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Tips for Safe Shopping Online During the Holidays (courtesy of NerdWallet):

Financial security might be the last thing on your mind during the holiday season, with all the gift wrapping, food preparation and celebration. But guarding your finances is essential and might become even more important soon.

As card issuers and merchants shift to microchip-embedded credit cards that offer better in-store security, the rates of online shopping fraud may rise temporarily, according to NerdWallet's data on chip cards. You can reduce your risk of identity fraud or theft by following these steps.

Avoid sharing passwords

Although this is the time of year to give to others, make passwords, online shopping site logins and other sensitive information the exceptions. Keep those to yourself by hiding them either in locked cabinets or password-protected programs on your computer. Also, don't forget to change your passwords on your online accounts at least once a year, using a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.

Secure your computer before shopping online

Check that your antivirus software and firewall are active and up to date, since new viruses crop up frequently and can target vulnerabilities in older software.

Inspect your credit

You're given a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every year, so request at least one to see if any suspicious credit accounts have been recently opened under your name. You can get a report at annualcreditreport.com. You can get check your score on any of the credit-reporting bureaus' websites - Experian, Equifax or TransUnion - for a small fee.

Use credit cards wisely

There are better fraud protections on these cards than on debit cards, so you'll be less responsible for your online purchases if you're hacked. That said, try to pay off the balance on your cards each month so you stay out of debt when you use them.

Take advantage of your bank's resources

Some financial institutions, such as Bank of Bolivar, offer IDProtect, an identity theft protection program designed to help you both prevent and recover from fraud. In addition to monitoring your credit, this program also provides you with news about recent identity theft cases. If you become a victim, IDProtect offers access to representatives to talk to as well as reimbursements of up to $20,000 in costs related to recovery.

Scan your recent transactions

As helpful as resources can be, you should be proactive in watching your accounts yourself, especially during this busy shopping season. Mobile banking can make this as easy as logging in to your bank's mobile app and reviewing your transaction history wherever you are. If you see any suspicious items, contact your bank and report any as fraud once you're sure.

As busy as the holidays can be, it's worthwhile to put effort into keeping your finances safe. The few minutes the steps take can save you from hours of recovering from identity fraud down the road.

Spencer Tierney, NerdWallet
(C) Copyright 2015 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Tips for Preventing Identity Theft:

Identity thieves steal your personal information to commit fraud. They can damage your credit status and cost you time and money restoring your good name. To reduce your risk of becoming a victim, follow the tips below:

  • Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write it on your checks. Only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary.
  • Protect your PIN. Never write a PIN on a credit/debit card or on a slip of paper kept in your wallet.
  • Watch out for "shoulder surfers". Use your free hand to shield the keypad when using pay phones and ATMs.
  • Collect mail promptly. Ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home for more than a day or two.
  • Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
  • Keep your receipts. Ask for carbons and incorrect charge slips as well. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.
  • Tear up or shred unwanted receipts, credit offers, account statements, expired cards, etc., to prevent dumpster divers getting your personal information.
  • Store personal information in a safe place at home and at work. Don't leave it lying around.
  • Don't respond to unsolicited requests for personal information in the mail, over the phone or online.
  • Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
  • Check your credit report once a year. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has gotten access to your account information.

Hardware Security:

  • Make sure your internet device has a trusted anti-virus solution installed and be sure to update its virus definitions frequently.
  • Be careful when using public computers or wireless networks; assume your activity is less secure and thus avoid sending sensitive data.

Email Security:

  • Rule of thumb: never open email or click on a link sent from an unknown or untrusted source.
  • Before opening an email attachment, read the entire email carefully to determine if you know the sender. Sometimes, the apparent sender name is not the actual sender, so look for the actual email address of the sender when possible.
  • Avoid opening and/or forwarding jokes, pictures, or other email items that have been forwarded several times.
  • Scan all email items' sender, subject, and message preview to determine their authenticity before opening or going into the actual emails.
  • When in doubt about the authenticity of an email, delete it without opening and then empty your "deleted items" folder.

Password Security:

  • Use strong passwords that combine uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Do not use the same password for each of your online accounts.
  • Change your passwords frequently.
  • Do not write your passwords down and leave on or near your internet device.

Offers & Scams:

  • As always, if you receive an offer that sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
  • Be wary of popups claiming your device has a virus and offering to help you clean it; this is a common scam that actually leaves viruses on your device.