In case the mass consumer hysteria and all-red-and-green everything didn’t tip you off, the holidays are up and running. Unless you’re cool with being disowned by your family and losing a few friends, now’s the time to start shopping for gift. But before you start swiping that plastic, take a second to review these fraud-prevention do’s and don’ts to keep your identity and financial information safe this holiday season.
Skimmers are sneaky little devices that thieves attach to credit-card readers and ATMs in order to snag credit and debit card info. Fraudsters use this data to replicate your card and buy as many inflatable Santas and fake snow machines as their cold, greedy hearts desire. Skimming runs rampant during the holidays, so be on the lookout for any suspicious attachments before sliding your card into an ATM or swiping it at a cash register.
While you should be on the lookout for shady gadgets attached to ATMs and point-of-sale locations, the alternative — walking around for the duration of the holiday season with a wad of hundreds in your pocket — isn’t a great solution to this paranoid dilemma. If someone lifts your wallet or snatches your purse, getting that cash back is going to prove a lot more difficult than an instance of credit-, debit-, or ATM-card fraud — even on cards with zero liability protection (like all Chase cards). And if all your cash does disappear, do you really want to explain to everyone on your shopping list why you ended up gifting them (lightly used) Happy Meal toys?
Those shiny new chips you’ve been seeing on credit and debit cards may be miniscule, but they pack the latest advancement in the fight against fraud: EMV chip technology. (The EMV stands for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa, the companies that originally developed the chip standard.) Older cards with magnetic stripes contain static data, which thieves can copy (aka skim) via simple card-reading devices. EMV chips issued by banks like Chase, on the other hand, contain dynamic values that change regularly, to ensure your payment data is kept safe. When you buy that new vampire/zombie/werewolf romance series for your teenage cousin, the EMV chip produces a single-use code that the store validates right then and there. And because each code is unique, fraudsters with a replicated, static version of your chip-enabled card won’t be able to make verified purchases.
Yes, EMV chips are sparkly, and yes, you may want to show yours off to anyone and everyone. Fight this temptation. Your EMV chip selfie may be fierce, but if you want to avoid a surprise payment for a 14-carat gold watch (purchased online, where thieves can still just use more basic credit-card information to make a purchase), keep your personal information just that: personal.
‘Tis the season for frenzied online shopping, which means it’s also the ideal time for hackers to take advantage of harried, careless consumers. One common tactic to watch out for are emails that appear to be from a popular retailer or other legitimate source — but aren’t. Often, an altered URL within the copy clicks out to a fake site designed to look like a retailer’s online store, where hackers can collect your personal information. With the barrage of promotional emails flooding your inbox right now, it can be difficult to catch every fraudulent email. But as a general rule, avoid clicking URLs within emails — if you really want to navigate to a particular shopping site you can do so yourself — and don’t hand over any personal info to sites you haven’t found directly.
Fighting holiday consumerism with selfless generosity is admirable, but you probably don’t want to start 2016 with $3 in your drained bank account. You probably shouldn’t send your financial info to the 12 deposed princes who each sent you identical emails in comic sans font, and try to avoid swiping your card on every smartphone card reader with a poorly dressed Santa-for-Charity behind it. There are so many worthy, legitimate charities you can and should help without compromising your personal information. Do some research and find a cause that means something to you. Donate directly and securely — or, better yet, get yourself over to a soup kitchen, or buy actual toys, books, and games for children who otherwise wouldn’t have anything to unwrap on Christmas.
If you’re not in the habit of regularly checking your bank and credit-card account activity online, or if you aren’t signed up for activity alerts on your phone or via email, now’s the time to do so. Easy-to-use banking apps, like Chase Mobile, can send account-alert notifications no matter where you spend the holidays. And remember: If fraudulent transactions do happen, it’s not the end of the world. Understanding banks like Chase won’t hold you responsible — but the sooner you alert them to unauthorized charges, the more likely they are to stop the thief from scamming others.
Hopefully these do’s and don’ts will inspire you to stay alert and be smart when engaging in holiday shopping. Nothing ruins festive vibes more thoroughly than finding out your identity has been stolen or your bank account is at $0. If you’re interested in learning even more about fraud prevention, Chase is ready to help.
Lily Butler is an editor at Studio@Gawker.