The holiday season is undeniably a magical time of year. The vibrant festivities, the twinkling lights, and the amusing attempts of everyone to be extra kind in hopes of receiving more gifts—nope, you're not fooling anyone. Personally, I'm a huge fan of the delectable food—it's just so irresistibly good! This aspect of the season excites me more than anything else.
And let's not forget the post-holiday sales, especially Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the day after Christmas (we really should come up with a catchy name for that day). They are all kinds of fantastic, even for those of us who are thrifty and budget-conscious. However, it's worth noting that this is also a prime time for scams, so if you plan to venture out or shop online, please stay safe!
I haven't participated in the early morning Black Friday sales in a while. Partly because I have little ones who aren't too keen on leaving the house after a hearty Thanksgiving meal, and partly because I fell victim to scams on two separate occasions.
The First Time I Got Scammed
The first time, back in 2009, I was in Target with my 3-month-old baby who decided to throw a tantrum at the checkout line—crying at the top of his lungs, then choking, and even vomiting. It wasn't a pleasant scene. I bumped into someone while leaving the line to use the restroom, which I didn't think much of.
Fast forward 15 minutes later, and my little boy had calmed down, but my wallet was nowhere to be found! It was filled with gift cards and gift receipts from my baby shower, which I desperately needed.
Our finances were incredibly tight, and if I could have thrown a tantrum like a 2-year-old right there in Target (notice I didn't say “in Target,” but “right there in Target”), you can bet I would have. I was absolutely furious!
The Second Time I Got Scammed
The second time, I was shopping with my credit and debit cards. All I did was swipe them in November, and by mid-December, I was receiving alerts from LifeLock that something was amiss. Capital One called me when they detected charges both overseas and in the U.S. simultaneously.
As for Chase, they never called; I had to reach out to them. Fortunately, it was a relatively easy problem to resolve for all of them, but it was incredibly inconvenient.
Since then, I have taken a number of steps to make sure I am safe while I shop for the holidays. Here are Black Friday tips you should know;
My Safe Black Friday Tips
1. Set a budget
Here, we're all about frugality and savvy financial decisions, so safety tips are definitely in order. Setting a budget is a fantastic way to achieve this. It means you leave the house with a clear plan of how much you're going to spend, as opposed to being like me and carrying every credit card, debit card, and ID, which can all be vulnerable to theft in one go. I was in a state of panic for a while, especially considering my address and medical cards were in that wallet too!
Set a budget and only carry what you plan to spend with you. This will help you keep track of your money and protect your identity.This leads us to Tip 2.
2. Leave the debit card at home
Why risk giving someone access to your checking account when it's entirely avoidable? Credit cards come with built-in features to protect you against identity theft, features that debit cards lack. By law, you can only be held liable for up to $50 worth of fraudulent charges on a credit card, and potentially $0 if you catch the issue early enough. Debit cards, on the other hand, don't provide this level of protection. So, it's a smart move to leave your debit card at home.
If you've followed Tip #1 correctly, you'll have the funds available to immediately pay off the charges you've placed on your credit card, thereby avoiding interest and unnecessary credit card debt. For those who don't have a credit card, well, if you've already budgeted as suggested in the first tip, you can opt for a pre-paid card or carry cash (although I personally prefer the card options, as flashing a big wad of cash at the register can also put you in a vulnerable position).
3. Don’t carry a purse. Yep, leave it at home
Carrying a purse can be cumbersome and get in the way. Plus, it eliminates the worry of some opportunist trying to snatch it. Crime rates tend to rise during the holiday season, and some news stories, like the one in Covington, GA in 2015, only reinforce the need for caution.
So, for your own safety, leave the purse at home.
4. Consider leaving the phone in the glove compartment
Did she really say that? It's true that many of us are often engrossed in checking prices, texting, and chatting on our phones, which distracts us and keeps us from paying attention to our surroundings. This distraction can put us at risk. Your safety and awareness should take precedence over your phone. It's best to do all your research and gather any necessary information before leaving home or, at the very least, while in the car.
I've observed some folks checking their bank accounts right there in the store, or even worse, at the checkout register! Remember, you're being observed. If you do bring your phone into the store, make sure it's passcode-protected. I can't tell you how many times I've seen cell phones left on top of a pile of clothing as their owners rush off to explore other deals in the store.
When the cashier asks, “Can I have your telephone number and email address to complete your transaction?” You can politely decline. The less information they have, the more protected you are.
It's crucial to remember that retailers often experience security breaches, and your personal information could be stolen in the process. If you encounter resistance, don't hesitate to escalate the matter to a manager, who can complete the purchase without that additional information.”
5. Keep all receipts
I used to be quite careless with my receipts, leaving them all over the place. That was until I discovered, rather interestingly, through LifeLock, that one of the most common sources for identity theft is our very own receipts! Surprising, isn't it? I certainly didn't know. You see, the barcode on a receipt holds information about the store where we shopped (which is pretty obvious) and the company that processed our credit card payments. Cybercriminals looking for credit card details may use this information.
So, it's a wise practice to hold onto your receipts until you get home and then shred, cut, or tear them into little pieces. Your receipts also come in handy if you shop at various stores and want to keep track of your purchases. If anything unusual appears on your account or credit report, you'll have those receipts to cross-reference and check if something fishy is going on.
6. Avoid card readers
For the past few years, I've mainly been supporting local small businesses, and I've noticed they often have card readers. I've had a bit of unease about these devices because you end up swiping your card what feels like a gazillion times before it finally processes the payment. The security measures behind these swipes can be a bit shaky, depending on the company they use.
I personally prefer using services like Paypal, Stripe, Square, and a couple of others because I'm familiar with the encryption and security measures they employ. However, when I encounter any unfamiliar or unknown name on those card readers, I'm quick to whip out my cash!
Black Friday Tips to Protect Your Identity Online
- Use Secure Networks: When shopping online, make sure you're using a secure network. Avoid using public Wi-Fi because it is frequently unsecure and easy for cybercriminals to intercept.
- Shop from Trusted Retailers: Stick to reputable retailers that you know and trust. Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true, as they often are.
- Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious of emails or messages that ask for personal or financial information. Legitimate organizations will never ask for this information via email or text message.
- Use Strong, Unique Passwords: Each of your accounts should have a unique password. Consider using a password manager to help you create and store strong passwords.
- Update Your Software: Make sure your device's software is up-to-date. This includes your operating system, web browser, and any antivirus software you have installed.
- Monitor Your Accounts: Keep a close eye on your financial accounts. If you notice any unfamiliar transactions, report them immediately.
- Use Credit Over Debit: If possible, use a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards offer better fraud protection, and if your card information is stolen, it's easier to dispute fraudulent charges.
How to Recover from Identity Theft After Black Friday
If you discover that your identity has been stolen, it's important to act quickly. Start by contacting your bank or credit card company to inform them of the situation. They can help you close any fraudulent accounts and dispute any unauthorized charges.
Next, report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They can provide you with a recovery plan and guide you through the steps to take to restore your identity. You should also contact the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) and place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
Lastly, file a report with your local police department. While they may not be able to catch the thief, having a police report can be helpful when disputing fraudulent charges or dealing with creditors.
You can get a lot of great deals on Black Friday, but there are also some risks. Protecting your personal information is important because identity theft is a real problem. You can still enjoy Black Friday without having your identity stolen if you are alert, careful, and well-informed.
Hopefully, these Black Friday tips will help you as you conquer Black Friday’s madness. I’ll be eating leftovers, kissing my babies and mapping out my Cyber Monday plan!
Article published: November 9, 2018 | Updated: October 30, 2023