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Travel safe this holiday season

As the holiday season brings busy travel schedules and celebrations with family and friends, chances are good that your credit and debit cards are constantly being swiped. Financial security may not be top of mind during the holiday rush, but this time of year is a busy one for scammers looking to take an end-of-year bonus right out of your pocket. Luckily, you can take some simple steps to identify and prevent these scams before you become a victim.  

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. Skimming devices have become increasingly difficult to detect, and are designed to fit seamlessly on existing card readers.  You may not notice anything out of the ordinary if you aren’t actively looking for it. 

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.

Vacation rental scams
Are you travelling this holiday season? Whether near or far, there are holiday scams that could target you on the go. 

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. Your bank can keep an eye on unusual or bogus transactions while you are away focusing 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.  

There are a few signs to keep an eye on that may indicate a scam attempt:

  • 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 

Dark Hotelling
It’s not just short-term rentals that can introduce the risk of scams, 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. From fake wifi networks to schemes that involve the front desk, make sure you are aware of some of the ways you could be targeted as a hotel guest this holiday season. 

  • Fake wifi networks designed to mimic hotel wifi
  • Phone calls asking for credit card or financial information
  • Illegitimate booking websites
  • Recording devices or cameras in your room

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. 

Also, know that no hotel will ever call your room or your cell phone asking for credit card information. With any issue involving your credit card, always walk to the front desk and resolve it in person with hotel staff. Never divulge financial information over the phone. And if you find yourself staying somewhere new, check your room for any devices that could have been installed to capture sensitive personal information.

Being aware of your surroundings and taking a few easy steps to safeguard your transactions can help keep a lot of money in your pocket this holiday season. If you believe you have been the victim of fraud, contact your local FBI field office or file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center

First Tech is here to keep you protected and secure from scams. 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

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