Fraud rises during holiday season

November 28, 2013
by Leilana McKindra

STILLWATER – Not everyone will be filled with the holiday spirit in the coming months. That is one reason to remember to safeguard your wallet while hunting for those perfect gifts for friends and family.

“Unfortunately, fraudsters are constantly developing new technologies for stealing sensitive information from consumers all year round, and especially during the holidays,” said Sissy Osteen, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension resource management specialist. “Our only real defense is to be aware of how thieves operate, stay alert and take some common sense precautions.”

Some of those common sense precautions involve carefully handling your debit and credit cards. For instance, memorize the PIN to your debit card rather than keeping a written reminder in your wallet.

Also, be aware of who is behind you in the checkout line. Turn your back to shield others from watching as you input your PIN, or opt to use your debit card as a credit card to eliminate having to use your code to complete transactions.

While we all get in a hurry sometimes, especially at this time of year, after swiping your debit or credit card, make a habit of putting it away immediately.

“Don’t just stick your card in your pocket after you finish your purchase. It could fall out or someone could reach in and steal it,” said Osteen.

In the event a debit or credit card does turn up lost or stolen, report it immediately. In the case of credit cards, the liability is $50 if you report it as soon as you know it is missing.

For those who prefer to operate with cash, Osteen said it is important that you get a receipt for all purchases, and do not flash bills openly in the store.

When it comes to shopping online, check to make sure you are operating on a secure site.

“One of the ways you can tell if you’re on a secure site, the web address usually begins with https, and often the site will advertise that it offers a secure portal for customers,” Osteen said.

Patronizing only better-known online outlets can help ensure a safe and authentic shopping experience. However, consumers also can rely on websites such as www.resellerratings.com, which gives users the option of verifying online retailers – even if they have changed names – as well as searching for the best prices for products across multiple online outlets.

Other easy safeguards include checking your wallet each evening for your debit and credit cards and reviewing your bank statement online to verify you made all the purchases listed. Dispute any charges you believe are not yours.

Also, consider scrambling your passwords to important accounts to make them more difficult to decipher.

“Stay away from using family or pet names or other easily identifiable information as passwords,” Osteen said. “There are apps now that can help you keep those passwords straight or just keep them on a spreadsheet.”

Finally, after the holidays, check your credit report. Everyone is entitled to one free report each year from each of the three major credit agencies.  Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to request a report and download it immediately.