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Member security: Holiday safety tips

Protect your information during the holiday season

Financial security may not be top of mind during the holiday rush, but this time of year is a busy one for bad actors looking to take an end-of-year bonus out of your pocket. As the holiday season makes us all more active as consumers, travelers and online shoppers, we open ourselves up to personal security threats that can ruin the holiday spirit. Luckily, you can take some simple steps to identify and prevent these threats before you become a victim.

Malware attacks
Malware infection risks have surged as the end of the year nears. These malware attacks typically target popular software applications and web browsers, and often take advantage of security weaknesses that are inherent in outdated software versions. Be especially careful if you receive links or attachments from unexpected or untrusted sources. These are usually sent via email or messenger application, and can install malware that takes information from your phone or computer.

Install both anti-virus and anti-spyware programs to protect yourself, and keep them up to date. Also, check your phone, laptop and any other devices to ensure they are up to date with the latest security updates and patches.

Skimming happens when a portable device is attached to a card intake machine—like an ATM or gas pump—and records card data from unsuspecting customers who swipe their cards. ATMs and gas pumps are popular targets for skimmers because of the volume of traffic these places typically receive, but the devices can be installed at any point-of-sale location.

Becoming familiar with the card readers that you frequent—whether at the grocery store, gas station or a public ATM—may help you identify a skimming device. Because skimming machines are physical devices put overtop of an existing card reader, they can sometimes make a unit appear odd, as though it has been tampered with. If you notice anything at all out of the ordinary, like loose card swipe slots or bulky pin pads, do not swipe your card.

Paying for your gas inside, instead of directly at the pump, is one good way to avoid skimmers at your local gas station. Also, try to avoid using public ATMs at gas stations or convenient stores, and opt instead for bank-operated ATMs that are much more difficult to corrupt with a skimming device.

Rental and hotel scams
If you are travelling somewhere that you do not frequently visit—either overseas or to a vacation destination—it’s a good idea to let your bank know where and when you will be travelling. They can keep an eye on unusual or bogus transactions while you focus on rest and relaxation.

If you are booking a vacation rental, be aware that there are fake listings out there that could leave you without a place to stay and without the money you paid. Some scammers will use real property listings with manipulated contact and payment details, while others make up their property listings from the start and show units that either are not actually renting, or do not even exist. Be on the lookout for these red flags:

  • Below-market rates
  • Prefers you do not use a credit card
  • Request for payment via wire transfer, check or cash
  • Lack of contact information in the listing

It’s not just short-term rentals that carry risks, there are also a number of ways that criminals can target hotels. Dark hoteling refers to the practice of taking advantage of hotel guests and their personal or financial information. These scams can include:

  • Fake wifi networks designed to mimic hotel wifi
  • Phone calls asking for credit card or financial information
  • Illegitimate booking websites

Ask the front desk for the correct wifi network information when you check in. There could be other wifi networks that appear related to the hotel, but are not, and might monitor your web activity if you accidentally log on using that network. With any issue involving your credit or debit card, always walk to the front desk and resolve it in person with hotel staff. Never divulge financial information over the phone.

First Tech is here to keep you protected and secure. If you need assistance with an account at First Tech, contact us at 855.855.8805, or browse more of our resources for member security and fraud prevention. If you believe you have been the victim of fraud, contact your local FBI field officeor file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.