Tips for a secure holiday season

The holidays are a time for shopping and charitable giving, and while this is a time for sharing with family and friends, be careful not to inadvertently share your personal information with strangers who may be identity thieves.

Just as consumer activity ramps up around this time of year, so does scam activity as shoppers make online gift purchases, buy gift cards and donate to charities.

Don’t let the spirit of the season open you up to scams.

Some people opt to take on a temporary job as they gather their dollars to splurge on the perfect gift. It is important to only reply to legitimate job offers.

People may be lured in by the false promise of being able to earn money working at home. While the offers of a flexible schedule and extra income are attractive, some job postings may be nothing more than scams that result in lost time and money.

Legitimate job offers will not urge immediate application, nor will they ask applicants to share personal information or hand over money. Scammers may say they are running a credit check, setting up a direct deposit or requesting money to cover training costs.

Online shopping is popular as it allows consumers the option to skip long lines at retail stores. However, online shopping may result in personal information ending up in the wrong hands.

When shopping online, make sure web addresses start with “https://,” as the “s” verifies a secure connection. This is especially important if consumers find social media sites offering vouchers or gift cards. Clicking the link in a phony ad may redirect shoppers to an unsecured site that is unaffiliated with the actual retailer.

As always with sales, beware of offers that seem too good to be true.

Consumers should also use caution when purchasing gift cards. Thieves have been known to pilfer gift card racks, using handheld scanners to read the magnetic information off the card. Once the information has been stolen, they place the card back on the display and wait for it to be activated.

Once the unknowing recipient activates the gift card, the thief can create a counterfeit card or make purchases without the card in hand.

Whenever possible, purchase gift cards from behind the customer service counter. Inspect the gift card and look for any signs of tampering, such as PIN numbers that have been scratched off. If the card is for a pre-loaded amount, ask for the card to be scanned at the register to verify its full value.

The holidays are also a popular time for charitable giving. While donating is born of generosity, some scammers will prey on the goodwill of others and collect money under false pretenses.

Donors should never feel pressured to donate immediately. It’s a good idea to search an organization by name, particularly if it is unfamiliar. Fraudulent organizations may use sympathetic-sounding names that are similar to names of legitimate charities.

It is important to keep records of donations. Contributions exceeding $250 should result in a returned letter confirming the charitable status of the organization as well as the amount.

Anyone who has questions about a charity’s legitimacy can review the Secretary of State’s website to see if the organization is registered to solicit donations in West Virginia.

As we welcome the holiday season and prepare for celebrations, it is important to stay vigilant and guard personal information. Having peace of mind knowing finances are secure is a great gift to give yourself for a safe, enjoyable holiday.