Whether you are hoping we can “Make America Great Again,” working tirelessly for those who say that we are “Stronger Together,” or simply trying to make it through another day, it is highly likely that Christmas is the furthest thing from your thoughts right now.
But with only 54 days ‘till Election Day, I can already tell you what’s going to happen, and it’s not going to be pretty. I’m not talking about the continuing controversies over hacked email accounts or electronic voting systems. I’m not even talking about all the sore losers and obnoxious winners there will be no matter who wins.
You Better Not Cry
On November 9, America will wake up to a new leader of the free world. And with all the feelings (elation, dread, boredom) to which that gives rise, I still want to point out another horror show waiting on the other side of the election. There will be just 46 days until Christmas.
If you didn’t have insomnia leading up to Election Day, the night after might be your unlucky day.
Not worried? Consider for a moment that while you were thinking about politics, football and maybe Thanksgiving, the economic juggernaut that is Christmas has been rolling since January. All the people who make the holiday profitable have already spent tons of time thinking specifically about you.
That said, there are a lot of not-so-nice guys out there (also known as scam artists, criminals, swindlers and crooks), who have also spent a great deal of time thinking about you, and have been sharpening their proverbial knives in anticipation of a very merry Christmas. With all this in mind, here are some of the things you should look out for in the 100 days until Christmas.
1. Charity Scams
‘Tis the season to give until it hurts both emotionally (oh, those family get-togethers) and financially. But if you’re not careful, the emotional and financial will intersect when you are scammed by a fake charity.
I know, pretty harsh, right? Well, if only the likes of the Grinch can steal the entirety of Christmas (and as you’ll recall he actually couldn’t) there are plenty of grungy cranks out there who are perfectly happy to steal your donation of $10, $20, $100 or more (and they can). They do it with phishing scams: an email or text designed to look like it’s from a charity. Or that strategically placed dinnertime call when your impulse to be a good neighbor collides with your desire to get off the phone and back to the table.
How to avoid this: Always give directly to a charity. This goes for your cyber giving and real-time charity. Not all bell-ringing Santas are working for the Salvation Army, but if you go to the right site (that you have independently confirmed), with the right security (HTTPS and the little lock), you can be sure your money gets to the right people.
2. Fake Jobs
With the holiday rush, companies hire. This is a boon for everyone, potentially, but it also opens the door to identity-related scams. Be on the lookout for job applications that require detailed personal information just to qualify, and if you are applying online, make sure the site and the company are the real deal by making phone calls, searching online and relentlessly checking consumer reviews. If you believe you’ve been the victim of a scam, it’s a good idea to check your credit to see if your scores have fallen. (You can view two of your free credit scores on Credit.com.)
3. Holiday E-Cards
Holiday cards are fun. You get to see how kids have grown and check out your friend’s new car (I’m amazed at how many family portraits include the family car). But be careful because there are plenty of fake cards sent using your hacked or otherwise compromised address book or one that belongs to someone you know. The result: a holiday card that doesn’t seem odd, but open the wrong one, and you’ve just been phished.
Solution: There’s no silver bullet here, but always look at the URL and make sure that it is spelled correctly, because many of these scams operate spoof sites that require sharp powers of observation to detect, such as words spe1led slightly differently. (Did you catch that?)
4. Unsafe Online Shopping
No matter how pressed for time you are, no matter how forgetful-so-you-better-get-it-done-while-you’re-thinking-about-it (like me) you might be, try to avoid using public Wi-Fi to do your holiday shopping and never, ever use public Wi-Fi and your credit card at same time. There are often hackers sitting nearby either manning fake public Wi-Fi or ready to grab your information with a man-in-the-middle attack.
Tip: Rather than familiarizing yourself with every scam out there, just avoid public Wi-Fi for anything other than browsing the Internet.
5. Unlocked Devices
Doubtless you noticed several mentions of phishing scams above. This final suggestion is wildly popular with parents: Get your child their own tablet or smartphone.
It is impossible to police a child’s every click, and if that kid is on a family-wide device that also contains cookies and bookmarks and the like associated with bank accounts and other information housed by financial institutions, putting that device in a child’s hand is courting disaster.
There, I said it.
The takeaway should be not to get taken (or carried away) this holiday season. Never let your Fear of Looking Like a Grinch (FOLLAG) trump your Fear of Getting Ripped Off (FOGRO).
In addition to all those manufacturers and retailers and marketing wizards hoping for a robust Black Friday and magnificent Cyber Monday, there will lurk all stripes of holiday exploiters as we wend our way toward the holidays. While ‘tis the season for commerce and acquisition ecstasy, there is an army of potential holiday wreckers out there, so be careful.
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.