Holiday Shopping: Keeping Your Money Safe

By on November 14, 2011

By Sharon O’Day –

Holiday shopping! Black Friday alerts are popping up all over my email these days, a sure sign that the peak holiday shopping season can’t be far away.

Excitement’s up, precaution’s down. And, like all the riffraff that appears right after a major hurricane to take advantage of people who have let their guard down, the scammers and pickpockets are going into hyper drive.

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As someone who hopes you think twice (or three or four times) before spending senselessly on gifts—because I’m concerned about your long-term financial well-being—I know when I’m licked. So if I can’t save you from yourself, I may as well at least try to save you getting taken by outsiders.

According to the security company Symantec/Norton, $114 billion were lost last year through global cyber crime, or deceptive online practices. Lost time related to that accounted for $274 billion more. Together, that’s more than the value of the global black market in marijuana, cocaine and heroin combined!

More than two thirds of online adults have fallen victim to cyber crime in their lifetime. Fourteen adults become a victim of cyber crime every second, resulting in more than one million cyber crime victims every day. Now, 10 percent of online adults have experienced cyber crime on their mobile phones as well. And those numbers are growing.

But you already know about all the online protections you should take:

1.    If you go to a URL from another website or email, double check the URL to be sure you haven’t been redirected somewhere else.
2.    Before putting your payment information into a site, be sure the URL starts with “https” instead of “http.” And look for the little closed padlock icon in your browser window. At least you’ll be on a secure website.
3.    Use credit cards instead of debit cards, because you have more recourse if you do land in a scammer’s grasp. And Paypal is even better since the seller never sees your credit card information.
4.    On big-ticket items, you might be asked security questions. These authentication questions are for your own protection … as long as you’re talking to a real retailer.
5.    The 3- or 4-digit security number on your card plays the same role. Only you (and someone who has stolen your card!) would have it as it’s physically on your card. If the card has been stolen, hopefully the merchant will ask for your billing address zip code, which a thief would not know.

And when you go fight the crowds, which some of you will, here are a few well-known tips about “What’s In YOUR Wallet”:

1.    Only take cards you know you’re going to need. If you still have a boatload of them, leave most of them at home so it’s less devastating if a pickpocket decides to relieve you of that fat wallet in your back pocket or purse.
2.    If you carry checks, be sure they don’t have your Social Security Number on them. And having your address and phone number at work printed on checks is a lot smarter than those at home.
3.    Instead of signing the back of your credit cards, write “Photo ID Required” in the signature space.
4.    Before you venture out to malls and big box stores, spread every card on a copier and copy both sides of every license, credit card, etc. That goes for your Social Security card too. And leave the copies at home, safely filed where only you know where they are. What you can take with you, but shouldn’t leave in your wallet or purse, is a listing of stolen-card alert numbers at:

  •    Visa (1-800-847-2911)
  •    MasterCard (1-800-627-8372)
  •    Discover (1-800-347-2683)
  •    Equifax (1-800-525-6285)
  •    Experian/TRW (1-888-397-3742)
  •    TransUnion (1-800-680-7289)
  •    Social Security fraud line (1-800-269-0271)

There, I made it easier. Print this page and cut out the numbers. And remember to call all of the ones that apply immediately after a loss.
5.    If something awful does happen, be sure to file a police report in the jurisdiction where it happened, not once you get back home. It’s no guarantee that they’ll ever find the criminals, but at least you can prove to card issuers that you did your due diligence. And once home, notify your card issuers in writing as well, immediately.

This is all information that circulates pretty freely, so I’m just serving as your reminder service. But I’d like to share the extra steps I takebecause I take my money, as well as my personal identity, super seriously.

1.    If I’m searching for a certain product online and Google it, I don’t follow a link haphazardly because it’s too easy for shadow sites to be created around popular products. The goal of such sites is to obtain my personal information directly or by putting malware on my computer. Instead, I find out where the product is being sold and I type in the online or offline retailer’s URL directly.
2.    I bought an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification chip) protection wallet online that fits my passport and the few credit cards I carry. Thanks to a thin metal mesh inside the leather, the RFID chip you see on those documents can’t be read. That means my personal information can’t be harvested by anyone who’s sneaky enough to buy an RFID chip reader. Card issuers claim there is no danger, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.
3.    I pay for one of those identify-theft protection services. I saw the level of protection it provided when I tried to buy my first big-ticket item after activating it, and I consider the service one more welcome layer of protection.
4.    Even if we buy everything on credit cards (and not on the less-protected debit cards), eventually we need to make a payment out of a bank account, even if it’s just for the credit card balance. And then there are all those online payments we make:  phone, lights, cable, internet, etc. I have only one bank account that has online access to it, and I monitor the activity on that account by looking at it online every day. That’s partly for safety, and partly because of the connectedness it gives me to my money. My money remains “physical” in my brain, and not invisible “funds” that move about at the click of a mouse.
5.    Lastly, to be sure I limit my exposure in that account, I move money into it periodically. But to sleep really well at night, I don’t transfer money in from another account. I physically go to the other bank, take out the cash I’ve budgeted and drive it to deposit in the bank with the online account. Call me crazy. Call me paranoid. I call it “safe.”

As Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to say at the end of roll call on Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.”


Sharon O’Day is the author of the upcoming book “Money after Menopause.” She’s a global finance and marketing expert with an MBA from The Wharton School. Sharon has dedicated the last 10 years to understanding the money issues that hold women back from reaching financial security. Website:

About Sharon ODay

Sharon O’Day is the author of the upcoming book “Money after Menopause.” She’s a global finance and marketing expert with an MBA from The Wharton School. Sharon has dedicated the last 10 years to understanding the money issues that hold women back from reaching financial security. Website: Twitter: Facebook:

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Holiday Shopping: Keeping Your Money Safe