November 14, 2021

The Holidays Are Coming, and So Is An Increased Risk for Fraud

Be Mindful of Holiday Shopping Scams

The holidays are a busy time with everyone rushing to find the perfect gifts. Black Friday and Cyber Monday offer opportunities for deep discounts at retail stores, and Small Business Saturday encourages people to shop local for more distinctive presents. Along with all the buying, there is also returning, as people take back those gifts that somehow miss the mark.

With the season’s many distractions, and people buying and returning more things than they do any other time of the year, opportunities for fraud and identity theft are more prevalent. According to a 2020 survey, one out of every four Americans are victims of fraud during the holidays. In November, December, and January, some of the most prevalent schemes tend to relate to the increase in shopping and charitable donations around the holidays.

A Little Planning Can Keep Your Season Merry and Bright

It’s essential to stay alert to potential risks and implement strategies to prevent your personal information from ending up in the wrong hands. By taking a proactive approach, you can reduce the likelihood of falling victim to a holiday scam. Although watching out for phishing schemes-fraudulent emails made to look like trustworthy sources to steal your information and monitoring your credit report for suspicious activity are two of the more common recommendations, here are a few physical information safety tips, which are often overlooked but no less critical.  

Securely store receipts you may need later. People are expected to buy more this holiday season, with sales projected to grow about 7% compared to a year ago. Although a large portion of holiday spending will occur online, it will also happen in person as retail spaces reopen and people feel more comfortable venturing out to the stores.

The increase in shopping will drive up the volume of electronic and paper-based receipts. Depending on your purchases, you may want to hold on to a few of these receipts, especially if you need them for warranty purposes, to take advantage of a potential rebate, or to make a return later. However, receipts often contain sensitive information, such as account numbers, reward program codes, or part of your credit card number, so it’s important not to leave them lying around. Also, note that electronically printed receipts should only show up to 5 digits of your credit or debit card number, as per the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA). However, handwritten receipts or those made from an imprint of your credit card, more prevalent in small business transactions, may still contain the entire credit or debit card number. Buyers should be sure to review their receipts to understand whether their credit card information is on display.

Having a secure and locked storage area at home—like a bin, cabinet, or desk drawer—can help you keep receipts secure until they are needed. Not only will this help you avoid losing critical shopping records, but it can also mitigate the risk of theft.

Have a process for securely destroying receipts you don’t need. Although certain receipts should be saved, others can be discarded. For example, receipts from experiences, including restaurants, movie theatres, and sporting events, can usually be destroyed as soon as you confirm your credit card statement correctly reflects the charge. Similarly, older receipts that date from outside a warranty period or return window can likely be discarded. However, simply throwing these unnecessary documents in regular recycling or trash is risky. Someone rifling through your bins could pick out papers that include confidential information and use them for nefarious purposes, including identity theft.

To help prevent this from happening, you should establish a process for periodically destroying receipts you no longer need. This may involve working with a document destruction company like Shred-it, which can pick up materials for destruction or provide opportunities for you to drop off outdated materials at a nearby facility. Consider using a document destruction company that follows best practices and complies with applicable data protection laws.

Shred-it uses industrial-grade, cross-cut shredders to transform paper documents into small, confetti-like pieces, which cannot be reconstructed, thus limiting opportunities for theft. By contrast, do-it-yourself shredders usually cut paper into strips, which can be reconstructed relatively easily by fraudsters. Our drivers maintain a secure chain of ownership throughout pickup and transportation, and we provide a Certificate of Destruction once materials are fully destroyed. By working with a professional shredding company, you don’t have to incur the cost of purchasing and maintaining your own shredder. Moreover, you can be confident your data is fully destroyed.

More Holiday Fraud Risks to Be Wary Of

Fraud schemes escalate around the holidays to take advantage of seasonal spikes in holiday spending. This year is even more concerning with stressed shoppers trying to get their shopping done faster with recent news of supply-chain issues and shipping delays. The recent IBM Institute for Business Value research study shows holiday shopping will be strong this year with 87% of consumers planning to shop for the holidays—both online and at retail stores.

To protect against increased holiday fraud, watch for these common threats as you prepare for the holidays:

  • Gift card spoofing scams: Do not purchase gift cards based on email or text requests. Scammers may use spoofing—impersonating a person of authority or close contact—to have you purchase a gift card for them.

  • Online shopping scams: Too good to be true advertisements are just that. Some ads that appear to be for well-known brand names may be fake, and delivery of purchases may never happen. Be sure to shop only through trusted, secure sources. Websites should start with “https” and show a closed padlock in the browser indicating the site is secure. If you find a product online that is priced unreasonably low, it might be a scam.

  • Point-of-sale risks: While retailers are responsible for ensuring security of point-of-sale systems, some fraudsters use old-fashioned “visual hacking” to steal PIN numbers. Always make sure to cover the machine when inputting your information.  

  • Reshipping scams: Fraudsters intercept online purchases and have them “reshipped,” normally overseas by resale, by using stolen customer information to contact merchants and provide alternate shipping addresses for packages. Be sure to track your packages to help minimize this risk.

  • Fake charities: Make sure your year-end charitable giving goes to legitimate non-profit organizations. Many fraudulent seasonal charities may arise at this time of year, especially to purportedly support relief funds for recent disasters.

  • Gift exchange scams: Social media posts requesting your mailing address to participate in a holiday gift exchange where you’ll send one gift and receive multiple gifts in return are a ruse intending to collect your personal information without shipping the promised gifts.

  • Counterfeit product scams: Supply chain shortages will surely make some of the most popular toys and products of the season difficult to find, so be on the lookout for fake products. While some fakes may resemble the authentic product they may sometimes lack the safety features of the original, like fire resistance or parts that are safe for young children.  

Learn more about how Shred-it can help you keep your confidential documents safe during the holidays and beyond.