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Safeguard your home and credit cards this Labor Day weekend

MainStreet logo MainStreet 9/4/2015 Ellen Chang
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As travelers pack up eagerly for Labor Day weekend, their one last hurrah before summer ends, ensuring that their home and other financial security measures are taken care of will make the trip more memorable.

Holidays always present an opportunity for criminals, whether they are planning to break into your house or apartment or hack into your accounts. Don’t let your guard down simply because you are not in the office. Burglars and cybercriminals are both taking advantage of the situation.

Protect your home easily by making sure your home looks occupied by having your residence lit well. Installing a smart outlet timer will allow you to control when the lights come on and can deter criminals, said Herman Tau, CEO of Tend, a Fremont, Calif. manufacturer of home video monitoring options.

“Dark environments are easy targets for intruders,” he said. “The best defense is a good offense.”

Another proactive measure is to setup a Wi-Fi home security camera where you can view the streaming video from your smartphone and records video footage when motion is detected.

Posting on social media appears to be ubiquitous for many people, but advertising that you are traveling is not always the best bet.

“Nowadays it’s almost second nature to post and check-in on Instagram or Facebook,” said Tau. “Never advertise that you are away for the weekend. You can always post a #latergram when you get back.”

During your Labor Day holiday trip, many retailers will be advertising tempting sales. Don’t be foolhardy and check online before you buy that must-have item.

“Look for what other retailers are charging for the same item without special sale discounts,” said Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization. “You may find that what you thought was an amazing sale was no better that normal pricing elsewhere.”

Woman swiping credit card through credit card reader © Lumina Images/Getty Images Woman swiping credit card through credit card reader

Hackers Abound

During your road trip as you fill up with gasoline, the safest option is to avoid paying at the pump and pay inside the store where a skimmer is not likely to be placed, said Geoff Sanders, CEO of LaunchKey, a Las Vegas-based decentralized mobile authentication and authorization platform.

The payment terminals at gas stations are accessible 24 hours a day, and it doesn’t take long for a criminal to “stealthily install or retrieve a skimmer within a matter of minutes,” he said.

Consumers can check for skimmers by examining the slot where your credit card is inserted; it should not have any debris, wires or other objects that could be part of skimming device, Sanders said. Stick to getting gas at pumps closest to the store since ones which are located farther from the store are more likely to be have been tampered with.

Avoid using public computers at all, but especially for online banking or shopping since they are “laden with malware, capturing keystrokes of users,” said Marie White, CEO of Security Mentor, a Pacific Grove, Calif. security awareness training provider.

Public Wi-Fi is also another concern which should be avoided because it increases the risk of your account being hacked. Instead, use hotspots on private networks that require authentication.

“Be on the lookout for malicious hotspots that copy the names of legitimate sites,” she said.

Travelers should be wary of using ATMs where there is a card reader installed on the door for indoor access.

“Skimmers have also been found on the door readers that require users to scan their card before entering the ATM lobby,” said Mark Parker, a senior product manager at iSheriff, a Redwood Shores, Calif. cloud-based enterprise security company. “It is the simple fact that these devices are unattended that makes them an easy target for the installation of a skimming device,” he said.

While paying at an outdoor terminal at a fast food restaurant appears to be convenient, the risk for fraud is even greater, Parker said.

“Being outdoors makes these pay terminals a prime location for the installation of a skimmer device,” he said. “If you have to use one of these pay terminals, be sure to inspect the device for any evidence of tampering.”

Using a debit card as a credit card decreases your chance of being hacked whether you are home or on a vacation. When you enter a PIN for your debit card, both the card and PIN could be compromised, Parker said.

“Consumers should always use the credit card feature whenever possible,” he said. “This could allow cyber criminals to directly withdraw cash from their account.”

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