Avoiding credit card fraud in the holiday season

When the holiday season rolls around, millions of consumers across the country face very real financial challenges when it comes to buying gifts for everyone on their shopping lists. However, these problems can be exacerbated significantly in the event of identity theft.

During the holiday season, with people eager to find the best possible deals on all sorts of popular items, identity thieves tend to come out of the woodwork in an effort to rip off unsuspecting shoppers, according to a report from the office of North Carolina attorney general Roy Cooper. This is true of both purchases made online and in the real world, and consumers looking to protect themselves from each type of crime will need to follow different protocols, as well as a few general rules.

"Buying gifts online may help you avoid long lines and crowds, but with convenience comes some risks," Cooper said. "Use caution when you shop online to save money and prevent stress during this busy holiday season. Whether you're shopping online or at the mall, be careful. You keep your wallet in a safe place when you go shopping and it's just as important to guard your money and your personal information when you shop online."

How to approach all transactions
One of the most important things consumers can do during this time of year is make any payments they need to by credit card, the report said. While this can lead to more debt for those who are not in a financial position to pay off all their various balances at the end of every month, it will also provide far more fraud protection than paying by cash or debit. Further, federal law mandates that if a consumer's credit card is stolen, the most they can possibly be responsible for paying is $50, but there are no such limits on debit accounts.

Further, it's important to carefully review statements and bills at the end of every month to make sure there are no transactions listed on these documents that the shopper doesn't recognize, the report said. If any such purchases are discovered on the account, that may be a sign that someone used their card fraudulently, and should be reported to the financial institution that issued the account.

Finally, when looking for holiday deals, it's important to keep in mind that those that look too good to be true, probably are, the report said. This may be particularly true if they're being offered by untrusted or unfamiliar sources.

When shopping online
The world of e-commerce can be rewarding, but sometimes difficult to navigate, the report said. As such, it's important that consumers be aware of where they surf in an effort to find the best deals.

For instance, the biggest and best online shopping sites make sure the transactions they handle are as secure as possible by using the "https" protocol, rather than the standard "http," the report said. Unless a shopper sees the extra letter at the end of the URL, that may be an indicator that they're on an unsecure site that could lead to identity theft. Further, it's important to keep diligent records of all online purchases, such as transaction details and order numbers, as well as know how to contact the site if something goes awry.

When shopping at brick-and-mortar stores
Again, while it is important to make sure all purchases at real-world stores are secure, consumers should also try to do all they can to keep a close eye on their other items that can lead to identity theft, the report said. For instance, it's probably a good idea for shoppers to leave their usual wallet items at home when they go on a holiday shopping trip, during which time it might be easier to misplace things they need because they're trying to keep track of so many items.

Things like a driver's license or Social Security card should be kept as close to a shopper's person as possible so that they don't fall into the wrong hands, the report said. The information on these documents can be used for more than credit card fraud, and any resultant identity theft can be far more difficult to clear up.

Unfair markings on a credit report can cause huge problems for consumers in a number of different ways, but in general serve to lower a borrower's credit rating. As such, it's important for shoppers to keep a close eye on these documents, ordering them regularly and checking them for these entries. Working with a credit repair law firm may help to clear them up if necessary.