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Keeping Your Personal Information Secure This Holiday Season

November 28, 2016

In the midst of twinkling lights and upbeat holiday tunes, scrooges are scavenging for confidential information in an unfortunate attempt to make the season less merry. While it can be easy to get swept up in the rush, it is ever important to keep your personal security top-of-mind. Avoid letting a scam artist or identity thief get the best of you or your wallet.

With 40% of retail sales set to take place between Thanksgiving and Christmas, peak spending season is upon us. Shoppers will be out and about in full force, and if you plan to be one of them, opt to only bring the cash and cards you plan to use. Be cautious of how you carry your wallet or purse as well. In the event that it is stolen or misplaced, it is necessary to know exactly what is no longer in your possession so that you can remediate the situation by notifying your financial institutions immediately.

When it comes time to make purchases, utilize chip technology when possible so that information is encrypted and your unique card number is less likely to be compromised. When processing a debit transaction, be discreet when entering your PIN. Always remember to obtain receipts to establish a paper trail. Match up receipts with statements so that you can easily detect any unauthorized purchases.

If you plan to avoid the lines and shop online, it is equally important to save receipts and monitor transactions. While there are many perks to shopping online, there are added risks. Before loading up your virtual cart, ensure your antivirus software is up-to-date. When you’re ready to enter payment information, it is best to do so over a trusted, secure network. Even if you are on your home-based Wi-Fi network, ensure it is password secure so uninvited parties cannot gain unwarranted access. Use strong passwords and opt not to store you card information on sites. Always be mindful of who you are sharing information with online. If the integrity of the site or merchant is questionable, consider alternative payment methods to entering your card information, such as PayPal.

In-store purchases and online transactions aside, there are additional ways to maximize personal security during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. If you plan to donate to a charity, safeguard your good intentions. Ensure funds are going to the right hands and verify credibility by contacting the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar, Charity Navigator or Charity Watch to make sure the cause is accredited. Always be cautious of phone or email scams requesting donations. Since this time of year is notorious for goodwill, fraudsters are more likely to take advantage of generosity.

If you plan to send gifts in the mail, verify that they found their way to the destination safely. Consider tracking packages for further peace of mind. Likewise, pick up your mail in a timely manner. Ensure mail is held by the post office if you will be going out of town. If you plan to travel for an extended period of time, enlist a trusted family member or friend to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity. Also remember that observant criminals can gather clues from social media and figure out when you will be away. As always, be mindful of what you post. Don’t neglect to keep close tabs on your security settings and be cautious of who you let into your network.

Regardless of where your plans take you this holiday season, it is important to always be mindful of your surroundings and use sound judgment when your personal security is involved. If at anytime you feel that you may be a victim of a scam or fraud, contact your local bank immediately and they will guide you through the appropriate steps to maintain or regain optimal security. To keep the “happy” in your holidays, keep security top-of-mind.

Jim Oosterman is the Vice President of Melrose Bank. He can be reached by telephone at 781-665-2500, online at or on Facebook.

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