The holiday season, really from Halloween through the twelfth day of Christmas, is this Austin Business Attorney’s favorite time of year. I love just about everything about the holidays. But, with the good comes the thieves.
Old fashioned thieves and high tech thieves come out of the woodwork during the holidays. From stealing packages off the porch to stealing your identity online, thieves are hard at work during the holiday season.
Here’s a short checklist to help you stay safe.
Personal Safety While Shopping:
- Be alert to your surroundings.
- Always lock your vehicle, and don’t leave anything valuable in sight.
- Take your electronics with you!
- Don’t leave cell phone, tablet, or laptop in a car.
- Make sure your devices are locked so you have to use a password to use them.
- Encrypt your hard drives!
- Use find my phone or a similar location app.
- Use an app that will remotely wipe your device if it is stolen.
- Password protect important documents.
- Even if the car is locked, Thieves now have devices that ping an electronic device if it’s on so they can easily locate which vehicles to smash and grab. True story: I was at lunch with a friend. As we walked to our cars, we saw two police cars blocking a pickup truck in the parking lot. There were legs sticking out of the driver’s side window. The police had caught a thief red-handed. He and a buddy were driving through parking lots locating vehicles that had laptops in them. They were smashing windows, grabbing laptops, and driving on to the next victim’s vehicle.
- Carry bags across your body not just over your shoulder and clutch your clutch tightly.
- Be alert to someone who is standing too close to you in line, they may have a card reader in their pocket – or they may be an old fashioned pickpocket.
- Give yourself enough time. People make safety mistakes when they are in a hurry.
Safety at Home:
- Package thieves are following mail and UPS trucks around Travis and Williamson County and are stealing mail and packages before the homeowner knows it’s arrived.
- Have packages delivered to your work address
- Ask a neighbor to collect your mail/packages while you are at work
- Require a signature for package delivery.
- If your mailbox locks, bravo! If not, make sure you know when the mail usually arrives and try to get it as soon as possible so thieves cannot rummage through your mailbox looking for gift cards and checks.
- There is a ring of thieves in the Austin area that target neighborhoods and rummage through vehicles in driveways at night. Take everything out of your car at night, and lock it.
- Lock your door during the holidays both when you’re not at home and at night.
- Look for HTTPS or the lock icon or symbol next to the web address before buying online. Thieves could be phishing for your credit card info! The lock icon ensures it’s protected.
- Use strong passwords that are a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols and that are at least 8 characters long.
- Tip: pick a word or phrase that is at least 8 characters long and means something to you, e.g., if you love Christmas, you could choose it.
- Change at least one letter to a capital (best not the first letter, use one in the middle), change at least one letter to a number, and change at least one letter to a symbol. Done!
- Example: Christmas as a password might be chr9st#As.
- Use multi factor authentication when it is offered. That’s a username and password combination plus at least one other piece of information, e.g., a security question.
- Choose oddball security questions, and use something you make up as an answer. Example, do you remember who your fifth grade math teacher was? Use the question and make up an answer you can remember. Maybe you really wished Batman was your fith grade teacher. So, use Batman. Don’t use your father’s middle name or your mother’s maiden name and the like. Many ID thieves know their victims and know the answers to easy questions.
- Be careful. Don’t click on anything suspicious. If you receive an email saying your bank account is overdrawn, don’t open it. Call your bank. Never use a phone number you receive in an email. Call the number on a statement, or look up the number.
- Don’t keep a document on your computer called “Passwords.” I get it, we have too many accounts with user names and passwords. We have to keep them somewhere. Get creative!
- One option is to use a password keeping app like One Pass.
- Another is to keep such a document but name it something that doesn’t alert a thief to the fact that it’s a password doc. Name it something unappealing like colonoscopy or foot fungus, and password protect it.
- Do NOT under any circumstances keep a hand written list of passwords at your desk or in your bag!
Most of these tips are common sense. Learn to trust yourself.
If you think someone is standing too close, they probably are. Just move away. Go look at something else and get back in line later.
If it’s dark, don’t hesitate to ask a security guard to walk you to your car.
And, if you see an email from someone you don’t know, or if an email seems suspicious, just delete it.