A couple of years ago, on a Friday afternoon, I got a phone call from my husband while I was at work.
“My debit card got declined.”
He was at the grocery store, with our two young children, buying just over $8 in produce.
My husband and I both work full time, and we try to be judicious with our funds…see above reference to two young children. I immediately got online to check our bank accounts, and discovered that they had been cleaned out—both checking and savings. There were various charges, all out of state or to online retailers we’d never heard of. It was devastating. It was late Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend, and we knew that there was no chance of getting this cleared up with our credit union until the following week. Like so many families, we had allowed ourselves to become completely dependent on our debit cards, so we had little to no cash to last us through the weekend. Because we don’t have credit cards, it was an incredibly vulnerable feeling to think that we didn’t have money for gas in our cars or a gallon of milk over the next few days. It was a startling violation to be robbed of resources for which we both worked hard.
It had a lasting impact on our kids, too. Our son, who was six at the time, still references the generous woman behind them in line who insisted on paying for that $8 in produce. On the off chance that she’s reading this, please know that we have paid it forward.
Here are a few valuable tips to keep your bank accounts protected as we head into the holiday shopping season:
- Protect yourself from electronic pickpocketing. The same technology that allows consumers to make convenient purchases with their credit or debit card can also enable a thief to steal information and make purchases on your accounts. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) allows “contactless payment” for purchasers, forgoing the usual swipe, processing, receipt, and signature for standard electronic transactions. With the right equipment, thieves can access your card information without a direct line of sight from up to 100 meters away, simply by being in your vicinity. Consider purchasing a wallet or sleeve that blocks RFID scanner waves. They are affordable and reliable, and are sold by multiple vendors.
- If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a family member or friend desperate for money, or perhaps a charity seeking funds for a cause near and dear to your heart, resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story. Hang up and check out the story or organization by talking with family and friends, or doing research online. NEVER wire money before confirming all the details with trusted advisors. Remember, in this age of technology and social media, it can be easy for motivated thieves to find details about your life, and they will play on your emotions.
- We all want the lowest price possible on our holiday purchases, but not at the expense of a costly scam. When shopping online, transact business with well-known sites and retailers, and look for an “https” at the beginning of the web address. That “s” means the site uses an encrypted connection, which will help protect your financial information.
- Have you heard the term “porch pirates”? This refers to the unsavory criminals that follow delivery trucks, hoping to snag packages from your front porch before you know they’ve been delivered. If you’re ordering items online, have them shipped to a trusted neighbor who will be home to accept the delivery, or ask the company to hold the package at their delivery center for you to pick up. Request that your package be marked “signature required,” or add special delivery instructions to have the package left out of sight, such as behind a gate or at your back door.
- As always, don’t leave valuable items inside your vehicle. Although the trunk of your car may seem like a good place to hide gifts from Santa, there are plenty of “Grinches” out there that would love to access your vehicle and help themselves to the treasures tucked away inside.
As we enter into the busy holiday season this week, we wish all of you safe and peaceful celebrations with your loved ones.