For most people, the holidays are “the most wonderful time of the year.” Unfortunately, for criminals, the holidays are the most opportunistic time of the year. Knowing what to watch out for and staying vigilant will give you and your family the best chance to enjoy a holiday season free of crime.

Protecting Yourself Online

When shopping online, make sure you check the HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) to make sure there is an “s” on the end (https). The “s” stands for secure, and when there isn’t one on the end of the http, the data is not encrypted and vulnerable to third parties. To ensure that your information is safe, never enter personal (especially payment) information on a site that doesn’t have the https prefix.
Even if you’re not shopping online, it’s still possible to fall for one or more of the many scams out there. Here are some of the most common online scams to watch out for:
• FAKE ALERTS – Scammers use email alerts that look as if they are coming from a major retailer, utility company, or even your bank. Though the email appears to be legitimate, the links may lead to convincing-looking fake websites enticing you to reset your password, enter personal or payment information. Many (but not all) of these emails contain misspellings throughout the text.
• FAKE “FREE” GIFT CARDS – Phishing emails and pop-up ads offering gift cards from name-brand retailers like Amazon, Wal-Mart and others may show up on your screen or in your emails. Do not open the email or click the links, but rather delete it instead. Scammers can use the information provided to “receive” the card to steal your identity later.
• FAKE E-CARDS – Over 500 million holiday ecards were sent last year. These can be fun to receive but beware of any e-card that requires you to enter ANY personal information, it’s probably a fake. Just because the card says it’s from someone you know, that doesn’t make it safe. Hackers can get into a contact list and send the contacts e-cards that appear to be from the person who was hacked. If the receiver clicks on a link, or enters personal information, the hacker can put malware, or spyware, on their computer.
• FAKE DELIVERY ATTEMPT NOTIFICATIONS – Delivery notifications can often be expected throughout the holiday season as many consumers go online to purchase gifts, but some of these announcements may be phishing scams. False attempted delivery notification emails using names and logos from FedEx, UPS, DHL, and others try to trick you into clicking a link in the email thus allowing scammers access to your computer and/or personal information. Legitimate delivery services will provide tracking numbers in the body of their emails, which DO NOT require you to click on a link. To track a package, you should go directly to the carrier’s website and enter the tracking numbers.
• FAKE CHARITIES – Charities see their best donations during the holidays and at year’s end. Scammers know that this is the best time for giving and will pose as legitimate charities or needy individuals soliciting donations.

Protecting Yourself When Shopping in Person

We have so many great retailers and restaurants in Desert Ridge where you can purchase merchandise and gift cards. When shopping in person, here are a few safety tips to keep in mind:
• Take only the credit cards you need when shopping. Leave the others in a safe place at home.
• Make sure your credit card is not easily visible to others around you. This is especially true for older cards with numbers on the front. Some crooks can memorize your card number with a simple glance.
• When talking on your cell phone, be mindful of your surroundings. Distracted people are targets.
• Always keep your purse or wallet close to you.
• Do not carry excessive or unnecessary cash on you.
• Shop in the daylight if possible. When shopping after dark, always park in a
well-lit area.
• Shop with a friend when possible, because there’s safety in numbers.
• When you park your vehicle, do not leave your purse, wallet, cell phone, or any
other valuables in plain view.
• When you return to your vehicle, scan the interior to be sure no one is hiding inside.
• When placing purchases from the stores
in your vehicle, place them out of sight. The best place is in the trunk.
• After putting packages in your vehicle, drive to a different row before going to another store. Do this even if you are simply going back to the same store.
• Try not to park next to a larger vehicle
that blocks your vision while you are entering or exiting your vehicle.
• Have your keys out and ready when approaching your vehicle.

Protecting Yourself at Home

We all tend to feel safer and let our guard down a little more while at home. During the holidays, however, there are a few extra things to consider in order to better protect your family and possessions:
• Make sure you have properly functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors with fresh batteries.
• To help prevent vandalism, turn off inflatable decorations at a specific time. If convenient, bring them up to the front porch or close to the house.
• Keep the front of the house well-lit and make sure that trees and bushes are trimmed so that doors and windows can easily be seen.
• Beware of door-to-door charity scams.
• Keep an eye out for parcel deliveries; packages on porches are big targets.
• Do not leave the boxes from your gifts curbside or in plain site before or after the holidays. A box from a flat screen television, computer system, or other valuable purchase is advertising to a criminal that you have what they’re looking for.

Want to Play a Bigger Community Role in 2020?

If you’re interested in learning how to start a neighborhood block watch program or want information on how to participate in the Phoenix Neighborhood Patrol Program, please contact the Desert Ridge Community Association office at 480-551-4553.

Steve Burns
Community Awareness Committee Chairman
Desert Ridge Community Association