More Holiday Scam Advice and Safety Tips for Physicians

November 26, 2013

In the week of Black Friday, here are some personal safety considerations and tips to help you avoid being an easy target.

Last week we introduced a variety of holiday banking and credit-related scams that target your family and finances and are more prevalent than ever in the age of digital currency.

We take a look at some other common exposures in this week of Black Friday, including some personal safety issues and tips to help you avoid being an easy target. Many of these issues arise in your daily routine and even at your home itself, while others occur when so many of us travel away from our homes for extended periods of time.

Packages and deliveries. The bad guys know that you are shopping online, and if they’re not trying to hack you they are happy to make a buck the old fashioned way; by actually stealing goods from you. They are aware that packages will be delivered and left outside the homes of millions of Americans and the narrow window between the time it was dropped off and the time someone gets home and picks it up is increasingly enough time to follow the familiar UPS and FedEx trucks as they drop off a variety of holiday surprises including all those things you carefully picked out from your favorite catalogs and websites. 

Some basics:

Require a signature for important deliveries. A dreaded trip to the post office to pick it up is guaranteed to be less of a hassle than three trips to file police reports and make insurance claims.

Always have your packages shipped insured and with a tracking number at this time of year. The extra shipping expense is typically a fraction of what will be lost if the package is lost, stolen, or damaged at this high-volume time of year.

Avoid letting packages sit outside, as it attracts unwanted attention from the wrong people and is a good sign that no one is home, which may lead to further exploration for other goodies actually inside your home.

Be very careful about always locking your vehicle, and never leave packages and shopping bags in any plain view; use the locked trunk of your car if possible. I am continually surprised to see computers, tablets, briefcases, phones, and even expensive headphones sitting on car seats in shopping malls and other public parking lots. These are all hot targets that are easily sold and often hard to trace. Of course, always take a glance at the backseat to make sure the car is actually empty before you get in.

Be vigilant and watch your back, literally. Petty crimes like purse snatching, pickpocketing, and the like are easier for criminals when they know you are distracted by a long shopping list, an armful of packages, and often a family entourage. Theft of your bags and packages inside the mall or store itself is increasingly common as well so count your bags and watch them at all times or you may end up getting home and discovering a couple of items you paid for are missing. This recently happened to a friend of mine who put his exceptionally expensive designer sunglasses in a leather case down on a table less than a foot from himself for a moment in an Apple store (in a very upscale suburban shopping center) while paying for a product. When he turned around they were gone; the whole things took about a minute.

Give the smart way. Panhandling is also big business at this time of year, playing in part upon your holiday spirit and partly on your guilt of walking out of a store with arm loads of frivolous purchases while someone forlorn looking asks for help, most typically for bus money to "get home" or to get something to eat. Be aware of the exceptionally vulnerable and tempting position you put yourself in when you pull your wallet out in front of a stranger, typically in parking lot or other public place where they feel no one is watching.

The purpose of this column is not to scare you out of enjoying the holidays; quite the contrary. It's intended to give you an introduction to some exposures to be aware of and to proactively identify and avoid so your holidays are happy and free of (additional) stress. Be safe and Happy Thanksgiving.