8 Tips to protect your ID and personal info while holiday shopping

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Identity thieves, scammers and burglars all step up their efforts during the holidays. So it’s important that you be extra vigilant and take steps to stop them in their tracks.

Here are eight ways to stay safer while holiday shopping.

Online shop at home, not on the go

Shopping with a smartphone can be very convenient, but it can also be risky. Public Wi-Fi networks that are not secure make it much easier for identity thieves to steal your information. Limit using your device to browsing Facebook and streaming videos, and do your Internet purchasing from home. If you must use Public Wi-Fi, make sure you are logging into a secured or private network and avoid visiting sites that contain private information, like bank accounts

Password protection

A weak password to your online accounts is like leaving your wallet wide open for anyone to rummage through it.  Make it a priority to use a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols and punctuation to make your passwords harder to crack and change it often.

Protect your mobile devices

Strong password encryption is often just as important for your mobile phone or tablet as it is for your computer when it comes to protecting your personal information.  Anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall software is not just for your computer -- install it on your mobile devices too.  For another layer of protection, consider installing wiping software on your mobile device so that you can remove your information remotely if your phone or tablet goes missing.

Use common sense

If you spot an online deal for 90 percent off a set of kitchen knives from a company you’ve never heard of, you might want to avoid it. If you’re uncertain, just stick to the tried and true advice, “if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.” The market is flooded with fakes and knockoffs, so limit your purchases to reputable websites.

Do research on websites

If you do find a solid deal from a website you’re unsure about, check the Internet. Do a search for the name of the company along with the word “scam.” If you see anything that doesn’t look right, such as multiple filed complaints or issues that took several weeks or months to resolve, then stay away.

Only carry the essentials

Identity theft and fraud takes place in person too, not just online. To protect yourself while you’re holiday shopping in stores. Remove everything from your wallet that you don’t need – such as your Social Security card and excess credit cards. This helps minimize your risk and reduces the amount of work you’ll have to do in case your wallet is lost or stolen.

Take care of it at home

Never complete and submit a credit card application in the store. Take it home and complete it in privacy, then mail it to the card issuer.

Be discreet

If you have to leave packages in the car, conceal them in the trunk and place them there before you arrive at the parking lot.

Finally, at the end of every holiday shopping season, review your financial statements and check your credit report. Monitoring your credit can help ensure you catch signs of fraud or identity theft quickly.  Another way to protect your identity is to run your credit report on a regular basis. If any accounts appear that aren’t yours or if any other erroneous information exists, contact the biller or the credit reporting agency to get it corrected right away.

Becky Frost is senior manager of consumer education for Experian’s ProtectMyID.