The holiday season is in full swing – merchandise has been donning retail shelves for weeks, malls are fully decked out, and holiday commercials and TV specials are boosting our festive spirit. Emerging well before Halloween, this blast of merriment may seem a bit untimely but, after nearly two years of restrictions and regulations, self-isolation and social distancing, many are feeling that an early infusion of energy and excitement couldn’t have come soon enough. 


In addition to unpacking basement boxes for an annual appearance of its contents and gearing up for parties and celebrations, we’re also preparing for the busiest shopping season of the year. And while searching for that perfect gift can be exhilarating, it also represents a breeding ground for fraudulent schemes and scams. 


Whether shopping in person or from the comfort of your couch, it’s critical to protect yourself from the preying eyes and unscrupulous methods of holiday predators. Here’s how to avoid becoming a victim. 


Purchase from secure websites
Avoid shopping on unfamiliar websites and always look for online security features such as “https” at the beginning of the URL to ensure you’re purchasing from legitimate and secure sites.


Connect to secure WiFi
Don’t make online purchases using public, shared or unsecured WiFi as authentication isn’t required to establish a connection, and exposure can lead to the theft of personal and financial information. Whenever possible, use a virtual private network (VPN) to secure your connection. 


Safeguard your PIN
Don’t share your PIN with anyone, keep the number in a secure place – or, better yet, memorize it – and always shield the PIN pad in stores and at ATMs. Distractions are common during busy shopping periods, so be aware of your surroundings and don’t leave any personal information visible to bystanders. 


Protect your passwords
Using one, easy-to-remember password across all platforms has become commonplace and, for hackers, this is a dream come true. Be sure to create unique passwords for each account and make them difficult to decipher (eg, no pet names or birth dates).


Keep your personal information confidential
Never disclose any personal or financial information over the phone or via email unless you initiated the contact with a trusted source. 


Register for anti-fraud alerts
Speak to your financial institution about anti-fraud features such as text or email notifications when unauthorized or unusual transactions are suspected on your account.


Use digital wallets
Digital or virtual wallets such as Apple, Google or Samsung Pay use encryption protection on your Smartphone to ensure your personal information is secure. Transactions can’t be processed without your authentication so, even if your phone is lost or stolen, your information is safe. In addition to regular purchases, digital wallets also offer protection for payment apps, brand loyalty points and gift card apps. 


Review bank and credit card statements
Regular review of your financial statements is good practice, but even more so during busy holiday shopping when you’re likely spending more than usual, possibly making fraudulent charges less noticeable. 


Watch for spam or phishing schemes
Popular during the holidays, phishing emails look similar to ones sent from legitimate sources and typically include links or attachments that activate malware. Once clicked, hackers can access your computer and everything on it. Take the time to evaluate the validity of your emails and, when in doubt, avoid clicking any links and delete the message. 


Beware of special offers on social media
Clicking on social media ads and special offers may be tempting, but always make sure you validate their origin. A simple click could take you to a fraudulent website where your information may be at risk. If you’re unsure about the company, try searching for them online to verify if they’re legitimate.


Install protection software on your computer
Make sure you have an up-to-date firewall in place as well as antivirus, antispyware and antispam safety features installed. These security measures provide protection against possible cyberattacks, and can prevent threats and malicious software from accessing your computer. 


Prevent porch piracy 
A surge in online shopping has led to an uptick in thieves seeking unattended packages left on doorsteps. Protect your purchases from being stolen by establishing a delivery window to ensure someone will be home to accept the package, sign up for delivery alerts, install a security camera, video doorbell or door-side lockbox, or have packages shipped to your workplace, a friend or trusted neighbour.