Not to boast, but I’ve become something of a Black Friday genius. I know exactly which stores are offering the best deals, when to line up and even where to park for the fastest exit. For shoppers like me, the whole experience is like a game. While it may look chaotic, that’s part of the fun.
One aspect that I’m serious about, though, is ensuring I’m using good tactics when it comes to trying to prevent identity theft. During this time of year, people tend to be because their purchasing levels go up and their schedules get busier. Also, because of the numerous errands we all have to run, there may not be time to double-check every daily purchase against bank and credit card statements.
Scammers and hackers depend on those factors to swoop in. Keep in mind that Target’s major data breach started on Black Friday a few years ago.
However, there are strategies you can employ to help prevent identity theft, particularly on the busiest shopping day of the year:
- Do a weekend recap: Put your receipts into one location in your bag or purse (instead of asking the clerks to put them in your bags) and keep them in a stack. At the end of the weekend, compare those amounts against the online records from your bank or credit card. Remember, the sooner you can spot fraud and report it, the faster you can shut down someone who may be using your information.
- Watch for shoulder surfing: You’re waiting in a long line, and you’ve cleared your Words With Friends queue, so why not just check your bank balance to confirm you’re on track? Here’s why not: You might not be the only one checking. Shoulder surfing is a growing threat, and the holiday season is a ripe time for this practice. Grab a tabloid magazine instead and wait until you’re home to check your balances.
- Skip the “free Wi-Fi”: Numerous stores and coffee shops offer free Wi-Fi, and identity thieves and scammers find these services just as useful as you do. The bad guys can collect information either by hacking these networks or, more commonly, creating their own look-alike Wi-Fi hotspots. For example, suppose you’re taking a shopping break at Starbucks. The legitimate network there is usually called Google Starbucks or attwifi. But identity thieves can set up their own hotspots and name them Starbucks Coffee or Starbucks Wi-Fi. Once you’ve joined their network, they can begin eavesdropping on your entire browsing session, gaining access to sensitive information like account usernames and passwords.
- Don’t forget old-fashioned theft: Although there are plenty of digital methods for getting your data, remember the old standbys: pickpocketing and purse snatching. On Black Friday, stores can get extremely crowded, and personal space shrinks to almost nothing. You might think someone is bumping into you to grab that last discounted toy, but he or she might be aiming for your wallet instead. Protect yourself by carrying just the bare minimum — I take only my license and credit card — and securing them in an inside pocket, preferably one with a zipper.
Like many other shoppers this season, I’m gearing up for a lively Black Friday — and I’m making sure that preventing identity theft is on my list of must-haves.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Charlie Brewer.