Whether you decided to shop the pre-Black Friday specials offered at stores like Target, Home Depot, Walmart, Toys R Us, Best Buy and Sears, or you're braving the holiday crowds, shop with care.
If you like the feeling of browsing brick-and-mortar stores for shopping deals as the season of credit card swiping takes off, here are some ways to keep your identity safe and secure:
1. Leave your Social Security card and checkbook tucked away in a safe place at home.
A stolen Social Security Number is an open door into what could become a nightmare. Identity thieves could open new credit cards and loans using it, in addition to wreaking other havoc on your life. And the numbers in your checkbook make it easy for a thief to transfer cash directly from your bank account.
2. Only carry necessary credit cards, ideally no more than two.
Credit cards generally offer more protection and less risk than debit cards, because funds are not being directly withdrawn from your bank account. Credit-card companies generally allow more time for you to report an unauthorized transaction, while banks are more restrictive about reporting unauthorized debit card purchases.
3. Be aware of shoulder surfers.
With cell phones, thieves can snap pictures of credit cards and credit applications, or record entire conversations, while they appear to be texting or talking on the phone.
4. Watch out for skimming devices.
Skimming, whether on a handheld device or on a point-of-sale device (like a credit card machine at the checkout line), steals your credit or debit card information during an otherwise legitimate purchase or transaction.
5. Use common sense.
Keep your wallet or purse close to you at all times, and be aware of your surroundings.
This can be difficult amid the hustle and bustle of big crowds rushing for the best deals, but well worth the effort to protect your identity.