Whew. We have made it through Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But most of us aren’t finished shopping or joining friends and family.
Thieves are out there just waiting for us to make one mistake. We are no longer that small, casual town; Sad things happen. We “go places” we don’t usually go and get distracted more than usual. Distractions at this time of year leave us exposed.
I appreciate that some of you will say, “Oh, not this again,” but we continue to read that our neighbors were scammed or robbed. It’s worth another reminder.
Now is the perfect time to check your credit report on at least one of credit services’ websites. Check each at least annually. Go to www.yourcreditreport.com for at least one free report annually from each of the three sites (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). Your credit score isn’t important unless you’re going for a loan, but your credit report is your financial footprint. While you’re in there, freeze your credit. This is an easy safeguard to prevent anyone from opening new lines of credit in your name. Contact Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to initiate the freeze. It doesn’t affect your daily activities.When was the last time you took a picture of all your credit and debit cards and driver’s license? I throw in my insurance cards as well. Put the photo in a secure location at home in case your wallet disappears. Are you still carrying your Social Security or Medicare card with you? Leave them at home in a secure location. By the way, your Social Security number and date of birth are all that a thief needs. When you give this information to someone checking your identity, you should notice who is listening? Skimming – where thieves use an electronic device to steal your PIN number and financial data from a debit card – is very active at this time of year. Use only ATMs that are inside your bank (They are safer and less likely to have skimmer attachments) and guard your PIN number. Be aware of your surroundings wherever you are. Keep your purse close to you (and zipped close) with your wallet hidden at the bottom or in a zipper compartment. If you’re not carrying a purse, put your wallet in an inside breast pocket – never the back pocket of your jeans.When shopping online, be sure you are not on a cloned site. If you get an email advertisement with a URL, don’t click on it from the email. Go to your search engine and begin your purchase after ensuring there is a lock symbol on the left side of the URL, which means it is a secure site. Check your bank statements a little more frequently in December, January and February. If anything is out of order, report it quickly. Some thieves take small amounts at a time – even as low as $2 – to check the water.Writing a check or using a debit card connected to your primary account can be a concern. Equal protection can be available for either, but a loss of funds creates other frustrations while any discrepancy is dealt with. Check with your bank about fraud reporting limitations (Is it 30 days? 90 days?). Another alternative is to use a debit card that holds only your “extra funds.” This is also a handy budgeting tool. Open an account to transfer non-essential funds for things such as groceries, fuel, gifts or eating out. Bring only one credit card for shopping and leave the rest at home. This means fewer accounts to monitor but, more importantly, if you misplace your wallet, you aren’t as exposed. Don’t let your credit or debit card out of your sight when you are at a restaurant or if a clerk needs to use a different machine. Stay with your card. Skimming happens in a flash.New retail card applications are high this time of year. Filling out the application with personal information and giving it to a stranger isn’t safe. It leaves information out there. Apply online through a secure site if you want to participate.Connecting to public wireless while shopping is dangerous because it leaves your banking information open for scamming.Here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday season with family and friends. Please be kind to yourself and others.
email@example.com or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.