Top 10 Tips to Avoid Holiday Identity Theft

The holidays are known as the season of giving, but while you're out purchasing gifts and donating to others, it’s important not to give your identity away in the process. Whether you’re shopping online for the perfect gift for your sister, braving the Black Friday madness to stock up on toys for the little ones or making a charitable donation, it’s important to do so safely and securely.

The National Retail Federation forecasts holiday spending will rise 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion this year. However, many consumers admit they will embark on this year’s holiday season with concerns about protecting their personal data. According to the 2014 Consumer and Small Business Perception Survey, 96 percent of respondents said they were concerned about security and privacy when shopping online and twice as many are more concerned about the safety of a large retailer (27 percent) than a small one (12 percent).

Here are our top 10 tips to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft this holiday season:

1. Use a Secure Site When Shopping Online

To make sure a site is secure, you can look for "https" rather than "http" in the Web address of the page that asks for your credit card information. You can also look for an icon of a locked padlock at the bottom of the screen, which is another sign of a secure site.

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2. Pay with Credit or Cash

Pay with cash or a credit card rather than a debit card, both in store and online. When paying with cash, no personal data can be compromised, and credit cards are the next best alternative, since they typically offer better ID theft protection than debit cards.

3. Be Proactive

Copy both sides of your credit cards and keep them in a safe place at home. In case they are stolen, you will able to quickly contact the necessary banks and put a hold on your cards.

4. Keep Money and Credit Cards in a Safe Place

Beware of pick-pocketers, especially in crowded malls and around major distractions, such as photos with Santa.

5. Don't Leave Valuables in Your Car When Shopping

Parking lots are a popular hotspot for identity thieves looking to steal personal information. These thieves can keep an eye out for exactly when you arrive and strike early, knowing that you are unlikely to return to your car anytime soon.

6. Be Leery of People Looking Over Your Shoulder 

When out shopping, there has been a recent trend of identity thieves snapping a photo, usually through their smartphones, of shoppers' credit cards. The person waiting behind you in line may look like he or she is texting, but you might be offering him or her a glimpse of your credit card information, in which the thief is making a permanent record of it.

7. Be Sure Your Charitable Donations are Given to Legitimate Organizations

Be careful of phishing scams and unofficial websites when making charitable donations this holiday season. Whenever in doubt, look the organization up through the Better Business Bureau before contributing money.

8. Never Shop Through E-Mail

Email is an easy way for hackers to intercept your personal information. In addition, many times e-mails targeting shoppers are not legitimate, but part of a scam.

9. Check Your Statements Twice

Especially during the holiday season, check your statements to be sure all of your purchases are accurate. Anything that looks suspicious could be a red flag that your personal data has been compromised.

10. Write "Check Photo ID" on the Back of Your Credit Cards

This is just another measure to ensure no one will use your credit card in stores. If a cashier checks your card against your photo ID, it just adds another layer of protection.

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