What you need to know about holiday shopping safety online and in-person

Whether shopping in person or online, keep yourself, your information, and your money safe.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Black Friday is back in person. Not only for shoppers, but also for thieves.

“What’s a holiday for some is really a business enterprise for others who are looking to take advantage of those who are out shopping,” said Gray Hardaway, a security expert and co-founder of Secur, an on-demand private security app for individuals and businesses. “There are people very savvy at identifying what you’ve purchased, and what you’re wearing. They’re watching and they look like shoppers that you wouldn’t know that you’re being followed unless they’re just not really good at what they’re doing.”

This is the first year in-person is making a comeback after two years of the pandemic.

“I think people are looking forward to going back out to the malls,” Hardaway said. “People are enjoying being out and shopping. It creates a sort of loss of awareness after the last two years of shopping online. We’re in a down economy, which raises people’s kind of desperation level. So people start to resort to more crime.”

Avoid becoming a target with these tips:

  • Do not wear designer clothing or fine jewelry when shopping.

“I recommend dressing down,” Hardaway said. “Mute what you are wearing and try not to flash jewelry or designer brands.”

  • Do not carry so many bags your hands are not free.

“If you’re female, wear a purse that is kind of strapped across your body so that your hands are free,” Hardaway said. “Never have so many packages that you can’t access your phone or be able to defend yourself.”

  • Do not keep bags of gifts visible in the car. It is best to have someone wait in the car if you leave packages inside it, even if you put them in the trunk.
  • It gets darker earlier during the holidays. Try to shop while it is daylight.
  • Shop in a group. If you find yourself being followed, do this:

“Go into a store and ask for help,” Hardaway said. “Get somebody, an employee, that can walk you to the car. Always seek help, if you can.”

Or shop online anytime, but be just as careful.

“People who go after information are getting really, really good at what they do,” said Hank Schless, the senior manager of security solutions at Lookout, a cybersecurity company.

  • Know how to pay. 

A credit card is the safest for online purchases because it has the most consumer protections. Contact your bank if you see a suspicious charge on your card.

  • Buy from retailers you know.

Some online stores could just be stealing your personal and payment information.

“It’s really not that hard for them to create a very real seeming business page on something like Instagram or TikTok or Facebook,” Schless said. “You purchase the item and then the item never shows up. The reality is in the background they create a page where they just harvest the information that you put into that page.”

  • Do not click on links sent to you by text or email, especially on your phone.

“It’s a much smaller screen,” Schless said. “You don’t see maybe the suspicious URL. You don’t have the same phishing protection that you do or virus protection that you do on your computer on your phone So a lot of these things can slip through.”

Plus, watch out for shipping schemes. It is usually a ploy to get your personal information and money.

“I got one yesterday that said we had to reroute your order due to an incorrect shipping address,” Schless said. “Please click here to change it. Then they asked me for my name, my home address, asked to verify my credit card number. That should be a point where it’s like, all right, this is not what they say they are.”

  • Avoid porch pirates by making sure your packages arrive at a secure location and are not left out in front of your door.
  • Plus, wait for Santa to put the gifts under the tree. 

Gifts on display could attract thieves.

“There’s so much more of an occurrence of people of kind of casing houses, looking through windows, pretending to be a delivery person and really looking into the window,” Hardaway said.

Be sure your holiday shopping is safe, no matter how you do it.

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