The holiday season is a great time for shoppers, and an even better one for scammers. Thieves know that consumers are on the lookout for the best deals, and they are more than willing to take advantage of your enthusiasm. Be wary of any suspicious activity regarding deals or special offers, especially if you’re shopping online! A little information can go a long way towards stealing your credit card information and, ultimately, ruining your credit score.
If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
An old proverb, to be sure, but it has its merits. Scammers are good at what they do because they’ve taken the time to get to know how consumers behave, what they want, what they’re likely to think is suspicious, and what they’re likely to fall for: deals, discounts, travel packages, and anything that will either save money or cost no money at all. Beware the word free! Sure, this is the giving season, but that doesn’t mean stores are likely to start giving their merchandise away. Read the fine print, and if you aren’t entirely sure what it means because it’s two paragraphs of legal jargon, your best bet is to stay away.
Be wary of unusual items in your inbox.
It might be something as seemingly-innocent as an email from Walmart, Amazon, or UPS, but it’s pretty easy for scammers to fake a brand name with a throwaway domain. So if you’re getting emails from Walmart offering you a free gift card, check to see if you even have a Walmart account. Ask yourself how they got your email—am I a registered user? Do I shop regularly at Walmart? Do I remember a cashier asking for my contact information?— and check to see if that’s the first email Walmart has ever sent you. Free gift cards are rare beasts, especially when unsolicited. Which brings us to our next point!
Do your research, and always, ALWAYS check links.
The easiest way to check if an email from Walmart of Amazon is legitimate is to check the link. Outbound links to walmart.subdomain.com will probably lead you to a site with bogus merchandise or (worse) download malware directly to your device. If you haven’t clicked the link yet, check to see if it’s fake by comparing it to the real website. If you have clicked the link, check to see if the site is legitimate: look for any typos or run-on sentences in product descriptions, and watch out for display pages lacking product organization. Harry Potter merchandise should not be listed next to Givenchy handbags.
If you’re unsure about a site, an advertised product, or a deal, don’t be afraid to Google it! Look for product reviews with one or two stars and see what about the customer’s experience left them so dissatisfied. Search for stories similar to your own and learn from others’ experience. The internet is scammers’ greatest tool, but it’s also your best defense against scams and fake merchandise.
Monitor your internet activity when using public wifi.
Your wifi is down and you’re desperate to finish holiday shopping, so you head over to your local Starbucks for some free internet access. You log into your Amazon account, buy the rest of the items on your checklist, and head home with a smile on your face, knowing little how much damage you just potentially caused to your credit score.
The issue with public wifi is that it is public, i.e. not secure. Hackers can easily gain access to these networks and, through them, to your personal data. If you’re going to use public wifi, avoid distributing any sensitive information. Don’t log into or register for any accounts—you might be giving away your password information—and please, please don’t buy anything, as hackers will have your credit information before you even complete your purchases. Treat your personal information with the respect it deserves! A billing address may not seem like much, but it’s an important piece to your identity puzzle—and once someone else has that puzzle figured out, they can steal your identity, harm your credit score, and potentially compromise your financial security.
Be careful this holiday season, is what we’re trying to say! Always be on the lookout for suspicious deals and emails, do your research ahead of time, and keep your personal information secure so you can head into the new year with a free conscience and a healthy credit score.