Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.
Holiday greetings, festive videos, and other celebratory posts fill your social media feeds during this time of the year — along with clever scams designed to target you for your money, identity, or other personal information.
One scam that’s going around on Facebook is the “Secret Sister” gift exchange. Secret Sister, which was spotted frequently last holiday season, promises that you’ll get back up to 36 gifts for purchasing and mailing a single $10 gift for your “secret sister.” The catch? You have to invite six of your friends to participate.
If you see this post on your feed, report it and ignore it. The gift chain operates much like a pyramid scheme, in which the person at the top could receive a bunch of gifts from those who jump on board, but you’re not likely to see anything. Plus, it’s illegal, according to the Better Business Bureau.
At best, those who participate are out $10. At worst, though, you’re giving a stranger your home address. That might also be enough information for a scammer to exploit you for more. Or, you might even open yourself up for actual theft at your home. “Porch pirates,” as they’re sometimes called, pluck packages from your doorstep, and if you’re handing out your address to strangers through this gift exchange, you might open yourself up to being targeted.
How to Protect Yourself During the Holidays
While identity theft might be on your mind throughout the year, there might be a bit more wariness during the holidays. It isn’t an unfounded fear: Data breaches are especially common during the holiday shopping season, when you’re swiping and entering your credit card information more often than normal.
If you’ve had your information stolen during a past data breach, your information could still be out there. It’s a good idea to do a background check on yourself and check your credit report, just to see if anything new and unrecognizable pops up. Take a look at your bank accounts and credit card statements, too. If you notice anything that doesn’t seem like something you bought, then make the proper calls to dispute the charges and get new cards.
It’s also a good idea to change your passwords often. If your info is out there, someone might be trying your password with various financial accounts. Don’t let them get a hit. Change your passwords, and make sure they’re all different from each other to protect each account.
Finally, don’t give out your information to anyone through email, over the phone, through texts, or on social media. Legitimate retailers and organizations will typically not ask for your password or any other personal information through these channels, so if someone does, consider that as a red flag.