Tips to Shop Safely this Holiday Season...Avoid the Identity Theft Grinch!

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Though identity theft happens throughout the year, the holiday season is the busiest time of year for thieves!

Personal information has become the currency of choice for criminals. Thieves would much rather steal an individual's reputation than what is in his wallet.

Your personal identifying information is routinely bought and sold by individuals and organized crime rings (see video) and the holiday season is peak season for thieves!

While you are busy preparing for the holidays it's crucial you pay close attention to safeguarding your personal information by taking some commonsense safety measures.

Having a plan of action and taking a few simple precautions, such as making sure you balance your bank statements, checking your credit reports, shopping on secure websites, NOT using debit cards, detecting fraudulent email scams and reviewing your credit reports, you can minimize your chances of falling victim to fraud.

Here are 10 tips to avoid fraud .

And below find tips offered by the Identity Theft Resource Center to help you shop safely this holiday season...

Is Shopping On-Line Safe? It All Depends on You!

The Identity Theft Resource Center has some safety tips that it recommends all consumers follow when ordering gifts over the Internet or by mail. See also a more detailed ecommerce shopping list here.

* You must make sure you are doing business with a legitimate company. Check out companies with the Better Business Bureau and with the Secretary of State where the business is located to check for complaints and to verify they have current business licenses.

* Internet shoppers should take several proactive steps to make their on-line shopping spree as safe as possible. When you order items, the website should be a secure website, indicated by "//https:" beginning the address, and a locked padlock icon on the web browser indicating a secure website.

* Research the company using the Internet. Make sure that the company has a legitimate street address and a phone contact number that actually delivers the caller to a person. These will become vital if there is a problem with the order. Search for any complaints on the company that people have posted. Often a simple Google search for "xxx company complaints problems" may influence your purchasing choice.

*Also, you may want to shop in stores located in the United States. If you choose to shop outside the U.S., know the regulations of the country involved. U.S. companies are more closely regulated than those outside of the U.S.
When you shop on-line, read the fine print.

*You should know the return policy and the procedure the company uses to process your orders. Read the shipping rules to find out who pays for shipping. They may have different policies for shipping to you versus a returned item. It might be wise to ask if they insure the package when shipping.

* Ask whether you get a store credit or a full refund if you must return the item. Ask about any restocking charges.

* Confirm that they do not share your information with other companies. Remember that you can you "opt-out" of further promotional offers if you wish.

* Keep a photocopy of your order, the mailing address and phone number of the company, and the confirmation of your order. Use a credit card that you designate for online shopping only. This means you have a single statement that is easier to check for fraudulent purchases.

* Do not use debit cards for on-line shopping, as debit cards do not have the same protections as credit cards, and can be used to remove funds immediately from your account.

* Never send a check to pay for a purchase. Checks can be copied and used in many ways for fraudulent activity.

Finally, make sure that your computer is safe for Internet shopping. Keep your computer protection programs, such as firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software updated. If you have questions about your computer security system, ITRC's Solution 13 might help:

ITRC wishes everyone a safe and happy holiday season. Please remember to guard your wallet if you visit the malls and shopping centers, and keep your Social Security card at home. Limit the number of credit cards you carry with you! And by the way, shredders and computer security programs make excellent holiday gifts.

The Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC) is a non-profit organization established to support victims of identity theft in resolving their cases, and to broaden public education and awareness in the understanding of identity theft. For more info visit

For tips on what to do if you become a victim of identity theft see earlier blog:

What to do if someone steals your information...

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