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4 tips for avoiding identity theft during the holidays

Now that the holiday season is in full swing, you're probably like most folks: rushing around to get all of your shopping completed before the parties and family celebrations start in earnest.

Be careful while you're shopping, though. Identity thieves are lurking, just waiting to take your financial information in exchange for a giant lump of coal.

Keep these tips in mind:

  • Beware anything that seems too good to be true: Did you find a great deal on a site you've never heard of? Is someone online selling that Hatchimal or Nintendo Classic you can't find anywhere? Consider that the seller may just be after your credit card information. It's better to stick to online retailers you know and trust.
  • Don't save your credit card information: Even trusted sites can be hacked. Sure, it's convenient to not have to keep entering your billing info. But anything that's saved can be stolen.
  • Stick to one card: Try to do all your holiday shopping with the same credit or debit card. Not only will this help you stick to your budget, but having all your purchases in the same place will make it much easier to spot fraudulent transactions.
  • Use cash for in-person transactions: Craigslist, Facebook garage sale groups and similar sites are great places to find holiday deals. But always use cash when you're buying something from an individual, especially a stranger. Giving them a check also gives them your bank account and routing numbers. If you pay with a card, they could be using a skimmer device to steal your information.

Keep a close eye on your credit

Even with the best precautions, you can't avoid every instance of identity theft. You can, however, take steps to minimize the consequences.

Read your credit card and bank statements every month, and report any fraudulent transactions right away.

Review your credit report regularly. Federal law entitles you to get a free report from each of the big three agencies every year. It is worth it to check your report more frequently if you suspect you may have been the victim of fraud. If anything seems amiss, ask for your report to be corrected.

If your bank, credit card company or credit reporting agency is treating you unfairly, a consumer justice attorney can help you set the record straight.

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