I usually avoid Black Friday shopping like the plague, but I wasn’t feeling well and really needed medicine. The only stores that were open in our town at that hour were Target and Wal-Mart.
At 5:30 am, on Black Friday, I braved a trip to Target. I was shocked that there weren’t many people inside the store.
It had some areas of disarray, so obviously there had been some hard core shoppers there earlier. But I was able to get medicine and some water quickly, spending just a few dollars.
In the blink of an eye, this shopping trip became one of my biggest financial headaches to date. I had used my debit card and was caught up in the Target data breach.
I hadn’t really done anything wrong, but the experience taught me some valuable lessons. As we enter the busiest shopping months of the year, it’s a good time to reflect on how to shop safely for the holidays.
How to Shop Safely for the Holidays Online
I’m not one for the crowds, so I prefer to do most of my shopping online. I’ve never experienced an issue with my online shopping (knock on wood). Keep these tips in mind, and you might be able to say the same.
1. Monitor Your Accounts
Whatever card you use to shop online, be sure to check the accounts frequently for suspicious activity. Some people prefer to have one card that they use only for online shopping. That way, there’s only one account to check in with.
If something does happen to the card and it needs to be cancelled, you still have your other card(s) for day-to-day purchases.
2. What’s Protected Under Your Cards?
Credit cards offer the best protections for online shopping, but that’s not to say debit cards don’t offer any protections.
Whatever card you decide to use online, know what protections are offered in the event that you fall victim to a scam, your delivery is lost, you need to make a return, or your information is stolen.
Checking the fine print isn’t a bad idea if you can find the card agreement online or have it filed away.
3. Use Gift Cards
If your head is swimming with the thought of monitoring accounts and checking into protections, you can essentially shop with cash online by purchasing Visa, MasterCard, or American Express gift cards at a local store, then using them for your online purchases.
4. Type In the URL
If you’re a big fan of certain stores, those businesses probably have your email address and send you emails with deals from time to time.
However, scammers are pretty savvy and they can send you an email that looks like it came from your beloved store. You click on the link in the scam email, and it appears to take you to the store’s website, but it’s really taking you to a scam site.
You buy something, input your credit card information, and suddenly your financial life is in ruins.
The emails your store sends might have a shopping code to credit you a discount at checkout. Take note of the code, but type the store’s address directly into your browser to be on the safe side.
5. Shop Only on Secure Sites
Legitimate shopping sites are secure. One way to tell is by checking the web address. Instead of http, you should see https – the ’s’ is for ‘secure’.
Most sites will also show a third party logo (such as the Better Business Bureau) for “verification” purposes. However, note that there’s nothing stopping an unethical company from displaying these “trusted” logos.
Additionally, you can always run a Google search to see if a particular site is legitimate or not before ordering anything from it. This is especially true if deals seem too good to be true.
6. Protect Your Information
Some retailers might ask for your age to provide targeted marketing toward customers. However, your birth date shouldn’t be required (unless you’re purchasing something with an adult rating, such as a movie or video game).
If you’re being asked for your birth date, Social Security number, and other unnecessary identifying information, shop elsewhere.
7. Update Your Computer
If you’re shopping on a traditional computer, make sure you’ve got a firewall in place. You should also be up to date with anti-virus and spam software. Please reference our top ten antivirus list if you’re not already protected and choose a recommended provider.
Check to make sure you have your browser configured for optimum safety, and be sure your browser is also updated to the latest version. Browsers typically provide an update if there are security issues.
8. Beware of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
You don’t just need to worry about who is getting your information on the other end of your online purchase. As you submit your information, hackers are trying to access it.
Don’t use public Wi-fi, which allows hackers to access your information with ease. That means no online shopping at the airport, library, or local coffee shop. If yo’re on a mobile device, turn off Bluetooth for similar reasons.
9. Have a Strong Password
A strong password contains numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters, and symbols. Yes, that makes it more difficult to remember – but it also makes it harder to hack.
So that you don’t forget, one method is to choose your favorite lyrics and transpose them into a password. For example, “Twinkle, Twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are” could be “T2l*hIwwur”.
10. To Store or Not to Store Your Information
It can be tempting to store your credit card information with your favorite retailers. Respectable retailers should have a privacy and security policy in place, but consider how you’d feel if you were notified that your credit card information was stolen.
Monitoring your finances requires a lot more time than typing in your credit card information each time you shop.Plan on doing a lot of online shopping for the #holidays? Keep your information safe! Click To Tweet
How to Shop Safely for the Holidays in Stores
There’s a saying “there’s safety in numbers”. Unfortunately, crowds also attract thieves. Criminals prey on people who are distracted, rushed, or carrying too many items.
Christmas shoppers are often all of these things. You might not be able to shop at a leisurely pace, but you can still ward off thieves by following these tips.
11. Keep Your Money Close
Tempted to hang your purse off the stroller arms? Or maybe you put your wallet inside one of your shopping bags – never mind that you set the bags down every few minutes.
Keep your purse close to your body, draped messenger-style if possible. Make it hard for someone to swipe your money without a fight. Chances are they’ll look for an easier target.
12. Don’t Carry Too Many Bags
If you’re doing a lot of shopping, you might not be able to carry all your bags and boxes with you. However, criminals are watching for people going out to their cars and then returning to finish their shopping.
The moment you drop off your items, the robber can assume you won’t be right back. They know they have ample time to swoop in and steal your purchases, if not your vehicle.
If you have to drop off items, hide them in the trunk so opportunists won’t be tempted. If at all possible, park as close to the store as you can to deter thieves from picking your car.
13. Save The Best For Last
The more you buy, the harder it gets to carry. Either you’ll find yourself making a trip to the car, which we’ve already established is risky, or you’ll set the bags down often to reposition them. This is also a chance for thieves to swoop in to steal your purchases.
Your best bet is to save your most expensive purchases until last. Your items will not only be less tempting to take, but you’ll be out less money in the event that your first purchases are taken.
14. Be Aware
Glance over your shoulders. Stop from time to time to let people move by you. Take notice of who is around you in the stores – which means staying off your cell phone. Remember that thieves are looking for people who are distracted.
15. Be Ready
When you’re done with your shopping, walk confidently to your vehicle with keys in hand. When you get to your vehicle, you want to hop in and drive away in nearly one smooth motion.
This is made infinitely harder if you have children in tow, so keep your shopping to the peak hours, park in a well-lit area, and park as close to a major entrance as possible. No, it isn’t as convenient, but neither is being robbed.Keep yourself and your wallet safe from thieves when shopping in stores this #holiday season Click To Tweet
16. Don’t Flash Cash
If you want to avoid the data breaches associated with cards, you’re probably carrying cash with you. That’s great for keeping your information safe, but maybe not so great for the safety of your wallet. Thieves will take notice of the wad of cash you flash at the register.
If the store has a dressing room, you might be able to add up your purchases and portion out just enough cash for the purchase. For other stores, you might have to plan ahead.
17. Bring Cash With You
You better believe thieves are hanging out near the mall ATM, taking notice of large withdrawals. If you want to shop cash with cash, get it before arriving at the mall.
By all means, don’t shop late at night in a bad part of town. Shop where security is present and ask for an escort to your vehicle if you’re leaving after crowds start to dwindle.
Most people shop online and in stores with no problems at all. Some are lucky, and most are employing these common sense techniques.
By all means, shop the sales and score great deals. Just be smart while doing it!
What is your best advice for someone who wants to know how to shop safely for the holidays? Do you take extra precaution when shopping online or in stores? What do you do to keep your money safe?