Woman holding shopping bags during the holidays

Shopping Safety Tips for the Holiday Season

Here are a few tips that will help keep you, your valuables and your bank accounts safe this holiday season, whether you shop in stores or online.

Author: Meredith Hemphill

Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season and has made a name for itself as the largest shopping day of the year. Many friends and family members shop together and plan for a day of deals. However, scammers are also taking advantage of the shopping frenzy this time of year. According to experts, scammers and thieves typically become bolder during the holidays, and their actions can quickly spoil anyone's holiday cheer. Here are a few tips that will help keep you, your valuables and your bank accounts safe this holiday season, whether you shop in stores or online.

Shopping in-person

Hold Your Purse Next to Your Body

Do not let your wallet be an easy target for theft. Keep it close to your body. That way it is more difficult for thieves to take. Bags with zip closures and over-the-shoulder straps are best because a passerby can’t reach into them or quickly take it off your arm/shoulder. If you are not carrying a bag, put your wallet in one of your front pockets. Back pockets are easy targets for pickpockets.

Use One Method of Payment and Avoid Using Cash

Carry one credit or debit card with you on your shopping trip. Carrying a single card means only one card needs to be canceled in the event of a theft and minimizes the opportunity for fraud if your wallet or bag is stolen.

Cash is attractive to thieves because there is no way to track its use once they have it. If you are paying with cash, take it out of your wallet only when the cashier is asking for payment. This way, you avoid “flaunting” your cash for others to see.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Black Friday is the busiest and most chaotic shopping day of the year. There will be lots of people out shopping. Be smart and be aware of your surroundings. Make sure to lock your vehicle, and do not leave personal items unattended or out in the open in your vehicle. Some thieves choose parking lots to do their holiday "window shopping."

Stay Alert in and Around Your Vehicle

There will be more people out on the roads, so drive defensively and be alert for road rage. Park in well lit areas. When returning to your vehicle after shopping, look around and under it before approaching it. Place shopping bags out of sight or in the trunk, if possible.

Online Shopping with Credit Card

Shopping Online

Only Use Safe Sites for Purchases

Shop on sites that use SSL or Secure Sockets Layer protection. These sites are identified with a URL that starts with https. This means the site has a secure connection to protect your payment information from being compromised when making a purchase.

Since many scammers target their victims online, take additional steps to know who you are shopping with to keep your personal and credit card information safe. Check the site address for any misspellings. Many fraudsters may misspell names of well-known brands or stores to convince people they are authentic. The Better Business Bureau offers a scam tracker, where you can search for potential scams or report them.

When it comes to shopping during the holidays for gifts, it’s best to trust your gut. Scammers take advantage of our holiday financial stress and dupe shoppers with attractive deals. While some sites may offer highly sought-after items at too-good-to-be-true prices, sometimes it’s best to step back, do a reality check and walk away. Usually, these deals are too good to be true. If you decide to move forward with your purchase, check the site’s terms of sale and pay with a credit card. Debit card fraud protections are not as strict as those for credit cards. Credit card companies can work with customers if they suspect the card has been compromised.

Connect Safely

Shop only through a trusted Wi-Fi connection. Avoid making purchases on public networks because of the risk of being hacked. A secure connection, virtual private network (VPN) or hotspot will provide security for your payment. 

Beware of Giving Scams

During the holiday season, scammers keep track of habits and take advantage of people's generosity since they know people are more likely to be generous.  As you make charitable giving and investment decisions over the holidays, there are a host of resources to help you avoid the many scammers and less-than-reputable charities and organizations asking for your money.  If you think you or someone you know might have been scammed or contacted by a scammer, report it to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or filing a complaint online at the NC Department of Justice Website.

Online Marketplace Shopping

Shopping through Online Marketplaces

Meet at a Safe Location

Always meet at a public location. Police departments and sheriff’s offices are great options. They are open 24 hours a day. However, avoid conducting any transactions at night, if possible.

Tell Someone and Bring Someone Else

Let a trusted friend or family member know your plans in detail. Ask someone else to accompany you to the transaction. Remember, there is safety in numbers.

Don’t Share Personal Information

Never reveal your address, social security number or banking information. Since some of this information may be displayed on your personal checks, consider using a cashier’s check or paying with cash. If you decide to pay with cash, only bring enough to cover the cost of the purchase.

You should also disable caller ID when calling the other party.  Simply dial *67 before making an outgoing call to the buyer or seller. Another way to protect yourself is by using an email address that does NOT include your full name.

Remember, third-party payment apps (PayPal, Venmo, CashApp, etc.) use your first and last name and are connected to your bank account. Avoid using these apps with strangers, and never pay before meeting in-person.

Check the Item Before Purchasing

Before money changes hands, ask for a demonstration. You want to make sure the product is as described.

Trust Your Gut

At the end of the day, trust your instincts. If you have noticed red flags during communications, it is best to cancel plans and move on. If something seems off or wrong to you, it probably is. 

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