The holiday season is well underway, with Americans traveling at higher rates than they have since before the pandemic and consumer spending ticking off to a high start.
With both of those trends expected to continue throughout the New Year, experts are offering tips to stay safe this winter – both physically and financially.
Many Americans are expected to gather with families in the coming weeks, increasing the risk of health problems as the United States deals with the so-called “tripledemic” of COVID-19, the seasonal flu and a surge in respiratory syncytial virus cases.
Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to some infections; older people are more susceptible to others.
To reduce the chances of infection and serious illness, make sure everyone eligible is up-to-date on vaccinations. Ask folks who have any symptoms of illness — even “allergies” or “just a cold” — to stay home. Consider asking guests to take a rapid COVID-19 test before they show up. Make sure your home is well-ventilated: Open windows, keep a portable air purifier running. To protect the most vulnerable guests, consider wearing masks indoors.
Illnesses aside, here are some holiday-specific tips to keep in mind:
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Christmas decorations, unattended candles and trees can increase the risk of in-home fires. Between 2016 - 2018, the agency estimated there were around 100 Christmas tree-related fires and 1,100 candle fires in November and December of each year, leading to upwards of $56 million in property damage each season.
To prevent Christmas tree-related fires, the CPSC encourages Americans to ensure live trees always have enough water, and to try to purchase “fire resistant” artificial trees.
The Firefighters Association of the State of New York also recommends individuals test their holiday lights each year and throw out any broken bulbs, and to ensure any outdoor lights are plugged into a “ground-fault circuit interrupter protected receptacle” to avoid electrical fires.
Still, cooking remains the top cause of all residential fires, with one in every five home fire deaths year-round attributed to some form of the activity, per the National Fire Protection Association – though the highest spike for cooking fires typically occurs on Thanksgiving Day.
But for those still planning on making turkey for Christmas, it’s important to handle raw poultry properly to avoid spreading bacteria that can send guests home with an unwanted side of food poisoning.
Thaw safely. A frozen turkey needs about 24 hours to thaw for every 4 to 5 pounds of weight, according to the Agriculture Department. In a pinch, it can be thawed in a cold water bath or even a microwave, but it must be cooked immediately if you use those methods. And don’t wash the turkey. It’s a bad idea to rinse it in the sink, a practice that can spread potentially dangerous germs like salmonella to nearby areas; instead, pat the turkey dry with paper towels and plop it in the roasting pan.
Also ensure the turkey is fully cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees to avoid food poisoning.
A recent CPSC report published in November also found that toy-related injuries remain high during the holiday season. Last year alone, the agency recorded 152,000 “toy-related, emergency department-treated injuries to children younger than 15 years of age,” two of which led to death.
The most common injuries were lacerations or abrasions to a child’s face or head; the two fatalities were caused by choking on a small toe and suffocating on a small toy in “an unsafe sleep environment,” per the CPSC.
“Protecting children from hazardous toys and other products is core to CPSC’s mission,” CPSC chair Alex Hoehn-Saric wrote in a statement. “We are committed to doing our part to ensure, through vigorous inspections and enforcement, that hazardous products don’t make it to store shelves or consumers’ homes; but we also want to arm families with important safety information so they can shop safely for toys and gifts and avoid trips to the emergency department during the holidays.”
The CPSC recommends parents always ensure their children are wearing proper protective gear when riding on bikes, scooters and other mobile toys; to keep small parts and toys away from children younger than three years old and to immediately discard all packaging after unwrapping gifts.
With the holiday season comes sales, and scammers tend to capitalize on the increased online shopping traffic to access individual’s private information.
One widespread scam mimics package deliveries, wherein an unsuspecting user will receive a text message saying there is an issue with a package dropoff or address, or a “delivery driver” asks for address information via text message. Some messages offer a link to update the recipient’s address, or to print out information to bring back to the Post Office.
But the messages are not from verified mail carriers, and are instead scammers attempting to either retrieve personal information or coax individuals to download malware onto their devices.
The Better Business Bureau advises individuals to look closely at any link provided in a text message; if it does not include the official businesses web domain, it is likely fraudulent. The BBB also encourages individuals ordering numerous packages to keep close track of their deliveries in order to avoid falling victim to such a scam.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the two most common scams around the holidays are “non-delivery and non-payment crimes,” the former referring to when goods or items are paid for but never received, while the latter refers to when goods or services are shipped but the seller never receives payment.
The agency recommends individuals never wire money directly to a seller to avoid such scenarios, and to also steer clear of paying with prepaid gift cards. The FBI further says to regularly check credit and bank account statements for any fraudulent charges or suspicious transactions.
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center’s 2021 report, credit card scams cost consumers around $173 million last year, while non-payment and non-delivery scams cost a combined $337 million.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.