Special Edition – Holiday Shopping Safety

Sharing gifts at holiday time brings joy to families everywhere. Unfortunately, the heavy shopping motivates criminals to find new ways to steal your money, personal information, and identity. Here are some tips for protecting yourself.

Safe shopping at the mall

Put your receipts in your pocket – not the bag
It's common to end up with a lot of receipts at holiday time. Even though receipts don't typically display full account numbers, a thief can still do a lot with the information. Crooks can also use receipts to make fraudulent returns linked to you. To avoid losing receipts, place them in your pocket instead of the bag.

Don't let anyone else use your card – especially your kids
It's tempting to hand over your debit card to a teenage child to help you with holiday shopping. Don't do it. Teens usually don't know all the prevention measures and could be more lax with your card.

Shop with one card – leave the rest at home
It's wise to bring only those cards you plan on using. Flashing an entire cache of credit and debit cards creates an opportunity to drop, leave, or misplace during the checkout process. It also draws the attention of lurking thieves.

Secure shopping online

Keep your anti-virus software up to date
It's the obvious (and boring) tip, but it's critical. Running up-to-date anti-virus software can keep you from going to unsafe shopping sites – assuming you heed the warnings!

Shop only at secure sites
Hackers can create sites that look legitimate, so be sure you're shopping at a site with an encrypted connection. There are two ways you can tell. First is a Web address that begins with "https" (not just "http" – the "s" stands for "secure"). An encrypted connection will also display a closed padlock icon either next to the Web address or in the lower-right corner of the screen.

Open only emails that you trust
Your inbox is probably flooded with messages for amazing bargains, but be careful of deals that seem too good to be true – they may not be safe. Instead of clicking the link, open a new browser page and try to access the site directly. That lets you avoid potentially risky email links and find out if the deal is real.

Create a different password for every site
If you're prompted to sign up for a new account to make a purchase, create a new password that uses a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Using the same password at multiple sites puts you at risk on all those sites if your password is compromised.

Use extra caution when shopping on your smartphone or tablet
Crooks know this is a high time for mobile shopping, so be sure to use a password-protected mobile device, and make your purchases over a secure, password-protected Wi-Fi network. To maximize safety, do your mobile shopping at home, not at the coffee shop.

Be wary of reduced or free shipping from unfamiliar websites
Fraudulent sellers provide shipping labels to their customers without first paying the delivery company. Packages shipped with these labels are intercepted and identified as fraudulent. Your safest action is to purchase from a major online merchant or a local merchant you know well.

Resist buying gift cards from online auction sites
Scammers often obtain gift cards fraudulently, then sell them online. It's possible that such a card will be deactivated by the time your gift recipient goes to make a purchase – and you'll be out the money. To be safe, purchase gift cards directly from the merchant or authorized reseller.