Rebecca Herold
The Privacy
Tip of the Month 
'Tis the season... and crooks know it. Don't hand over your personal information with a big bow on top! Whether it's online, via the postal service, on the phone, at stores or even in person, criminals are waiting to have a very merry time on you. Here are some key steps to protect you and your family this holiday season and beyond.
Share these tips with your friends and business associates to help them be aware also. 
Look closely at your receipts to make sure they are correct. At checkout, shady cashiers can input your purchases, and then when running your totals, they can indicate to the system that you would like $20 to $40 cash back. These criminal, and in these tough economic times often desperate, workers are hoping you don't look at the receipt close enough to notice there is a cash back option. The lawbreaking cashiers then pocket the money. If you do notice, they'll likely claim there was "a system problem" and then reprocess your purchases with the correct total. Similar schemes are used by unscrupulous waiters and waitresses. So, as you make your purchases this holiday season, be sure to verify transactions are accurate.
Postal mail:
Crooks love to steal from mailboxes during the holidays. If you are paying bills or sending gifts, try to take them directly to the post office or a secure US postal mailbox instead of using your home mailbox. Not only will thieves steal your gifts and bill payments, they will also steal your identity if they get a chance!
In person:
Pickpockets and other common criminals thrive during busy holidays! Know where your billfold/purse is at all times. Don't carry your Social Security card with you; take only what you need. Also, don't leave valuables or personal information in your vehicles. Crooks will not hesitate to break windows if they see something inside your car they can take.
If you receive a phone call from a charity group you're not familiar with asking you to make a donation, ask for their name and phone number and tell them you'll call back. If they don't want to give you that, it's a red flag. Or, ask them to send you something in writing about their charity. If they can't do that, it's probably best to just say no. Don't let someone pressure you, whether it's in person or over the phone. You can always hang up!

There are a lot of malicious messages being sent that say a "friend" or "someone who loves you" has sent you an electronic greeting card. Look for a specific name; if there is none, DON'T CLICK IT! It could take you to a site that loads a keylogger on your computer, copies files, or creates other computer problems. If there is a name, check with that person to confirm before clicking.
Make sure your anti-virus and personal firewall software is up-to-date to protect against the growing types of new threats. Don't have such software?  Then you better be good for goodness sake -- get some installed before you go online!
Before you submit personal information on websites you've already confirmed are legitimate, check to be sure your information is encrypted. Do this by checking for "https" or "s-http" in the address bar, or a closed padlock on the browser's status bar.
Even legitimate online retailers are a risk to your privacy if they do not have appropriate information security and privacy controls in place.  Before you make an online purchase, read their privacy policy. It should tell you, at a high level, about their security and privacy practices, along with informing you how to contact them with privacy questions.
If a website is asking you for personal information not necessary for the purchase, don't provide it! If you really want to make the purchase there, first ask them to tell you why they need the information. Or, just go somewhere else to shop.
Don't place confidential papers or electronic storage devices into your garbage and put them out in public! Criminals get their seasonal delights by combing through trash during the holiday months.
Most of all:
Have a glorious holiday season! And be sure to contact me if I can help you or your organization stay safe and protected in the new year.

Rebecca Herold,
The Privacy Professor