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Protect your identity this holiday season

(ARA) – Whether you’re buying a gift for someone else or buying something nice for yourself this holiday season, there are always those looking to criminally benefit from stealing your identity. As the shopping season heats up, criminals are looking to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers and businesses at every turn.

Before you head to the mall or hop online to make your next purchase, take a minute to review your shopping methods to make sure you aren’t putting yourself at risk of identity theft. Identity theft expert John Sileo and Deluxe Corporation, a leading growth engine for small businesses and financial institutions, offer the following tips to avoid becoming an identity theft victim.

Keep tabs on personal items at home and at the office. The technology we have at our disposal has given thieves even more ways to access our personal information. Keeping track of your wallet, credit cards and financial documents, computers, and smartphones is vital. But even intangible items like your email inbox can provide identity thieves with all of the information they need to commit identity theft. Keeping tabs on these items when you’re out and putting them in a secure location at home is more important than ever, as is signing out of your personal accounts when you are done using them.

Take care with debit cards and checks. Because credit cards aren’t linked directly to your account and generally allow longer periods for you to catch fraud and remedy the situation, consider leaving your debit card at home. High-security checks with visible fibers, watermarks and hologram features are a good option if you choose to pay by check. For example, many small business owners use products like Deluxe High Security Checks, which offer 22 different security features. Whether you conduct a lot of business transactions by check, or simply prefer to make purchases using your checking account, taking advantage of products with security features can help you avoid fraud.

Consider leaving what you don’t need at home, when heading out for a shopping trip. Taking an occasional break from your mobile devices is not only beneficial to your sanity, but also a good strategy when you go shopping. Keeping only the essentials – credit cards, driver’s license and your cell phone – in your front pockets will make it difficult for thieves to swipe anything without you noticing.

Avoid using public Wi-Fi for holiday shopping. Hackers may be able to tap into a public Wi-Fi connection to steal your credit card or personal information. If you’re shopping from your smartphone, turn off your wireless connection and shop on your provider’s secure mobile network. Many smartphones also have the ability to act as a wireless router for your laptop through tethering if that’s how you prefer to shop when you’re away from home. Otherwise, it’s best to wait until you get home.

Avoid providing your personal information over email and to social networking sites. Never make a financial transaction based solely on an item you discovered on email, a social networking site or during a phone call from a stranger. Scammers may hack into your friends’ email systems or Facebook accounts as a guise, so be wary of anything that asks for your personal information or money.

Monitor your accounts. Frequent monitoring can help you catch fraud before it’s too late. Consider adding text or email notifications for purchases made on your accounts for easy and instant monitoring.

Strengthen your passwords. Avoid using names of family members or other words that could be identifiable to thieves willing to do a little research. Mix in capital letters and numbers to create passwords that are more difficult to hack.

By making these adjustments to your shopping habits, you’ll be sure all of your purchases end up in the right hands.

These tips are brought to you by Deluxe, a growth engine for small businesses and financial institutions, and John Sileo, identity theft expert.