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Unfortunately when looking forward to snapping up great deals on holiday specials, consumer fraud and theft never take a holiday. Each year, crime tends to increase throughout the nation as Christmas and Hanukkah approach. This is because people are more likely to be carrying large sums of cash or packages with expense gifts.
An important part of being a smart consumer is knowing how to protect yourself from theft, no matter the date on the calendar. The National Crime Prevention Council provides these tips for shopping safely:
Shopping in stores
• Do not take out your cash/credit card or checkbook until the cashier asks for payment. It is very easy to drop your wallet in a long line.
• Watch out for shoulder surfing. This is when people peek over your shoulder to get your credit card number, bank account number, drivers license number, etc. – sometimes even snapping a photo with a camera phone. Cover card numbers at all times, and do not give it to the cashier face up.
• Keep your wallet in your front pants pocket or your purse as close to you as possible, with the zipper shut. Pick-pockets use crowds to their advantage and swipe wallets in long lines.
In parking lots
• Do not walk to your car with your arms full Thieves target people who are weighed down by packages.
• Do not leave bags and gifts visible through the car windows. Take your new items home or lock them in the trunk of your car. The same goes for cell phones and GPS units.
• Update your antivirus, anti-spam, and anti-spyware software. These keep you protected from the latest threats.
• Consider shopping with a pre-paid gift card. This way, your regular card number cannot be stolen by a hacker.
• Online, only make purchases on secure websites. Look for a padlock symbol at the bottom of the screen or “https” in the URL address. The “s” means secure.
• Do not buy from bargain or auction websites that are unfamiliar to you.
• Do not give your passwords to anyone. If an e-mail claiming to represent your bank asks for account information and/or asks you to click on a link, they are likely trying to scam you. Only provide banking information if you initiated a call to your bank.
• Save all your receipts and online order confirmations. When your bank and credit card statements come in the mail, use the receipts to check your actual purchases against your charges.
Just in case
• Set up a meeting place when shopping with family in a large or crowded store.
• If shopping with a younger sibling, teach him/her to find a mall employee or security guard if they get lost.
• Make a handwritten list with the phone numbers of all your banks and credit card companies. List your card numbers and expiration dates. Always keep the list at home in a secure place, such as a safe or locked file cabinet. This way, you can quickly cancel all your cards should your wallet be stolen.
These tips can be helpful year-round. Always be vigilant as you shop, and keep your money and personal items close.
By being prepared and knowing what to watch out for, you and your family can feel more secure and can better enjoy your holiday.
Grace Angotti is Carroll Co. Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. Call her at (502) 732-7030 or send e-mail to email@example.com.