The 2017 holiday season is expected to set a record $678 billion in retail sales. With the average consumer projected to spend $967 this season, there will be millions of transactions both online and in stores. Unfortunately this increased activity can lead to troubles ranging from overspending to identity theft. Here are five quick tips to help protect yourself during the holiday season and get you through to the New Year.
Failing to Monitor or Freeze Credit
There are several different ways to monitor and protect your credit. The easiest and most cost effective way is to request a free credit report through annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228. Federal law allows you one free copy from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion). (For more, see: Tips for Avoiding a Holiday Spending Hangover.)
Unfortunately, unless you check your credit at just the right time, the breach may go undetected for months. Enrolling in a credit monitoring service could flag suspicious activity and act as an early monitoring system so you can take action to prevent further damage. However, credit monitoring should be viewed much like a home alarm system, it may alert you that a burglar has entered your residence, but it will not prevent them from entering.
On the other hand, freezing your credit effectively acts as a deadbolt by preventing thieves from establishing new credit in your name even if they obtain your personal information. Rest assured, freezing your credit has no impact on your existing credit cards. You can continue using regularly even when frozen.
Oversharing Personal Identifiable Information (PII)
There is always an influx of holiday related scams this time of year due to increased consumer spending. Protect yourself by not sharing any excess personal information regardless if you’re making purchases online or in brick and mortar stores. Email deals or promotions that seem too good to be true could be a phishing scam designed to steal your PII. Never click on a URL or link contained in an email. Instead, open a new browser and go directly to the company website. Fake surveys promising money, gift cards, exotic vacations, etc. in exchange for information are other popular scams during the holiday season that should be avoided.
Engaging in Behaviors That Threaten Your Online Security
When identity theft occurs, most consumers are quick to point the finger at the business, credit card or bureau (Equifax) they associate the data breach with. Unfortunately, this finger pointing often leads to a lack of responsibility by the card holder. Avoiding risky behavior such as shopping on public WiFi connections, using duplicate passwords, sharing account names and passwords, allowing others access to your mobile device or tablet, and oversharing of personal identifiable information will go a long way towards protecting your online identity. (For related reading, see: Cyber Crime: Tips on How to Avoid a Catastrophe.)
Using a Multitude of Credit Cards
Spreading purchases among many different credit cards may help soothe your anxiety by limiting high balances on any one particular card. However, this strategy can also create opportunities for unscrupulous individuals. Limiting purchases to one or two cards allows you to keep track of what you are spending more easily and reduces your exposure if your online accounts are compromised. When trying to decide which card is best to use, be sure your credit card is equipped with computer chip technology and look for the card with the lowest interest rate.
Spending Too Much
The concept of living within your means is simple enough to understand yet not always easy to practice. Overspending often becomes exacerbated during the holiday season due to family and parental pressures. Large purchases can lead to high credit card balances, interest and penalties that may haunt you for years to come. One way to avoid overspending is by saving during the weeks leading up to the holiday season. Creating a budget and using a credit card payoff calculator to determine the monthly payments necessary to pay off balances before the grace period ends is another way to keep spending in check. (For more from this author, see: 10 Habits of the Healthy, Wealthy & Wise.)