Safeguard Your Finances This Holiday Season

Scams are on the rise this time of year; here's how to avoid them.

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With the holiday season in full swing, many consumers are taking trips to the shopping mall or are shopping online to stock up on holiday gifts. While this time of year brings out the holiday spirit and good will of most people, it is also a time of year when individuals are more vulnerable to theft and scams. For this reason it is important to be extra cautious and remember general safety tips that will ensure your finances and personal information are safeguarded.

Here are a few ways you can reduce your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud this holiday season.

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Use extra caution when shopping online

In many ways, shopping online has become more popular than shopping in person - you can avoid the crowds, get your package gift wrapped for a minimal fee, and often get free shipping. It's a great way to buy holiday gifts without leaving the comforts of home. Unfortunately, there are people out there who are looking to separate you from your money.

Use caution when shopping on a site you've never used before and read customer reviews on third party websites. When in doubt, stick with trusted sites. You can also reduce your risk by using a third party service like Paypal, which can reduce the exposure of your personal credit card information. You can also request a virtual or temporary credit card number from your credit card issuer which is used solely for online transactions. Contact your credit card company immediately if you notice an unauthorized charge.

Be on the lookout for charity scams

'Tis the season for giving, and many scam artists try to take advantage of people's generosity by creating false charities or elaborate scams designed to trick you into giving away your money. Be sure to research the charity before giving. You should never feel obligated to give to a charity you aren't familiar with.

If it sounds too good to be true...

The holiday season often brings an increase in scams targeting holiday bargain hunters. These scams often promises great savings or free items to lure potential victims. Another common ploy is people selling stolen or counterfeit items from their trunks. They will have you believe they have an unexpected holiday expense and need to sell some of the gifts they purchased. Instead of returning the item to the store, they offer to sell it to you at a discount. Chances are good the item is either stolen, or the sealed box they are offering you doesn't contain what they say it contains. Only buy items from legitimate store fronts or online sources.

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Get organized

The holiday season is one that is often chaotic and unorganized. While some individuals have a well thought out and organized plan for holiday shopping, others fly by the seat of their pants. An organized approach can be very beneficial in managing your finances. You can create a budget to ensure you do not overspend and determine from which accounts you will access your money. By doing this you can easily track your spending and be on the lookout for any suspicious activity on your account. When you know how much you have spent and from which accounts you can better monitor activity and spot fraudulent use.

Protect your personal information

Pay close attention to who has access to your personal information. Do not write your social security number or drivers license number on your checks. Pay attention to anyone who is handling your credit card; this includes clerks or wait staff at a restaurant. It only takes a second to steal your credit card information and use it to make fraudulent purchases. Keep your receipts to reconcile your accounts and when they are no longer needed they should be shredded to ensure no one has access to the information.

By taking these steps and using extra caution during the holiday season, you can safeguard your finances against would be thieves and con-artists.

Ryan Guina is a U.S. military veteran, writer, and professional in the corporate world. He blogs at Cash Money Life and The Military Wallet.