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It’s the most wonderful (and cautious) time of the year

According to the National Retail Federation, the holiday shopping season can represent between 20–40% of annual sales*. In 2011, holiday sales accounted for 19.5% of total retail industry sales. For this year for the first time, Shop.org, NRF’s digital division, has announced an online holiday sales forecast - projecting online sales this holiday season to increase by 12%. Every year the flurry of in-person and online purchasing activity is not only monitored by the retail and payments industry, but is also closely watched  by the growing numbers of criminals seeking out ways to de-fraud vulnerable account holders of their hard earned (and saved) cash.

While Nancy is working her way through the crowded mall and Thomas is busy scouring the internet from his home laptop, both are attempting to find the best deals for their holiday spending. What they don’t realize is that fraudsters are equally busy working on their plans to steal from and pillage their accounts. Criminals leverage this time of year to scout out distracted shoppers. Activities could include scanning payment and card information at checkout, snatching a credit card that was hastily shoved into a coat pocket, or looking for that short window of opportunity when the mobile phone leaves the owner’s hand as they put it down to grab their wallet or purse while standing at checkout or reading a receipt.

The same holds true from the online front. While consumers have spent the year saving money to purchase gifts for family and friends, cyber-thieves spent the year  re-energizing existing malware programs while also building new ones designed to steal login credentials in a cash grab attempt to pilfer accounts. Again, the idea is that they can fool unsuspecting online holiday shoppers by using bogus links through coordinated phishing attacks (using fake websites that look legitimate to dupe consumers into providing personal information).

According to the recent ACI Worldwide and Aite study on consumer card fraud, Global Consumers React to Rising Fraud: Beware Back of Wallet, more than 1 in 10 consumers shopped online without security software or on a public computer and 1 in 5 do not use the auto-lock feature on their mobile. The criminal element thrives on these types of findings knowing that even with growing efforts on the parts of financial institutions, processors and retailers to educate consumers on fraud and utilize fraud detection and prevention solutions, risky behavior continues to provide opportunities for illegal activities.

That said, a few suggestions to keep your days a little more merry and bright throughout the holiday shopping season: 

• Be alert.  Pay attention to people standing close to you in the checkout line, and take out your credit, debit or prepaid card only when with the checkout associate (in other words, don’t hold it in your hand while you wait in line). Also, cover the pin pad when using your debit card at checkout (keep overzealous eyes at bay).

• Secure your mobile device. Use the auto-lock feature and keep your mobile phone in a safe and secure place (think front pocket).  If compromised, personal data can be exposed and cause serious damage.

• Install and use anti-malware and anti-virus software on your personal devices. This can now be done for tablet and mobile devices as well as home lap tops.

• Keep your bank informed. Be sure your bank has your current mobile phone, e-mail and home phone so they may contact immediately if they suspect anything is inconsistent in your spending patterns.  Conversely, contact your bank directly if you think an e-mail or text from them is not legitimate.

Let the holiday fun begin!

 

*NRF’s holiday forecast is based on an economic model using indicators like housing data, unemployment and previous monthly retail sales reports from the U.S. Department of Commerce.