Financial Safety Tips to Protect Physicians from 5 Holiday Scams

November 19, 2013

The holidays provide extra opportunity for a variety of theft and fraud scams, many targeting affluent victims like physicians.

The holidays provide extra opportunity for a variety of theft and financial-fraud scams, many targeting affluent victims like physicians. This week take a first look at some common scams and safety precautions every family should be aware of.

1. Charitable Donation Scams. This form of fraud has many incarnations but among the most common ones is mimicking a known charity with a look-alike name and presentation. Be sure the organization you are donating to is legitimate and the one you actually intended and avoid giving checks to unknown people or entities; once they have a check from you they can easily use the routing numbers to generate checks and other payments to themselves or to buy merchandise online.

2. Credit Card Scams. Check your credit card statements carefully. Thieves take advantage of higher then average bills and unusual charges that appear on the statements of many American families at this time of year. This "smoke screen" provides good cover for charges that may be incurred by someone who has obtained your credit card number. Don't just look at big charges, they've figured out you are likely to spot those and often use a series of small charges to avoid detection.

3. New Account Scams. Consider checking your credit report for new accounts at year-end or early in January at the latest. At this time of year most major retailers are in a rush to open new credit accounts to get us to buy and often use huge extra savings and promotions as enticement, like an extra 20 percent off the day you open the account. Harassed retail staff may not be as vigilant about checking IDs, and opening such accounts at this time of year would not be unusual activity with retailers, your bank, etc.

4. Smartphone scams. Be suspicious of your smartphone. E-commerce has forced retailers into a steady migration toward more mobile shopping and banking and the scammers came with them. Top scams-technology watchdogs are warning consumers about text messages with links to bogus sites that may steal your identity or credit card information or even infect your phone with a virus. Similarly, be careful of the apps you use and download, especially if you are buying from small, third-party resources instead of "factory" stores like Apple's iTunes Store and the Android App store. These smaller sites can't vet and test the apps as carefully and are often used by people whose phones have been unlocked or "jail broken" to allow features and software the manufacturers didn't want on your phone. Watch your kids and how they've altered their phones, especially teenagers who may be shopping online with your card.

5. Debit-fraud scams. Use credit cards instead of debit cards or checks as much as possible. A variety of debit-fraud schemes have been exposed lately and I've just never believed that using a payment function directly linked to your bank account balance was a good idea. Using credit cards, even if you pay them off in full at the end of the month, reduces your exposure significantly and provides an opportunity to dispute charges that are not yours, get purchase protection for loss, theft, or damage with some cards and even have recourse against dishonest retailers with shoddy or undelivered products.

This list just scratches the surface; we'll provide a few more tips next week including some personal safety issues and social media related exposures you can avoid with a little information and a word of caution.