Nearly 40 percent of all engagements take place between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, which may be why this time of year has been aptly named the proposal season. February is also National Wedding Month as more brides and grooms kick off their wedding planning in earnest in February than any other month of the year.
Unfortunately, sometimes when there is a joyous occasion, thieves and scammers are following close behind.
Scams that target newlyweds can be particularly nasty—ranging from no-show vendors to thieves that steal gifts right off the reception table to wedding officiants who aren’t even licensed to marry.
In addition, being a newlywed often means a new name, merged accounts, and insurance changes. Those adjustments, among others, may put couples at an increased risk of identity theft.
So before you jump into that oh-so-important band or DJ decision, let’s look at a few ways you can better protect you and your partner’s finances, identity, and maybe your sanity—before, during and after the big day.
Planning the Wedding
Many couples rely on technology to assist with their wedding planning right from the start.
Eighty-three percent of wedding planning is done online and often include an array of different tools. These tools can range from wedding planning apps, wedding websites, budget trackers, group chats, and/or social media sites like Pinterest.
All of this means that you’ll likely be entering a lot of personal details online. Take steps to better safeguard your and your partner’s information while planning.
- Pay Attention to the “https” and Padlock Icon – Web sites that don’t use proper encryption can make you an easy target for thieves. It is recommended to use only sites with the padlock icon and the “https” security designation. A web site that lacks those two crucial signals may not be secure.
- Set Stronger Passwords – The FTC provides some advice for creating stronger passwords, such as thinking of a key phrase and using the first letter of each word as your password, substituting some words or letters with numbers instead. For example, “I want to see the Pacific Ocean” could become 1W2CtPo.
- Watch Out for Public Wi-Fi – Forty-two percent of wedding planning is conducted via mobile or tablet, but pay attention to your internet use on public Wi-Fi networks. Cyberthieves can capture the data that travels between your phone or tablet and the router on a public Wifi network, so limit online banking and other sensitive information to your home and office only. Consider setting up a VPN on your phone or computer.
- Don’t Get Phished – Phishing is a form of fraud in which a cybercriminal masquerades as a reputable entity and sends emails containing fake links or malicious attachments with the goal of stealing login credentials or other personal or financial details. Instead of clicking on links directly from an email, it’s best practice to type in the web address and search for the product or promotion manually.
- Consider What You Share on Social Media – Now may be a good time to look at your privacy settings on social media networks and decide how much you want to share. If you overshare on social media, an identity thief could gather enough information about you to answer “challenge” questions on your accounts and access your finances and personal information.
Hiring Vendors and Making Purchases
Couples heading down the aisle typically make a lot of purchases. They tend to spend money on some big-ticket items, such as an average of $1,500 for a wedding dress, $4,000 for a honeymoon and $27,000 for the ceremony and reception. They also hire on average 13 vendors for the big day.
Make sure you do your homework as you select your vendors and decide what to buy:
- Vet Your Vendors – Choose a vendor recommended by trusted family and friends when possible. Alternatively, one site suggests these steps for vetting a vendor you find online: hire vendors who have physical offices, check their online ratings on sites like Yelp and Epinions, use negative search terms by searching their business name with the keyword “complaint” or “scam,” and ask to speak with references.
- Choose Credit Over Debit – Choose a credit card over a debit card for purchases, as an added safety measure. Debit cards are connected directly to your checking account, making them more like an electronic check that withdraws money from your account as soon as the transaction is processed. If fraud occurs, it could take some time for it to be cleared up and the money replaced in your account. If you use a credit card, you are likely protected by U. S. federal law which limits a consumer’s liability to $50, and some credit cards go even further to offer customers zero liability protection.
- Keep an Eye on Your Statements – Save your receipts to compare them with your statement when it arrives. Check your online statements often—or open your bills promptly—and reconcile them with your purchases. Contact the card issuer immediately if you notice any questionable charges.
- Beware of Gift Grabbers – In one common wedding scam, thieves scope out the reception and steal gifts once the party is in full swing. Decide in advance where to locate the gift table and the safest place to store cash gifts if received. You’ll also need to determine how to transport the gifts after the ceremony.
- Choose Charitable Contributions Wisely – If you plan to offer guests a charitable giving option, do a little research on the organization first by looking up their rating with one of the charitable watchdog groups. Be wary about supporting or endorsing a crowdfunding campaign, especially if you don’t know the fundraiser or the recipient.
Thirty-nine percent of couples venture out on their honeymoon the very first month, and fifty-two percent travel within six months of their wedding date.
Unfortunately, travelers are vulnerable to identity theft, as they often have to use unsecured Wi-Fi, carry various forms of personal identification, and share their credit cards with merchants they aren’t familiar with.
- Unpack Before Your Pack – Experts advise to “unpack” non-essential documents before you travel. If you tend to carry around a checkbook, a rarely used credit card, or copies of bank statements or medical bills, safely store them at home before you go.
- Know Your Numbers – Keep a record of your bank account and credit card numbers plus the phone numbers of the financial institutions in a secure place, so you can quickly notify banks, creditors, and the appropriate authorities in case of theft. There are also services available to store an electronic encrypted copy of the contents of your wallet.
- Don’t Let Mail Linger – The U.S. Postal Service recommends depositing outgoing mail in a USPS collection box and not leaving mail in your mailbox overnight, on the weekend, or when you travel.
Make a Date Now to Check Your Credit Report – Set a date now for an annual review of your credit reports with your partner once things have settled down.