Holiday Shopping, Cyber Crime and Personal Secuirty – Asset Protection

Holiday ScamsWhether you are a Black Friday, Cyber Monday or everything in-between shopper, the number of threats to your wealth and assets both in person and online at a  high at this time of year. Here are some issues to look out for to protect yourself, your family and the joy of the Holidays.

Yes, this is different from what you usually see from me, but Asset Protection is first and foremost about managing RISK, not just lawsuits. Below are two of my most recent columns for Physicians Practice that apply to everyone and center on financial scams and crimes of opportunity that are even more prevalent during the  holidays.

 

Financial Safety Tips to Protect Yourself from 5 Holiday Cyber-Scams

The holidays provide extra opportunity for a variety of theft and financial-fraud scams, many targeting affluent victims like physicians. This week take a first look at some common scams and safety precautions every family should be aware of.

1.      Charitable Donation Scams. This form of fraud has many incarnations but among the most common ones is mimicking a known charity with a look-alike name and presentation. Be sure the organization you are donating to is legitimate and the one you actually intended and avoid giving checks to unknown people or entities; once they have a check from you they can easily use the routing numbers to generate checks and other payments to themselves or to buy merchandise online.

2.      Credit Card Scams. Check your credit card statements carefully. Thieves take advantage of higher than average bills and unusual charges that appear on the statements of many American families at this time of year. This “smoke screen” provides good cover for charges that may be incurred by someone who has obtained your credit card number. Don’t just look at big charges, they’ve figured out you are likely to spot those and often use a series of small charges to avoid detection.

3.      New Account Scams. Consider checking your credit report for new accounts at year-end or early in January at the latest. At this time of year most major retailers are in a rush to open new credit accounts to get us to buy and often use huge extra savings and promotions as enticement, like an extra 20 percent off the day you open the account. Harassed retail staff may not be as vigilant about checking IDs, and opening such accounts at this time of year would not be unusual activity with retailers, your bank, etc.

4.      Smartphone scams. Be suspicious of your smartphone. E-commerce has forced retailers into a steady migration toward more mobile shopping and banking and the scammers came with them. Top scams-technology watchdogs are warning consumers about text messages with links to bogus sites that may steal your identity or credit card information or even infect your phone with a virus. Similarly, be careful of the apps you use and download, especially if you are buying from small, third-party resources instead of “factory” stores like Apple’s iTunes Store and the Android App store. These smaller sites can’t vet and test the apps as carefully and are often used by people whose phones have been unlocked or “jail broken” to allow features and software the manufacturers didn’t want on your phone. Watch your kids and how they’ve altered their phones, especially teenagers who may be shopping online with your card.

5.      Debit-fraud scams. Use credit cards instead of debit cards or checks as much as possible. A variety of debit-fraud schemes have been exposed lately and I’ve just never believed that using a payment function directly linked to your bank account balance was a good idea. Using credit cards, even if you pay them off in full at the end of the month, reduces your exposure significantly and provides an opportunity to dispute charges that are not yours, get purchase protection for loss, theft, or damage with some cards and even have recourse against dishonest retailers with shoddy or undelivered products.

This list just scratches the surface; we’ll provide a few more tips next week including some personal safety issues and social media related exposures you can avoid with a little information and a word of caution.

More Holiday Scam Advice and Safety Tips – PERSONAL SECURITY

Last week we introduced a variety of holiday banking and credit-related scams that target your family and finances and are more prevalent than ever in the age of digital currency.

We take a look at some other common exposures in this week of Black Friday, including some personal safety issues and tips to help you avoid being an easy target. Many of these issues arise in your daily routine and even at your home itself, while others occur when so many of us travel away from our homes for extended periods of time.

Packages and deliveries. The bad guys know that you are shopping online, and if they’re not trying to hack you they are happy to make a buck the old fashioned way; by actually stealing goods from you. They are aware that packages will be delivered and left outside the homes of millions of Americans and the narrow window between the time it was dropped off and the time someone gets home and picks it up is increasingly enough time to follow the familiar UPS and FedEx trucks as they drop off a variety of holiday surprises including all those things you carefully picked out from your favorite catalogs and websites.

Some basics:

Require a signature for important deliveries. A dreaded trip to the post office to pick it up is guaranteed to be less of a hassle than three trips to file police reports and make insurance claims.

Always have your packages shipped insured and with a tracking number at this time of year. The extra shipping expense is typically a fraction of what will be lost if the package is lost, stolen, or damaged at this high-volume time of year.

Avoid letting packages sit outside, as it attracts unwanted attention from the wrong people and is a good sign that no one is home, which may lead to further exploration for other goodies actually inside your home.

Be very careful about always locking your vehicle, and never leave packages and shopping bags in any plain view; use the locked trunk of your car if possible. I am continually surprised to see computers, tablets, briefcases, phones, and even expensive headphones sitting on car seats in shopping malls and other public parking lots. These are all hot targets that are easily sold and often hard to trace. Of course, always take a glance at the backseat to make sure the car is actually empty before you get in.

Be vigilant and watch your back, literally. Petty crimes like purse snatching, pickpocketing, and the like are easier for criminals when they know you are distracted by a long shopping list, an armful of packages, and often a family entourage. Theft of your bags and packages inside the mall or store itself is increasingly common as well so count your bags and watch them at all times or you may end up getting home and discovering a couple of items you paid for are missing. This recently happened to a friend of mine who put his exceptionally expensive designer sunglasses in a leather case down on a table less than a foot from himself for a moment in an Apple store (in a very upscale suburban shopping center) while paying for a product. When he turned around they were gone; the whole thing took about a minute.

Give the smart way. Panhandling is also big business at this time of year, playing in part upon your holiday spirit and partly on your guilt of walking out of a store with arm loads of frivolous purchases while someone forlorn looking asks for help, most typically for bus money to “get home” or to get something to eat. Be aware of the exceptionally vulnerable and tempting position you put yourself in when you pull your wallet out in front of a stranger, typically in parking lot or other public place where they feel no one is watching.

The purpose of this column is not to scare you out of enjoying the holidays; quite the contrary. It’s intended to give you an introduction to some exposures to be aware of and to proactively identify and avoid so your holidays are happy and free of (additional) stress. Be safe and Happy Holidays.

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