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The Do's and Don'ts of Protecting your finances during the Holidays aka Scamming Season

It is arguably the most wonderful time of the year! The weather is cool, family and friend gatherings are approaching, delicious meals are being planned, pumpkin spice lattes are in full swing, and the BEST candle scents are filling the air giving us a warm and fuzzy feeling.

I'm not sure life gets any better than this. However, with all of the wonderful-ness happening around us there is a dark side to the holiday season.

It's called Scamming Season!

It's the time of year we must take precautions physically- by avoiding shopping late at night, leaving gifts in the car, not letting packages accumulate on our porch, etc.

It's also the time of year we must protect our finances against Cyber criminals.

Here are the top Do's and Don'ts of protecting your finances during Scamming Season:

  1. Do: Place a Freeze or Fraud Alert on your Personal Credit

    1. Don't: Apply for New lines of Credit

  2. Do: Use Credit Cards for all purchases

    1. Don't: Use your Debit Card at all if possible

  3. Do: Unsubscribe from all unknown Email and Text lists

    1. Don't: Open unrecognized Emails, Texts, and DMs or click any links (including unsubscribes)

  4. Do: Shop Small Businesses

    1. Don't: Click on Social Media product ads you don't recognize

  5. Do: Practice caution when sending money via Cashapp

    1. Don't : Send money to users outside of your network

  6. Do: Avoid conducting (financial) business via social media DM

    1. Don't : Send screenshots of payments or receipts

  7. Do: Initiate calls to businesses if sharing personal sensitive information is required

    1. Don't : Share sensitive information with businesses over the phone

  8. Do: Change ALL of your passwords using a password manager asap!

    1. Don't : recycle passwords or use numbers and phrases associated with your personal information

  1. Place a Freeze or Fraud Alert on your Personal Credit- Freezing your credit is ideal. Placing a fraud alert on your personal credit is the next best thing. The service is offered free by all three major credit bureaus. This action allows you complete control of what happens with your credit for a specific amount of time. It will stop all inquiries, and new accounts from being opened in your name. Cyber criminals look for vulnerable individuals during the holiday season and often steal their identity. You also want to avoid applying for new lines of credit during this time. While applying in-store you may accidentally expose your personal information. People may hear you recite your information, record you inputting your information into a key pad etc. I know this may seem far fetched but criminals go to great lengths to steal identities. Stay ahead of cyber criminals by "locking your cyber door before they get to your house". Visit Experian, Transunion, and Equifax to learn more about the service.

  2. Avoid using Debit cards, use Credit cards instead- There are many benefits to using credit cards vs debit cards. During scamming season it's important to minimize your personal exposure at all times. Using your debit card increases your personal exposure and may allow a cyber criminal access to your spending behaviors, personal sensitive information, account and routing number, etc. If your banking info is stolen you'll be required to close the account, cancel all automatic payments and deposits, and more. Having your account information stolen causes a huge disruption to your life. Whereas, using credit cards limit your personal exposure dramatically. If your credit card number is stolen, you'd likely only be required to report it to your credit card company and have a new card issued. Additionally, money on a credit card is far more protected and insured than the money in your checking account. Think of it this way, when a cyber criminal steals money from your credit card they are technically stealing the credit card company's money. The credit card companies have robust fraud departments dedicated exclusively to recovering money stolen from them. Additionally, the more activity happening on your credit during scamming season, the easier it is for a cyber criminal to mask their transactions with yours. Minimizing your spending activity to 1 or 2 credit cards makes it easier to spot discrepancies quickly.

  3. Avoid opening unrecognized Emails, Texts, and DMs - this is a HUGE point of vulnerability for most people. If you don't recognize the email address, phone number, or social media profile, don't open the message. This is a quick way for scammers to gain access to you accounts and not only terrorize you but also anyone who is listed in your contacts. If you do open the email of DM by mistake DO NOT click on any links or share any information with the sender. To limit the risk of phishing emails and texts, unsubscribe from all unknown senders now. The best way to go about unsubscribing while simultaneously avoiding unsafe links is to identify the email address you'd like to unsubscribe from, search that email address within your email inbox and see how many and for how long the address has been sending you mail. If the email address has been sending you emails for a long period of time, it may simply be an email list you voluntarily subscribed to and forgot about. Normally those addresses are safe to unsubscribe from using the unsubscribe link. Scammers don't typically hang around sending multiple emails over an extended period of time (do this at your own risk). Adversely, if you search an email address in your inbox and the address has only sent 1 or 2 emails, or they just started sending email in the recent months, it's best to not open the email, simply report it to your email carrier (gmail, hotmail, yahoo, etc) as spam, delete the message, and block the sender.

  4. Avoid clicking on social media product ads you don't recognize - Ahh yes, all the super cute targeted ads popping up on our social media feed daily. I've purchased from them. Some were AMAZING, other items never showed up and the page selling the product disappeared within days. Scammers set up these traps all the time, and most often during the holiday. When you click the ad, even though you may not buy anything, your information will become a part of their retargeting campaign and other ads they own will begin popping up and you'll have no idea the same entity owns all of the ads you're seeing. It's a quick way for scammers to get your money and possibly any personal information you've shared with the social media platform.

  5. Avoid sending Cashapps to users outside of your network- Honestly, we don't have time to go through alllllllllll the scams currently associated with Cashapp. For now, just be sure to only send money to user you know personally.

  6. Avoid conducting (financial) business via DM- Some businesses housed on social media conduct big business within their direct messages (DM). While I don't see anything wrong with it, right now may not be the best time to conduct financial transactions via DM. Ask the business owner to direct you to their website, email, or other reputable source for the checkout or inquiry process. Avoid using Cashapp or Zelle for payments and don't share any sensitive information or screenshots of your receipts, or accounts. This will help you avoid being scammed by a hacker and give you peace of mind. There are also a ton of fraudulent social media pages popping up and impersonating real small businesses. I'd encourage you to do your due diligence by approaching the business page directly from your "following" section before responding to any messages.

  7. Do not give your personal information over the phone- This has to be one of the oldests scams in the book, yet annually criminals are making millions of dollars doing it. DO NOT offer your personal information, verify your personal information, or correct any personal information a business may have of yours over the phone. If you believe the company is credible simply ask them to send you a notice to whatever address they have on file. DO NOT verify the address they have. DO NOT conduct any payments over the phone for companies who call and solicit you. If they are calling from a company who you owe a debt to, simply disconnect the call, retrieve the company's contact information online and call them back to make the payment. There are people in prison making 6 figure salaries running this scam every single day. Don't be a victim.

  8. Change ALL of your passwords using a password manager asap! - if you're anything like me you've been recycling elements of the same passwords since college, maybe even high school! Did you know there are legal websites dedicated to collecting your password information from various sites. That means a person with nearly no skill can access your information and begin targeting your accounts using variations of passwords you've used in the past. Download a password manager such as Lastpass and change ALL of your passwords asap. Be sure to download your password manager to you computer, cell phone, and any device you use regularly.

I hope the 8 Dos and Don'ts help you protect your finances during scamming season. Pass this article along to anyone who needs the info, especially our elderly community.

ps. if someone calls asking for remote access to your computer for any reason, say NO. If a notice comes in the mail saying you owe money for ANYTHING verify the info before paying (including traffic citations and business registrations). DO NOT click on any links from sources you don't recognize.

Ok, I'm done for real this time!

-Star , SHEbuildingHER

for more information, tips, tools, and challenges regarding personal finance join The Star Method.

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