic but phony merchant websites.
Stick with known merchants and secure websites – look for the lock symbol and "https" in the web address. Avoid using links sent by email.Bookmark sites you use regularly to avoid entering an incorrect web address.
4. Swipe with Care – EMV chip cards were created to increase the security of point-of-sale (POS) transactions – but if you swipe the magnetic stripe instead of using the chip reader, you've bypassed the chip card protections. Only shop at merchants using functional chip readers when possible.
Thieves that have targeted a merchant's POS processing system could steal your card information and make counterfeit copies. Chip cards use a one-time code for each transaction, rendering stolen transaction information useless. If you want more credit, check out our list of credit card offers.
5. Use Secure Connections – Will you be using your mobile device to price compare and make purchases? That's fine if you're using Apple Pay or similar secure systems that accommodate mobile devices – but avoid online purchases through unsecure public Wi-Fi connections.
Are you avoiding crowds and exclusively shopping online? Make sure your home computer and wireless system are secure. Update antivirus software and scan your system for any viruses before making your Black Friday purchases. Says CO-OP Financial Services Industry Fraud Specialist John Buzzard, "Whether somebody logs into your account, takes it over and changes the address, and orders cards and PINs, whatever the case may be ... we assume that it's somebody else's fault. But then when we stop and think about it for a minute, there are plenty of consumers out there that don't even pay for virus protection."
6. Check Your Account Statements and Credit Report – Regularly check bank and credit card statements for fraudulent transactions – especially after Black Friday. Online statements should include pending transactions that haven't posted yet. The sooner you spot fraud, the sooner you can limit identity theft damage.
Identity thieves may create fake accounts instead of using your existing ones. Check your credit report for any fraudulent accounts that have been opened in your name. "You want to make sure that all of the information is correct," advises Buzzard. "If it lists addresses that you haven't lived at, if it lists credit cards or loans, or anything like that, even closed ones that you know for a fact do not belong to you, you need to report that." You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free within minutes by joining MoneyTips.
7. Use Prepaid Cards – A prepaid card doesn't contain identifying information. If you lose it, you've only lost the value of the card. Buy your card in advance and verify it with a small purchase so you'll be ready when Black Friday arrives.
You could even consider using... cash? Remember those green things with numbers on the corners? They still work in most places.
ACI Worldwide expects identity theft attempts to grow in 2018, predicting a 17% increase in the value of fraud attempts between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday compared to 2017. Be just as ready for identity thieves as you are for your fellow Black Friday doorbuster shoppers.
Take the necessary precautions against fraud and practice safe shopping this holiday season. Insert your own "safe shopping" joke if you like but remember that fraud and ruined credit are not funny at all – especially when it happens to you.
If you would like to prevent identity theft, join MoneyTips and check out our free Identity Protector tool.