It’s the most wonderful time of the year…and scammers will be out in full force!

I thought I would pass along eight easy ways you can shop smart and help keep your identity safe this holiday season (from Lifelock):

In Stores:

  1. Be aware of your surroundings and protect personal space at the ATM and registers.
  2. Inspect ATMs and points of sale terminals and look for tampering before swiping cards.
  3. Keep cards in sight when paying to deter dishonest cashiers.
  4. Store all receipts and closely check your monthly statements to verify transactions.

Online:

  1. Be sure your anti-virus software is installed properly and up-to-date.
  2. Shop with retailers who you trust and who have a positive Better Business Bureau rating.
  3. Avoid links. Instead, visit shopping sites by directly typing in their website addresses.
  4. Don’t purchase items while using public computers or shared wireless networks.

Thanks LifeLock for these tips.  Now for my two cents.  All of these eight items are very important, although I believe that Online #3 is perhaps the most prevalent problem.  We will be flooded with Emails containing links about sales and bargains. Keep in mind that not all Emails are legit, even if the color scheme and layout is the same as the store it claims to represent. Give a moment to think, “How would this store have my Email address?” Nine times out of ten, there is no reasonable expectation that the store/organization named in the Email would even know you exist by name, much less by Email.   Even if you believe that the Email is official, it is better to be safe than sorry and go directly to the website yourself as opposed to clicking the link in the Email.

In addition, perhaps where most of us fall down is our physical security.  We all get caught up in the joy and goodwill of the season and we forget that there are Grinches out there!.  When you are are shopping, be sure to place any personal belongings you leave in your vehicle out of sight.  Place any gifts you may purchase in the trunk (if possible).  Also, keep in mind that you have no reasonable expectation of security just because your vehicle is locked! Locks are there to keep law abiding citizens or those who are merely curious about the contents thereof, out.  It will not foil those with the determination and intent to enter your vehicle.

Not to promote a culture of paranoia, but also keep an eye out for “taggers” as you walk through the stores, malls, etc.  Taggers are people who lurk around stores and parking lots looking busy and may even check out, but their real goal is to identify “marks” and follow them at a distance and ultimately steal their belongings or commit some other nefarious act.  In this context,  Mark is a term used to describe the target of a scheme and is usually a person or group that is vulnerable or who is unable or unlikely to offer resistance (e.g., the elderly, women shopping alone or with children, and so forth).  Once the mark leaves the store, the tagger will also leave the store and follow the mark to their vehicle or via confrontation, coerce the mark to divert to the tagger’s vehicle in order to offload the mark’s shopping treasures.  Also, the taggers will sometimes begin in the parking lot, choosing to identify potential marks who are parked farthest from the store or in poorly lit areas of the parking lot as it makes their ultimate goal easier to achieve.   This is actually a year-round activity, but it becomes more prevalent during holiday seasons and related events (e.g., Black Friday).

When going to a store, try to go during the daylight hours and if possible, try to get a spot that is as close to the store as possible, in clear view of a security camera, and is in a properly illuminated and frequently traveled area (lots of foot traffic).  If you find a spot that you do not feel is safe, do not park there!  Wait for a while, go to another store and come back later.  Do not discount your intuition or your gut feeling!

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and I hope that your holiday is bright and filled with laughter, the company of loved ones, and the stuff of memories!  Remember, the glitter fades, the gifts are forgotten, but the memories we make and the love we share will last forever!

-Dave Rigsby

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