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 since the credit system allows consumers with good credit ratings to set up lines of credit quite easily. 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 in underground chat rooms and on the street. The holiday season is peak season for thieves, and their imaginations are working overtime busily creating new and innovative ways to commit fraud!

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. By 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.

Identity theft is non-discriminatory and current statistics show it is a rapidly growing crime that involves a theft of personal information happening every three seconds.

"People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years and thousands of dollars cleaning up the mess the identity thieves have made of their good name and credit record.” – Federal Trade Commission

Simple preventative steps taken now, will save you, and your family, from immeasurable frustration, anxiety and the significant time loss involved reversing the damaging effects of identity theft!

10 Simple Tips to Keep in Mind to avoid being scammed!

1. Use care when going to the ATM. Rashes of ATM thefts have been taking place in many cities. Organized crime rings have been known to install "skimming" equipment and cameras on ATM's to steal both your ATM card number and the PIN needed to access your accounts. Use ATM’s inside a bank where they are less likely to be tampered with.

2. Don't respond to or trust unsolicited e-mail. Legitimate companies don't send unsolicited e-mail messages asking for your password, login name or financial information. Scammers do. In fact, crooks often send e-mails that look just like they're from legitimate companies but direct you to click on a link, where they ask for your personal information. Delete these e-mails.

3. Look for signs a site is safe, such as a closed padlock on the browser's status bar. When you're asked for payment information, the beginning of the site's URL address should change from "http" to “https," indicating that the purchase is encrypted and the site is secure. And check out the website you are buying from. Look to see if they have a phone number. If you can't find a working phone number on the site, you may want to take your business elsewhere. Type the site's name into a search engine and if you find unfavorable reviews posted, you may be better off doing business elsewhere.

4. Avoid using Debit Cards shopping online or in the malls. Credit card companies will help you get a refund is necessary if the product isn't delivered, is defective or isn't what you expected. And remember, if a thief steals your debit card, they can clean out your bank account. It’s much harder to recover stolen cash than it is having a fraudulent charge removed from your credit card.

5. Beware of “You’ve received a greeting card” scams. If an email claims you received a holiday card or gift card, don’t open it without first checking and confirming that the person it claims to come from actually sent it to you!

6. Consider the financial status of a company prior to purchasing holiday gift cards. If you decide to purchase one, inspect the card before buying. Verify that none of the protective stickers have been removed. Ensure that the codes on the back of the card have not been scratched off to reveal a PIN number.

7. Make sure your virus protection is up to date, firewalls are working and spyware/virus scans are run frequently.

8. Look out for lurkers. When making purchases with a credit card (or check), be mindful of “shoulder surfers”. Some criminals are trained to peer over your shoulder and memorize card numbers, personal PIN and account numbers. Be watchful of your surroundings at all times.

9. Don’t enter financial information on community computers. Some computers may retain passwords and sensitive information or have spyware and key logging malware contaminating it.

10. Beware of bogus phone numbers left in voice mail, email or text messages. It’s important to look up official and legitimate phone numbers either via your documentation, searching online or in the phone book. Calls made to phone numbers contained in email scams, often go directly to the thieves personal lines.

Shoppers can avoid fraud and potential scams by familiarizing themselves with scams and any new holiday-related cons and would-be pitfalls, before embarking on a shopping venture!

Author's Bio: 

Take some time to become acquainted with some of the latest scams by visiting the blogon my website at GiveMeBackMyCredit!

Additional Resources on Identity Theft can be found at:

Website Directory for Identity Theft
Articles on Identity Theft
Products for Identity Theft
Discussion Board
Denise Richardson, The Official Guide to Identity Theft